Category Archives: classics

4

Literarily sick

As anyone in the office here can tell you (honestly, maybe anyone within a 5-mile radius), I’ve been struck with one beauty of a head cold this week. I’ve gone through about 3 boxes of tissues and am finally able to (mostly) breathe out of my nose again! It’s a wonder!

But with all the hours spent lying down, drinking liquids and, of course, blowing my nose, I’ve had some time to ruminate on being sick. As you might remember, I’ve written already about my adolescent fascination with the galloping consumption, and though that’s obviously silly, it’s totally true that classic literature makes illness seem so glamorous. If not glamorous, then at least an indication of how delicate and pure the afflicted is.

Unless the sickness is used to indicate some sort of wrongdoing or as a comeuppance for a particularly deserving transgressor, there’s always some sort of quiet beauty to it. We never see the ugly side (for me, that’s the hacking cough and melodic sniffling I’ve been exhibiting) or really, any pain other than the emotional kind. And even then, it’s all very bittersweet.

I’m not talking about the more recent trend of serious illnesses (namely, cancer) that have been the subject of some acclaimed books in the recent years, à la Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but more the kinds that seem to exist solely in the pages of old books.

Which is why this little slideshow delighted me so much. I’ve tried to explain what I mean by “literary diseases” to people in the past and have come up short. This is a pretty good list with some relatable examples. I know, of course, that these illnesses don’t appear anymore because we have since come up with new names or ways to cure them, but the impression they give still remains the same. That getting sick in the 19th century was more about mystery and fashion than it was about anything else. That it’s a really good way to get someone to fall in love with you—especially if you just happen to catch cold marching over to his estate in the rain and definitely have to stay over for a few days to recuperate (ahem, Elizabeth Bennett).

These days, getting a cold means taking a few Tylenol and lying down for a day. It’s not the be all end all focal point of a work of literature and certainly doesn’t get anyone fawning over you like you’re the purest and most doted upon soul that ever walked the earth. If only.

0

Cold weather books to keep you warm

For those of us on the East Coast, it has been another rough winter. I’ve started to compare being outside to spending time in a freezer. In the suburbs, everything is layers of ice on bottom followed by layers of fresh snow on top that eventually freeze because we haven’t seen a thermostat above freezing in what seems like weeks. There have been mornings where the temperature outside is zero with wind chills far below. My crazy husband is marathon training and running outside. What? This is what we call a different kind of slush pile (#publishingpuns)! All I want to do is stay inside, drink hot chocolate (or wine, even better) and read books.

It got me to thinking about great books that evoke the cold. I was thinking about THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx, a favorite of mine where the weather is a lead character. Or SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW (one review on Amazon highlights “the language of snow and ice”) or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The seventh book in the series is called THE LONG WINTER! How did people live back then with no heat?

So, I’m wondering what your favorite cold weather books are. Or just your favorite books that you like to snuggle up with on a cold winter’s day. Please share, and stay warm!

 

 

 

 

2

Go read a watchman?

Well, since none of my colleagues have blogged about it yet, I figured I’d bring up the big publishing news of the week…

And while far be it from me to turn down an obvious blog topic, I’m probably not the best person to write this, because, to tell the truth, I can barely remember TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I know I read it in school, and I also know I saw the movie at some point, but any memories are associated with Gregory Peck in that grey suit of his. It’s probably the cynic in me, but of all the school classics, CATCHER IN THE RYE stuck a lot more than MOCKINGBIRD.

But of course, the news of a new novel from Harper Lee is big news. And while there’s a lot of good-hearted excitement for GO SET A WATCHMAN, like a number of writers, I feel kinda weirded out by the whole situation. For one, despite the claims that WATCHMAN was started before MOCKINGBIRD, it’s still basically a sequel, and of all the books that need a sequel, MOCKINGBIRD would be one of the last I’d think of. And while I’m certainly not in the camp that thinks MOCKINGBIRD is untouchable either, (I wouldn’t be much of an agent if I did!) it’s just strange that in an age where everything gets a sequel and spun off and branded that MOCKINGBIRD suddenly has a companion piece.

Then there’s the nagging feeling that somehow this wasn’t the big surprise everyone claims it is. After all, Harper Lee has been in the news plenty in the last ten years or so, for better or worse keeping her name in the public eye. And again, it’s probably the cynic in me, but even with the reports of Lee’s infirmity, on the heels of her prior press I just can’t help feeling that a publicist couldn’t have played this much better–certainly everyone is going to read the new book, right?

