Literature

Today is Alice’s Birthday

Today is Alice’s Birthday

Today is the Fourth of July, America’s birthday.

It’s also the day Alice in Wonderland was born, not to be confused with an un-birthday or half-birthday.

On July 4, 1862, Charles Dodgson, who published under the pen name Lewis Carroll, began telling three sisters a story. It so captivated and delighted the middle sister, Alice Liddell, that she begged him to finish it. Two and a half years later, he presented to her a leather-bound copy of Alice in Wonderland as a Christmas gift.

Peter Pan also grew out of the stories Sir James Barrie used to entertain children of the Davies family.

Both of these whimsical fairy tales are interwoven in the fabric of my childhood. I loved that Alice, bored when her sister ignored her, found such fanciful adventures after following a talking rabbit. As I read, I could go along with her to Wonderland, shrink and grow, attend a mad tea party, and play croquet with playing cards. Or, in the pages of another book, I could take flight with Peter Pan, swim with mermaids, and fight pirates.

The genius of Carroll and Barrie is timeless. As a writer, I’m encouraged that stories meant to entertain a few children grew to become enduring classics. They started from just a seed, without expectation, without a plan.

I often think of endings – from how the book I’m reading will conclude, to what my children will do when they graduate, and what my retirement will look like. Of course I remind myself to live in the present, really enjoy the experience of things. But I forget just how important beginnings are. Sometimes you just have to start on something. Take the first lesson on a foreign language. Save the first dollar. Write the first sentence. Because it will lead to the next one and the next and the next. And the ending might be something spectacularly beyond your wildest dreams, if you only you begin, plant the seed. All you need is just a spark of creativity. And maybe faith and trust. You don’t even need the pixie dust.

Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle

These are not snozzcumbers.

cucumber and squash

But when I saw them I thought of the giant in Roald Dahl’s The BFG, eating Snozzcumbers and drinking Frobscottle. It’s funny how your favorite books from childhood stay with you.

Those vegetables are actually a cucumber and squash. Obviously. I could give you recipes for them but you probably have your favorites already and you have Google. Instead I will give you a Frobscottle recipe because everyday is a good day to relive a piece of your childhood with your kids.

This deliciousness comes from justJENN recipes:

frobscottleThat’s Pop Rocks on top, people. POP ROCKS. There’s also whipped cream, as you can see, but don’t worry about the sugar and calories because but it’s totally canceled out by the fresh raspberries. That’s how it works, right?

This would be the perfect drink to enjoy on a summer afternoon while you read your kids the book, if you want them to read it before the movie comes out on July 1st. Because isn’t that a good habit you want them to get into? I never read a book if I’ve already seen the movie. Totally ruins it, in my opinion. Although that may not be possible in this case. Can anything ruin Roald Dahl? Probably not.

Stop Talking

I was reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath when…

(Wait, does that sound pretentious? It isn’t, really. I’m about to reveal my ignorance.)

…I came across the word infelicities. Plath described reading poems by ACRich (Adrienne Rich, I assume) that were “easy, yet professional, full of infelicities and numb gesturings at something.”

Since I’m constitutionally unable to read a word I don’t know and not look it up, I searched an online dictionary and got this oh-so-helpful definition: the quality or state of being infelicitous. I looked that up too.

Infelicitous definition

Ever made an infelicitous remark? I HAVE. I don’t mean asking a non-pregnant woman when she is due, I mean the kind of comment that leaves you hoping the earth will open up and swallow you whole.

It was a decade ago and I still carry the shame. I was having a particularly stressful, hectic day at work when a co-worker called. Her father very recently passed away and she’d returned from bereavement leave but was out of the office one afternoon. She called about a work-related issue, greeted me warmly and asked how I was doing. I sighed dramatically and, in my frustrated and overwhelmed state, I blurted, “Well, I’m NOT DEAD.”

Luckily, she laughed. Then again, how do you respond to an infelicitous remark of epic proportions?

Anyway, I apologized. Profusely. Again and again. I should have shut up. If only someone had been there to hand me a STOP TALKING card.

Stop Talking

This is a real thing made by Set Editions. Imagine the possibilities. Discreetly slide a card into a nervous girl’s palm under the dinner table when she starts talking about ex-boyfriends on a first date. Or hand one to the rude couple behind you talking during the movie. Or give a card to the idiot telling divorce stories at a wedding. Give one to the fool who won’t stop apologizing after telling an ill-timed death joke to a grieving daughter. You’d be doing us all a free public service.

