Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Story of Charlotte's Web...Redux

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"Where's Papa going with that axe?"

That has got to be the greatest opening line ever! In case you don't recognize it, it is the first sentence in Charlotte's Web by 
E. B. White. It brings a tear to my eye to this day as I know what is coming.

In honor of today being the thirty-year anniversary of Mr. White's death, I am re-running a post below from a couple of years ago in which I encourage you to read Michael Sims's fond look at the early life of Mr. White and his writing of CW. 

I was thrilled to met Michael Sims, the author of The Story of Charlotte's Web, and hear his tale of doing research for the book. He visited the farm in Maine where Mr. White wrote about Charlotte and her word-filled web. My autographed copy holds a treasured place on the bookshelf.

Also, these two links (here and here) will take you to other posts I have written about Mr. White who is one of my favorite authors and whose writing has taught me so much.


March 11, 2012

Read this book...

Read This Book...if you know nothing of writer E.B. White and the place he holds in literary history.

Read This Book...if you have ever read Charlotte's Web and fallen in love with the tale of the spider and the pig.

Read This Book...if you want to be a writer, or a better writer, for the examples of clarity and conciseness found in White's words and to experience his agony and angst in order to produce such fine writing.

Read This Book...if you hate spiders and want to find out how fascinating they can be and how White himself relished researching their habits in order to give Charlotte as many true characteristics as possible - down to writing words with her web.

Read This Book...if you want to be drawn into the world of E.B.White - his childhood at the turn of the 20th century, his work at The New Yorker, his loving relationship with his wife Katherine White, his love of the natural world and the barnyard animals that inhabited his farm, and his dedication to his life of words.

In short: Read This Book.

Friday, September 25, 2015

In Which I Welcome Our New City Librarian

My literary life in the past week has been pretty much nonexistent. I am reading another Catherine Aird mystery but nothing else right now. 

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Jim Blanton 

I did, however, get to meet our new city librarian Jim Blanton. He arrived on August 24. A newsletter item informed me that he would be visiting different library branches around town (there are 18 of them) to meet with patrons. On Monday I took myself down to the main library to see for myself what he had planned for the years ahead.

I thought the meeting would be held in the auditorium and he would introduce himself to those who showed up, give us an idea of his vision for the future, and then take questions and suggestions. I took a journal so I could make notes.

Turns out, though, that this was a very informal meet-and-greet affair. Mr. Blanton was stationed in the lobby and patrons could just walk up, introduce themselves, and chat with him for a few minutes.

I put my notebook down to shake his hand. I welcomed him to Louisville and told him that my mother had been head librarian of one of the system's busiest branches for twenty years and that I still felt a part of the library family. I let him know I was thrilled with the ebook lending library and had attended many of the library's author events and other programs over the years.

I also regaled him with my story of meeting Alexander McCall Smith (here). He highly approved of my tactics in crashing the tea given for AMS and applauded my resourcefulness. I suggested that if he could ever see fit to bring Bill Bryson to Louisville I would be most grateful.

Mr. Blanton is a Kentucky native and comes to us from his job as director of the Davis County Public Library in Owensboro. Before that he was with the Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia. He is also the incoming chairman of the Kentucky Public Library Association.

He assured me that he was a big proponent of library programs for the community and so I feel we are in good hands. I only wish I had thought to ask him what he was reading...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Rick Bragg's Southern Heart

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Rick Bragg is a journalist and a Southerner. This means he can tell a heck of a story in a few words and leave the reader laughing or crying...or both.

I have been a fan since reading his first book All Over But the Shoutin' which is the story of growing up dirt poor in Alabama and the sacrifices that his momma made for the family. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Although he has written other books about his family - one about his father and another about his maternal grandfather - his loving look at his mother remains my favorite.

I am quite taken with his style and also enjoyed reading a collection of his newspaper stories, Somebody Told Me. He loves the South and its people. 

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My Southern Journey: True Stories From the Heart of the South is his latest book. It is a collection of some new and some previously published essays and magazine pieces. He writes the Southern Journal column in Southern Living magazine so I imagine some of these musings come from there.

I heard Mr. Bragg speak here in Louisville years ago when he attended a library author event. I am in love with his voice, his squinty eyes, his care in choosing the precise word, his cracking good sense of humor. 

I am looking forward to reading his latest reflections on life below the Mason-Dixon line. Right now, I could use a good dose of Southern heart.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Brewster's Millions by George Barr McCutcheon

Imagine if you will, that you are 25 years old and your wealthy paternal grandfather has died and left you a million dollars. Yet, before you can even begin to think what changes that inheritance will mean in your life, you learn that your even wealthier maternal uncle has died and left you seven million dollars.