Or are they? Are YOU? I’d love to hear what you think of the whole situation, what MOCKINGBIRD did or didn’t mean to you, and whether you’re excited to read WATCHMAN.

 

0

Reading the past

Channeling the sixteen-year-old in me (the sixteen-year-old that I most certainly was), when I saw a Buzzfeed quiz* today that would reveal which affliction of La Belle Époque would lead to my untimely death, I really had no choice but to click and take it immediately.

I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed with my result: broken heart. As a Moulin Rouge obsessed teenager, I thought it the height of elegance to die gracefully and beautifully of tuberculosis (or, as I like to call it, the galloping consumption) much like Satine, the main character. She coughed so daintily, looked so beautiful to the end and, of course, had Ewan MacGregor, the starving playwright, torn to bits at her demise.

Though I’ve since moved on from such childish fantasies (mostly), and I know that tuberculosis is not a pleasant nor desirable thing to contract, it did get my mind reeling on all the reasons why I love that era and the literary movements that go along with it. Second only to the English Romantics (hello masterful Wordsworth, arrogant Byron and poor, poor sickly Keats), the French Belle Époque is an era of literature that I love dearly and tend to forget about until I’m reminded. I thank the one comparative literature course I took in college as well as any French teachers who tried to get me to read de Maupassant and Baudelaire in their original forms for introducing me to realism, naturalism and even the little bits of Modernism (I’ve read one half of one book of In Search of Lost Time and I consider that an accomplishment).

Such literature strikes a real chord—telling of a world on the precipice of something so different and alive than had ever before been described. Giving heed to experimentation that had theretofore been snubbed and extolling the beauty in the smallest and most quotidian of objects or actions. It’s been years, honestly, sadly, since I’ve given my books from this era a real look, but even reading the names of authors and poets—Zola, Rimbaud, those already mentioned—elicits a visceral reaction that whisks me back to visions of Parisian department stores and muddy alleys that are described with such clarity and honesty by these writers.

I’ve been trying to avoid using the word “romanticize” since I’ve also referenced the Romantics today, but I can’t any longer. Sure, I romanticize the era, seen through the rose colored tint of artwork and nostalgic whims of a reader in today’s fast paced, technology-obsessed world, but there is also an inherent liveliness to the work itself. Filled with urgency and excitement (and not without a heavy dose of nostalgia of its own), the literature of La Belle Époque is at once dreamy and intensely relatable.

My musings aside, do you have any favorite literary movements that still get your heart racing and brain whirring even if you don’t read them regularly?

 

*stop panicking, the quiz is here.

1

From book to stage, and beyond

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned here before that in addition to books, I also love the theater (along with my colleague, Jim McCarthy, with whom I share stories of good and bad plays for sport). I think there’s something so magical about a good theatrical experience. I’m proud to say that I saw the original production of Rent off Broadway at The New York Theater Workshop in 1994. It was a profound experience that the few of us lucky enough to see the show with the original cast in that tiny space will never forget.

Rentpostera.jpg

It got me to thinking about books as plays. We often talk about books as films, but plays are so expensive to produce and so often don’t work that the number of shows from books is a lot more limited. What translates to the page doesn’t always translate to the stage. I’ve always loved Les Mis, although I’ve not yet seen the new production, and I recently saw and really enjoyed Matilda, both based on books.

Matilda

A lot of other Broadway shows I’m thinking of are based on films, like Rocky (couldn’t live up to the source material), Kinky Boots (loved the show, didn’t see the movie), and Billy Elliot (saw at a regional theater in Maine this summer). This is a lot more obvious a transition because it’s already a visual medium.

Image result for kinky boots

What books would you like to see adapted for the big stage? Would you turn your favorites into a musical or a dramatic adaptation? Gone Girl, the Musical! So many fun ideas to consider, I don’t even know where to begin!

1

The Best Christmas Propaganda Ever

My book club – you remember them – is meeting for our holiday party tonight, and we always like to cut ourselves a bit of slack by picking a children’s book during this busy busy month. Last year we read each other’s favorite childhood titles, and this year we read a classic that several of us grew up reading year after year: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. If any of you read this one, or maybe saw the TV movie version from the eighties, you’ll remember it’s the story of the chaos that reigns when the worst kids in town decide they want to participate in the church Christmas pageant.

I remember finding this book absolutely enthralling and hilarious as a child, probably in part because of my membership in a family of 6+ children that, like the Herdmans, left a wake of havoc wherever we went. (I’d like to think I was a little better behaved than Imogen Herdman – I know I did a better job keeping my wild brothers in line than she did.)