Another reason bookstores are awesome.

Borders was the closest bookstore to my house. When they went out of business I was left with four choices: 1) The used bookstore around the corner – great if you’re looking for older titles and literary gifts. 2) Target – limited selection and too expensive. 3) Drive further to a mega mall with a bookstore. Or, 4) Keep buying books on Kindle.

I kept buying books on Kindle.

There’s a bookstore in Tempe called Changing Hands which is THE place to meet authors and have them sign their latest release in hardback. It’s worth the drive for these special events but not practical for a quick trip to find my next good read.

And then.

Something special happened. They opened a second store in Phoenix. On the freeway it’s just a ten-minute drive from my house.

Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix

On the first day they opened their doors to the public, their unofficial Grand Opening, I WAS THERE. I convinced my husband to take me because I needed to be with people who love reading and understand that in this digital-age the opening of a brick-and-mortar bookstore is a big deal. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.

The Phoenix store has something the one in Tempe doesn’t: a beer and wine bar with small bites, appropriately named First Draft.

First Draft Book Bar

Love the logo.

It had been awhile since I’d walked around in a new bookstore Here’s what I’ve been missing out on by not roaming aisles and perusing bookshelves: Baby Lit®. Have you seen this!?

Baby Lit Anna KareninaIt’s a collection of children’s books based on classic literature. Anna Karenina, for your budding fashionista. Pride and Prejudice, with whimsical drawings to help teach counting. There were others based on Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and more.

I knew exactly which young budding fashionista needed to own these books immediately. She’s my sweet little niece who, unfortunately for me, lives in another state. But with a quick online order a few were shipped to her front door.

Don’t worry. I didn’t forget my Jolie. She will soon possess every single book in this series. If you know me, you know I couldn’t possibly not buy these. This is a visual of my thought process when considering book purchases:

Do you need a new book?

Enough said.

For the Reader and the Writer

If left to my own devices I would lay in bed all day reading my Kindle, taking breaks only to watch movies on Lifetime for Women, especially ones that star Patty Duke and Meredith Baxter Birney. They’re like after school specials for adults, amirite?

Technically, I was left to my own devices this morning but I made fruit pies instead, totally from scratch. (All my cartons of blueberries aren’t going to cook themselves.) I used this pie filling recipe and added them to The Pioneer Woman’s fried fruit pie recipe.

Why, yes! I AM expecting June Cleaver over for brunch. We will be wearing vintage dresses and stockings, thumbing through Good Housekeeping magazines, and tittering about whatever it is housewives titter about. We will do all of this in black-and-white.

Because I actually read much more than I cook (duh), I buy lots of ebooks but I also save money borrowing Kindle books from the Greater Phoenix Digital Library. If you’re not in Phoenix, it’s totally worth checking to see if your library loans ebooks too. (Remember, you don’t have to own an e-reader. You can download the free Kindle app.)

bookbubAlso, my MIL kindly reminded me about BookBub. To subscribe, all you need is an email address and a love of books. Choose your favorite genres and get a daily email with links to free and discounted ebooks. Acclaimed ebooks. I emphasize this because I too can be skeptical of “cheap” books. Like, if they were any good they’d cost more but I can assure you, you’ll find quality books through BookBub.

If it sounds like Captain Obvious just told you these things, then I say, with all due respect and sincerity, “Get a blog! Millions of frugal, voracious readers await your expert knowledge.”

If you also love to write, Scrivener is the tool for you. It’s digital software that allows you to create index cards and outlines, collect research material in a variety of media – images, PDF files, sound files, movies, web pages – and SO MUCH MORE.

Scrivener logo

Right now it’s available on Amazon for $24 – a 40% discount! It might possibly be discounted through June 14th during their Father’s Day sale but if you want it, I wouldn’t risk it. Download it now.

Like me on Facebook, if you don’t already, and never miss a post like this. I talk a lot about books, share my parenting fails and the ridiculous costs teenagers incur. And, once in a blue(berry) moon, I’ll even post a recipe. Not mine. A link to someone else’s recipe. I’m not that much of a 50′s TV wife. Yet. I have many more pies to bake and cakes to frost before I earn my pearls.

A Lasting Love of Reading

The best thing about summer with young kids is the library’s reading program. PRIZES FOR READING! It’s like being rewarded for breathing!   Where the Wild Things Are quote

Yesterday I walked Hudson and Jolie to the library and signed them up for the program, which doesn’t even officially start until tomorrow but WE WILL BE READY. We’re like racers staggered on the track, waiting for the starter pistol to be fired.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love books. English was always my favorite subject and I independently read much more than the required book list.

A few months ago Madison told me her English class was starting “The Great Gatsby,” one of my favorite classics. I was so excited and thought surely she’d love it like I do.

THEN CAME THE FUN-KILLING ASSIGNED ESSAY QUESTIONS.

  • Examine the different automobiles and discuss what they might symbolize.
  • Defend or refute Nick as an unreliable narrator.
  • Would George have been able to transcend his class and circumstances and rise above the ashes?
  • How does The Great Gatsby resemble a Greek tragedy?
  • Provide two examples from the text that represents a similarity in Fitzgerald’s life and explain their relevance to the author’s life.
  • What, if any, are the similarities between the 1920s American society and the 21st century American society with regard to materialism?

ANSWER IN COMPLETE SENTENCES!! QUOTE PROPERLY FROM THE TEXT!!

SYMBOLISM SYMBOLISM SYMBOLISM!!!

Yes, yes, I know. The Great Gatsby has depth beyond its surface and it’s worthy of consideration. But sometimes I think we kill any chance of a teenager’s enjoyment of the story by beating them over the head with the symbolism of the eyes in Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s billboard.

Lost in all of the analysis is some of the most beautiful words ever penned. No one has written so eloquently and memorably about someone’s voice as Fitzgerald did about Daisy Buchanan:

The Great Gatsby quote

And this little gem that makes poetry out of prose:

Great Gatsby quote
If a student is truly disinterested, it’s hard to engage them but sometimes it’s the academic approach itself that spoils the enjoyment of great literature. It’s unfortunate and it concerns me about Hudson and Jolie. They’re just discovering Ameilia Bedilia. Ramona Quimby and The B.F.G. are still ahead. That’s to say nothing of Harry Potter’s adventures at Hogwarts awaiting them.

I don’t want tests and book reports to diminish their love of stories. When they’re older there will be the mystery of Donna Tartt, the horror of Marisha Pessl, the humor of Adam Langer, and the suspense of Gillian Flynn. As an adult, I think, discovering the worlds between the covers of a good book is prize enough.

The Thieves of Manhattan

Ever start reading a book and you know right away it will be one of your new favorites and you can’t wait to share it? That happened to me when I started THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN by Adam Langer. I was so enamored I had to broadcast it on Twitter. Almost as an afterthought I tagged Langer:

I kicked myself for not closing my quotes because I HATE making typos in Twitter (or anywhere). Then this totally awesome thing happened:

 

BOOM. A response! That was the moment I fell in love with Twitter.

The next day I finished the book. Langer uses literary slang throughout: golightly = slinky cocktail dress, vonnegut = cigarette, faulkner = whiskey. So I tweeted my final compliments to Langer, “capote” meaning hat:

 

He replied to me again:

 

 

That was the moment I got down on bended knee and asked Twitter to marry me, till 140-characters do we part.

If you’re not following your favorite authors on Twitter, I highly recommend you rectify that immediately. After all, novelists are people – totally awesome people who string words together to make cool stories – and who doesn’t appreciate a compliment? You might get lucky enough to get a response. Or two.

Besides being responsive on Twitter, Adam Langer is an awesome writer. THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN is about Ian Minot, an aspiring writer working in a coffee shop, living off a dwindling inheritance, and dating a girl who’s out of his league. The Romanian girlfriend, Anya Petrescu, dumps him for Blade Markham, whose fake memoir is a bestseller.

Enter ex-editor Jed Roth. He solicits a jilted Ian to publish Jed’s memoirs as his own and then renounce it, allowing both to get revenge: Jed on his former employer and Ian on the world.

Thieves of Manhattan quote

THIEVES is a crime caper meets satire of the publishing world. It’s a must-read for every English major but whether or not you’re well-read you can understand Langer’s use of slang from the context. A glossary is included, just in case.

I vote we adopt Langer’s lingo into our lexicon: glasses are now officially called franzens and mischievous smiles are cheshires. Try working them in a sentence today and together we’ll get it going.

HIDDEN CLUES AND PUZZLES
I’d have just ended this review if it weren’t for the added layer of depth to THIEVES that Langer created and first revealed on an NPR interview. There are five puzzles and clues which, when solved, add a greater level of meaning. TWO are character anagrams that give insight to their motivations. ONE is geographical and it gives insight into the protagonist’s background. TWO are oblique literary references, one classic work of literature and one modern fiction bestseller, that reveal additional layers of Ian and Anya.

Here’s a hint from Langer: “The clues have nothing to do with James Frey or Margaret B. Jones or any of the other authors of disputed works that have scandalized the publishing community.” He provides another clue in the form of an acrostic in this article, where he also promises a prize to the decoders of these puzzles. He’ll confirm if you’re correct, sign your copy of THIEVES, and might even send some other special prize if he can “find one lying around.”

I read the book without even knowing their were hidden clues and I really liked it. But knowing there is even more to this story to enjoy, I think I’ll have to put THIEVES on my very short list of books to re-read.

You might also like these reviews:
Oh No She Didn’t! by Clinton Kelly
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

The Story of Peter Pan

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today, on May 9, 1860, James Matthew Barrie was born in Scotland. He’s best known as J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan. You’re probably familiar with the Disney movie but there is much more to the story of Peter Pan.    J.M. Barrie

The Works of Peter Pan
The first appearance of Peter Pan was in Barrie’s novel, The Little White Bird, published in 1902. The first stage performance of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, was on December 27, 1904. Due to the success of the play, chapters 13-18 of “The Little White Bird” (the only chapters with Peter Pan) were published in 1906 as a collection called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Barrie developed the play into the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy, now popularly published under the title “Peter Pan.” Both written works are standalone since there are inconsistencies that make them incompatible, such as Peter’s age given as seven days old in the children’s book and school age in the novel.

These three works are available for free download on Amazon for your Kindle.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens
This fantasy tale explains that all children are birds before they become human so “they are naturally a little wild during the first few weeks, and very itchy at the shoulders, where their wings used to be.” As birds they are well acquainted with fairies, who came to be “when the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went skipping about.” This is why children can be unruly in their first two years as they become accustomed to human ways: they are doing the things they’ve seen fairies do.

At seven days old, Peter flew out an open window, which was unbarred. He was able to fly because of his unwavering confidence to do so. Immediately, he forgot he was ever human. He rejoined the birds but when they convinced him he was human after all he lost his faith to fly and was told, “You will never be able to fly again, not even on windy days. You must live here on the island always.”

Peter learned the ways of the birds and his heart was so happy he felt he must sing for joy just as they did. He made a pipe from reeds and played so beautifully he even deceived the birds. The thrushes built him a nest so he could sail to Kensington Gardens and play like the regular children did. He sailed at night and played in the Gardens with toys children had left behind.

Peter was the orchestra for the fairies and as reward for playing so beautifully the Queen decided to give him the wish of his heart. He asked to return to his mother but with the right to come back if he found her disappointing. To give him the power to fly, all the fairies tickled him on the shoulder.

On Peter’s first visit to his mother he played her a lullaby in her sleep. He decided not to start being his mother’s boy again that night but whispered a solemn promise to her to come back. There was no hurry, he thought, “for his mother would never weary of waiting for him.” The night he went to return to his mother forever, Peter found the window closed with iron bars on it. His mother was sleeping with her arm wrapped snugly around another little boy. He beat on the bars and called out to her but she didn’t hear him. He returned to the Gardens, sobbing, and never saw her again.

The Literati
J.M. Barrie’s social circle was full of famous writers. He was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Meredith. He corresponded with, but never met, Robert Louis Stevenson. George Bernard Shaw was once his neighbor. When Barrie’s marriage fell apart, good friend H.G. Wells tried helpfully to intervene. Another friend, Hugh Clifford, introduced him to Thomas Hardy when he was staying in London. Barrie founded a cricket team whose members included Doyle, A.A. Milne, Jerome K. Jerome and Walter Raleigh.

Legacy
When Barrie died of pneumonia on June 19, 1937, he was buried in Scotland beside his parents and two siblings. His secretary received the bulk of his estate, excluding the works of Peter Pan which had already been given to a children’s hospital. The National Trust for Scotland maintains his birthplace at 4 Brechin Road as a museum, which includes a Peter Pan statue in the garden.