The only catch: in order to inherit the seven million you have to spend your grandfather's million dollar inheritance and you have a year to do so. At the end of the year you can have no assets at all or you will lose your uncle's seven million.

Such is the challenge presented to Montgomery Brewster in the 1902 novel Brewster's Millions by George Barr McCutcheon.

Certain other conditions apply. Brewster is not allowed to tell anyone about the terms of his uncle's will. There can be no excessive gifts to charity, no reckless gambling, no indiscriminate giving away of funds, and no endowments to institutions. 

What a dilemma to be in! And an adventure I am sure we all would like to have.  At first, Brewster figures that he has to spend about $2800 a day over the year and then ups that figure to almost $20,000 a day due to interest being paid by the bank. 

His first expenditure is an apartment on which he pays the year's rent - $23,000 - in advance. He pays a decorator $2500 to fix up certain rooms. He then buys furniture to fill those rooms and makes a deal with the dealers that they will buy everything back if he gives up the apartment before the year is up. Then, to try out his new digs, he throws a dinner party for sixty people. It was rumored among the guests that the cost spent on each person was $3000.

If you are keeping track, allowing for the undisclosed cost of the furniture, that still leaves him about $790,000 to go!

That is as far as I have gotten in the spending spree. I can't wait to see how young Brewster manages to deplete his bank account. 

The story has been adapted as a stage play and there are no less than ten film versions. Three of them were produced in India. As for any of the American versions, you can stream on Netflix the 1945 film starring Dennis O'Keefe as Brewster. A newer version with the same idea - the 1985 movie starring Richard Pryor as a baseball player - is on YouTube but the quality of the video is not so great.

Now, excuse me. Mr. Brewster and I have some spendin' to do!

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Which I Seek Help For My Dialectic-Impaired Self

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I decided I would begin reading my free ebooks (based on this list) with George Eliot's Adam Bede. I fired up my Kindle and was delighted by these opening sentences:

With a single drop of ink for a mirror, the Egyptian sorcerer undertakes to reveal to any chance comer far-reaching visions of the past. This is what I undertake to do for you, reader. With this drop of ink at the end of my pen, I will show you the roomy workshop of Mr. Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June in the year of our Lord 1799.

Quite quickly, though, I came to this:

"We'll hand up th' door at the fur end o' th' shop an' write on't 'Seth Bede, the Methody, his work.' Here, Jim, lend's hould o' th' red pot."

And then this:

"Ne'er heed me, Seth. Y' are a down-right good-hearted chap, panels or no panels; an' ye donna set up your bristles at every bit o' fun, like some o' your kin, as is mayhap cliverer."

I slogged through more incomprehensible dialect. And I do mean slogged. How is one to know what is going on here? A little bit of this goes a long way. All of this - let's just call it what is is: gibberish - slows down my reading and I totally lose the thread of the author's meaning.

For the same reason, I have avoided reading Mark Twain's tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I gave up after just a few pages of Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston and barely struggled through a few of those Southern Gothic novels. (I'm thinking of you Mr. Faulkner.)

So, I thought maybe instead of letting my eyes do the reading, perhaps I could let my ears do the work. I first headed to the library website and found that it has the book on discs. Eighteen of them! Then I searched the WorldWideWeb for 'adam bede audiobook' and that is when I discovered the LibriVox site.

Here we have Project Gutenberg for the Ear. The books in LV's catalog are all in the public domain - this means they are free - and are read by volunteers. There are over 19,000 completed books with 400 books in progress. There are also books in other languages, so if I want to listen to Candide (another book on my list), I can do so in English or French.

I can download Adam Bede as a zip file (whatever that is) or just head to the site and listen on my laptop. I can also listen to it on my smart phone. The reading is divided into chapters and the time it takes to listen to each one is noted (very helpful for planning). The longest chapter runs about 45 minutes; the shortest maybe eight minutes. Also, I see that the chapters are read by both male and female volunteers so there is some variety. 

The only obstacle here is that I don't really like listening to books. I am usually lulled to sleep. I don't do any sort of hand work, like knitting or crocheting, that I could try to do as I listen. And anyway, I am not much one for multi-tasking. 

Actually, I think the best solution would be to read the written words along with the spoken words. 

I don't know how this is all going to work out, but I will try a few different things and let you know.