As an avid re-reader of childhood faves, I’m often surprised to discover deeper meanings in stories that were lost on younger me, who raced through the pages gleefully as the Herdmanns rob the penny bank and say the H-word during rehearsal. Little did I realize that Ms. Robinson was sneaking in a lesson about compassion, about suspending judgment, about being grateful for our blessings and sharing them with those who are less fortunate. An important lesson to learn at the holidays…and to remember all year round!

Do you have any favorite books to read at the holidays? Ever re-read a book from your childhood and were surprised to learn what it’s really about?

 

 

8

Books as gifts

I’m always trying to think of clever ways to give a book as a gift. Sometimes it might seem too impersonal or like it needs a little extra something to go with it, depending on the occasion or the person on the receiving end. I find this particularly true when giving books as gifts to kids. For birthday parties, I’ll often give a book along with something else – a little toy or craft, or a painting set with Christie Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree, or a box of crayons with a copy of The Day the Crayons Quit. And sometimes when I’m inspired I’ll buy multiple copies and give them away until they run out.

I was pleased with my latest book gift inspiration when I decided to give copies of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to all the kids attending my daughter’s upcoming 9th birthday party. Since we’ll be watching the movie (not sure which version yet) and doing a candy/dessert-themed party, I figured giving a copy of the book with some sort of confection was a good idea for a favor. And so I ordered 19 copies of this adorable illustrated paperback edition. When the box arrived, we all grabbed the books like they were filled with golden tickets (which they were since there is one inside each copy)!

 

It has been such a pleasure seeing my older girls enjoy the book, and I dipped into it again myself and fondly remember reading it when I was young. All these years later, and the book still entertains and delights. It really is a timeless treasure. And speaking of books as gifts, I think I’ll order the Roald Dahl boxed set for my daughter’s birthday so all my girls can enjoy them, even the ones who are not yet reading!

I’d love to hear how you give books as gifts. Do you wait for specific holidays or birthdays? Do you buy books you love? New ones or classics? What categories? Do you pair them up with anything else? There’s no right answer here. Just a fun thing to think about – giving books as gifts. It really is the gift that keeps on giving as they can be savored for so many years to come.

 

 

 

0

Ready for a little test of your literary instincts?

Don’t cheat and skip ahead to the pictures!

The following is the final paragraph of the galley letter for WHAT very popular book:

“I predict you’ll also face another quandary: whether to share this with a friend, or to keep it for yourself, knowing how much this Reader’s Edition of __________’s first book will be worth in years to come.”

Any guesses?

Here’s another clue. The galley letter is signed by Arthur Levine…

Written for a debut novel that his eponymous imprint at Scholastic purchased for $100,000…

And this galley mailing happened in the summer of 1998…

Being brilliant and super knowledgeable about publishing lore (as all regular readers of the DGLM blog are), I’m sure you’ve guessed that this mystery title is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

 

  I learned all this delightful trivia from The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, an exhibit at the New York Public Library’s historic Bryant Park branch (yes, the one with the lions out front). The Harry Potter area caught my eye, as I am currently in the middle of a delightful re-read of the series, which I only read for the first time a few years ago. (I know, I know, hush!)

Sound philosophy, even for muggles

Now it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for children’s books. And the exhibit area was full of artifacts from other children’s literature. You can stop by and see the original Winnie-the-Pooh plushies that inspired A.A. Milne or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s handwritten manuscript for The Secret Garden. One display discusses classic NYC-themed children’s lit (hooray for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!), and there’s even a Goodnight Moon reading nook with battered library copies of all your favorite picture books. Quite a few families were curled up on the rainy Sunday afternoon that I visited, and I was tempted to grab a Wild Thing and join them.

Not all attendees were as riveted as I was.

0

Last-minute Halloween costume ideas

October 31st is two days away. That means some of you have two days to put together a costume—I know can’t be the only one who consistently improvises with his costume at the last second. (By the way, I was a pirate clown this past weekend. My character had a very intricate back-story, but maybe that’s a story for another time.)

Be a character from one of your favorite books. The written word has inspired many a Halloween costume, and this year is no different. I mean, it may even be trendy—in some circles. Check out this “How to Pick Your Literary Halloween Costume” guide if you need some help preparing for this Hallow’s Eve:

http://www.bookish.com/articles/the-best-halloween-costumes-from-books

 

If you’re in relationship and want to be obnoxious about it, here’s your cosume:

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

 

If you want to be spooky and don’t want to mess with the classics:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

 

For the rambunctious, wild child out there—who also happens to be into classic lit: