Monthly Archives: December 2008

Good Old Holden

In the debate about the reading choices and habits of young people there is a fair amount of trashing of the books that at one time were considered cutting edge, but now seem to bore the pants off certain young readers.  Case in point — Catcher in the Rye.  I didn’t read it in school (would, frankly, have preferred to over the books I did read, say The Scarlet Letter), but did so on my own along with all of Salinger’s output.  In my mid-70s high school Salinger was, along with Brautigan and Vonnegut, one cool dude.

Now it seems Holden’s creator is coming up on his 90th birthday and Charles McGrath has an interesting essay about this elusive author at “Still Paging Mr. Salinger.”


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Filed under Literature, YA

Cinderella Comstock

When I was ten, I read a novel called A Girl of the Limberlost that made a deep impression on me. I assumed that its author, Gene Stratton-Porter, was a man, and gave the matter no further thought. I read the book, written in 1909, at a small New Hampshire girls’ camp—run by an elderly Congregationalist minister and his wife and itself past its prime—curled up on a worn velvet sofa in an outbuilding called the Lodge, whose walls were hung with Indian blankets and sepia photographs of girls in togas doing eurythmic dances in a forest clearing. It was 1944, and civilian America was undergoing a regimen of wartime austerity by which it was never more than mildly discommoded, but that imparted a sort of scratchy gray wool feel to the atmosphere. The lack of gas and the rationing of meat touched us campers—we had to walk the three and a half miles to the lake where we swam, and we ate a lot of creamed codfish—but did not register on us as deprivations.

The above is the beginning of Janet Malcolm’s fascinating essay about Gene Stratton-Porter, in the latest New York Review of Books.   This is not the first time I’ve come across someone waxing nostalgic enthusiasm for Girl of the Limberlost. My impression was this was a book in the same vein as Anne of Green Gables and  I always thought I should find it and read it, so warmly did people speak of it.  The book is avalaible here to read in its entirety, but after reading Malcolm’s essay I’m not sure if I want to or not.

(via Paper Cuts)


Filed under Literature

Well-Read or Clever Test Taker? Take Your Pick.

Nyah, nyah.  I did better than she did! ( Not much better though.) Anyway, MY score on the guardian book quiz was 23 out of a possible 33 with the following recomendation: “On the brink of good. Read this site more often next year and you’ll be even better informed.”  Okey Dokey.


Filed under Literature

Mary Sue Hearts Johnny, Trouble in Philadelphia, and the Muppet

I just was catching up on my reading of J.L. Bell’s blog, Boston 1775, and found these gems:

Johnny Tremain fan fiction.  Who knew? Boston 1775: The Irregular Spellings Actually Fit the Historical Setting

Then this more serious post gives us, William Hogeland’s “Constitutional Conventions: Public History Should Make Us Think.”    Wait, wait! Don’t click away just yet.    Hogeland considers how history is presented at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, providing readers with a fascinating and thoughtful examination of the different ways history of that time and place is considered by scholars and the public.  I think it is worthwhile reading for those of us who are interested in the presentation of history to children, either in books and/or in the classroom.

And finally, a very clever quiz, “18th-Century Connecticutian or Muppet?

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The Digested Catcher in the Rye

If you really want to hear about it, you’ll probably want to know about where I was born, but I can’t really be bovvered with all that David Copperfield crap. So I’ll just tell you about all this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean, that’s all I told DB, and he’s my brother an’ all, so I sure as hell can’t be arsed to tell you. He’s in Hollywood and writes movies. I hate movies. They’re so phony. But then I hate everything, cos everything’s boring, right?

John Crace regularly digests classics for the Guardian. This time he’s taken on The Catcher in the Rye (and given it a slightly British —posh, anyone? —-and 2008 flavor).

Digested classics: The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger | Books | The Guardian

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The Horn Book Review of The Tale of Despereaux Film

Horn Book editor Claire E. Gross provides an excellent movie review of The Tale of Despereaux.

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Friending Narnia


Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia was a very enjoyable read for this former friend of Narnia.  I too loved the books as a child. I too was shocked, shocked, to discover the Christian subtext when a young adult. And I too still treasure my Puffin box set.  (But, Laura, don’t worry; I wouldn’t take it out to show you as did that B&B proprietor.)

This book is a lovely melange of memoir, biography, criticism, journalism, and scholarship.  I loved the way Miller wove her own musings and experiences in with quotes from others (especially those of Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke), clear and insightful discussion of Lewis’s academic writing (especially on writing and fairy tales), and a quite thorough and fascinating overview of his relationship with Tolkien.  I also liked the way she brought in developmental issues related to child reading (and lovely vignettes of her reading with a couple of three-year-old friends), Bettelheim’s views on fairy tales, and all sorts of bricolage.

The one frustration for me is that there are no end notes, bibliography, or references of any sort. I’m assuming that was intentional as it is very journalistic and meant to appeal, no doubt, to a general audience, but I would have liked to have seen some of the citations.


Filed under Children's Literature

Sage Snicket

Is it a wonderful life?  What should Sarah do?  What should I do?

Answers to these and other questions of life from Mr. Lemony Snicket are here.

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Jan Pienkowski Interviewed


The remarkable Jan Pienkowski is interviewed at the Guardian.


Filed under Art

Gregory Maguire’s Matchless

Every year, NPR asks a writer to compose an original story with a Christmas theme. This year, Gregory Maguire reinvents the Hans Christian Andersen classic “The Little Match Girl” for a new time and new audiences.

When it was first translated from Danish and published in England in the mid-19th century, audiences likely interpreted the Little Match Girl’s dying visions of lights and a grandmother in heaven as metaphors of religious salvation. Maguire’s new piece, entitled, “Matchless,” re-illuminates Andersen’s classic, using his storytelling magic to rekindle Andersen’s original intentions, and to suggest transcendence, the permanence of spirit and the continuity that links the living and the dead.

An illustrated gift edition of “Matchless” will be published by William Morrow in fall 2009.

Matchless: A Christmas Story : NPR

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