Where do you stand on reading dialect? Or, on listening to books?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Early Bird Gets the EBook

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It seems as if I am not only a collector of real books, but I now have quite a stockpile of ebooks. Granted, they don't take up any shelf space, but hoarding is hoarding!

Earlier this year I signed up for Early Bird Books, a site that sends me a list of ebooks every weekday that are on offer at discounted prices. There is also one Free Book to be had and I have taken advantage of many of those. 

I decided to explore the free titles I have downloaded from that site on my Kindle and was surprised (OK, not really) at the number of books I had shelved but not read. 

Here is just a sampling:

Sea and Sardinia by D. H. Lawrence - A recounting of a trip he took in 1921 to the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy.

The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton - A series of detective stories. Does anyone remember the movie with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day?

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - An epistolary novel, somewhat autobiographical.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope - The adventures of an Englishman who takes the place of a kidnapped king to save the fictional country of Ruritania. Has been adapted into many movies.

Brewster's Millions by George Barr McCutcheon - The story of a young man who has to spend a million dollar inheritance in order to receive a seven million dollar inheritance. How fun would that be?

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce - I also have a paperback edition of this one.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit - I have heard so much about this popular British author that I wanted to read this book. Apparently the It is a somewhat grouchy fairy.

Adam Bede by George Eliot - I have only read Eliot's Middlemarch. Here is another classic for my entertainment.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - Of course! I love the opening paragraphs of this book.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse - I read this when I was in college and remember nothing about it except that it was quite the rage then. 

Candide by Voltaire - Oh, well, why not?

I see, now that I have made this list, that it represents quite a variety of genres.  These are all in the public domain and are probably available from many sites online, but it is nice to have titles just show up randomly. I am glad to know I have a wealth of books for the upcoming fall and winter. I feel like a little book-squirrel.

Any suggestions as to where I should begin? 

Friday, August 21, 2015

In Which I Explore Arts and Letters

Hunter Museum of American Art

I spent three days last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city has the distinctive Hunter Museum of American Art which sits overlooking the Tennessee River. The featured exhibit was "Monet and American Impressionism." It was quite well done and I enjoyed seeing the 70-some paintings and prints. I had my sketchbook with me so I was able to make a visual record of my visit there.

Sewanee: The University of the South
Sewanee, Tennessee

On Saturday, I drove about 60 miles west of the city to Sewanee: The University of the South. I have had it in mind to visit the college for sometime as it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful campuses in America. I was not disappointed.

I felt as if I were in Oxford or Cambridge. Soaring Gothic towers, thick stone walls, stained glass windows, and shaded sidewalks greeted me on this quiet afternoon. 

I gleaned the following historical information from various sources.

The private, liberal arts college was founded a few years before the start of the Civil War. The goal was to create a Southern university free of Northern influences. The six-ton cornerstone laid in 1860 was blown up by Union soldiers in 1863. This slowed things down for the college that was formed by the ten southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. It wasn't until 1868 that the first students graduated. 

The school publishes the Sewanee Review, founded in 1892, and is thought to be the longest running literary magazine in the country. It also hosts the annual Sewanee Writers' Conference which is funded in part by an endowment from the estate of American playwright Tennessee Williams. 

Authors Jill McCorkle, Tim O'Brien, and Alice McDermott are on the faculty of the conference which focuses on fiction, playwriting, and poetry. I missed the conference hubbub by two weeks. It ended August 2.

This is the student dining hall. Isn't it fabulous!

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All Saints' Chapel

The main things I wanted to see were the stained glass windows in the All Saints' Chapel which I read somewhere included images of writers, artists, and musicians. And sure enough, I found huge windows honoring J.S. Bach, Michelangelo, Sir Isaac Newton, and Carolus Linnaeus alongside Shakespeare and Cervantes. There was even one depicting a fellow dressed in what looked to be a brown sports jacket. He turned out to be Gifford Pinchot the first Chief of the United States Forestry Service who served from 1905-1910.

Below are photos I took of the literary honorees.

The Venerable Bede
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Don Quixote
I love the addition of the windmill and knight.

Blaise Pascal

William Shakespeare
Can you find the image of the Globe Theatre's stage?

I thought these were wonderful, colorful representations of these writers and I was glad I made the trip to see them. 

On a more somber note, the same day I was visiting Sewanee, Vice President Biden and the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defense were in Chattanooga attending a memorial service for the four Marines and one Navy sailor who were killed just the previous month. I didn't attend, but I did watch some of the speeches on YouTube later that evening. Quite moving.

Chattanooga Strong!