Peter Pan crafts
Celebrate the story of the boy who never grew up with your kids and these fun crafts.

Peter Pan hat

Tinkerbell playdough

Lamp shade silhouettes

Shadow box

Pirate hook

Tinkerbell’s mirror

Crayon melt

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell party

More Peter Pan themed parties

Peter Pan quote

A Few Good Books

I got behind on writing about the books I’ve read and a few recent ones were too good not to share…

Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey

1.  “Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See” by Juliann Garey
“People with mental illness enrich our lives.” I’d like to take credit for that quote but it’s attributable to NAMI, who acknowledge accomplished persons with depression or bi-polar disorder including: Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Ludwig van Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Vivien Leigh, Winston Churchill, and Sylvia Plath.

A new name can be added to the list: Juliann Garey. As she discusses in her blog, Garey is bipolar. She’s also one amazing writer. In her debut novel, “Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See,” she has created the mentally unstable character, Greyson Todd, and she tells his story as intimately as a memoir. The reader gets a realistic look at life with bipolar disorder. I hope Garey’s novel brings understanding and removes the stigma of this mental illness that affects millions of Americans.

Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara Winter

2.  “Making a Living Without a Job: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love” by Barbara J. Winter
If you have an entrepreneurial bone in your body – heck, even any inclination at all to becoming self-employed – READ THIS BOOK. Originally published in 1993, Winter released a revised and updated version in 2009. Admittedly, in the beginning I wanted to give up on this book because it wasn’t full of the basic information on implementing your ideas. Then I realized, that is exactly what makes this book indispensable. Winter shows you how to find your passions and what you can do to make a living with them. Ultimately, I did have a hard time finishing this book – but only because to read it I had to stop writing down all of the creative ideas her writing was inspiring.

I highly recommend at least checking out this book on Amazon. (Some reviewers say it changed their lives but that’s expecting a bit much of a book, isn’t it?) Also, find Barbara Winter online at joyfullyjobless.com.

The Execution of Noa P. Singelton

3.  “The Execution of Noa P. Singleton” by Elizabeth L. Silver
This book is full of the strangest similes you’ll ever read, such as: “Marlene twisted her neck like the top of a soda bottle opening.” Or: “Thirteen individuals, marinating in the enclosed jury box like a carton of dried-out fruit.” And: “A smirk seeped out between my lips like an unsuspecting belch.”

Aside from those jarring and distracting attempts at making this book a literary novel, I found the conclusion infuriating and the reveal of the crime ridiculous. Without spoilers, I can say that the characters’ actions made no sense and I wish my book club would read it – only so I could enumerate them specifically. Still, the book does have some merits. With better editing, it could have been outstanding.

Plath signaturePlath’s signature

I’ve read “The Bell Jar” and Plath’s poetry, even a biography or two before, but 2013 saw the release of a few books based on new research (namely, “Pain Parties Work” and “American Isis”). Now I’m devouring any book I can get my hands on about Sylvia Plath.

4.  Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953” by Elizabeth Winder

A must read for all fans of “The Bell Jar.” Everyone knows TBJ was a mostly autobiographical account of the summer Plath spent as a guest editor at Mademoiselle and her subsequent nervous breakdown. Winder’s book is a detailed account of Sylvia as she was in 1953 – very detailed: she wore Cherries in the Snow lipstick by Revlon – and the glitz and glamour of her days in New York. What makes this book exceptional is that much of its material comes from interviews personally conducted by Winder of the people who were actually there, sharing in the experience with Plath.

5.  Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath” by Jillian Becker
This is a brief memoir written by the woman who hosted Plath and her children as guests in her home the days preceding her suicide.

6.  Her Husband: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath – A Marriage” by Diane Middlebrook
An account of the marriage of two of the most important poets in the twentieth century. This book gives their poetry an emotional and creative framework with which to analyze them. Hughes and Plath had a complicated and compelling story, and Middlebrook tells it beautifully.

I’m currently reading “The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath” edited by Karen V. Kukil and “American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath” by Carl Rollyson, an exciting book based on materials from the newly-opened Ted Hughes archive. I’m anxiously awaiting the November release of “Sylvia Plath: Drawings,” a collection of her pen-and-ink artwork. Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes, wrote the introduction and provided Plath’s journal entries to give the illustrations context.

Remember this is now

Sylvia Plath quote