Shakespeare Season

Some years back I spent a grand Fourth of July sitting  in a long line for free Shakespeare in the Park in NYC. To get into the play, you had to line up early and wait until 6 or so when the Delacorte Theater handed out evening's allotment of tickets. I forgot what we saw, though I remember loving the play; maybe it was "Much Ado About Nothing" or "Twelfth Night." Several people in our group had brought along bags of fresh cherries, which arrive in plenitude in the city's Korean delis around the first of July. We snacked, shot the breeze, and let time drift by until the ticket guy appeared. I'll always associate the happy feeling of friends, Shakespeare, and cherries with the Fourth. 

On the Fourth this year I finished reading the history play "Henry IV, Part 1," and also stumbled across Oxford's Emma Smith's free online lecture about Falstaff, the play's most interesting character. Smith even compares the "fat-kidneyed rascal" to Homer Simpson! Both are funny because they're countercultural, she says. The talk is part of the "Approaching Shakespeare" series of podcasts, which can be found here

Emma Smith figures in Me and Shakespeare: Adventures with the Bard, by Herman Gollob, a Texas-born book editor (Doubleday, 2002). Seeing Ralph Fiennes in a Broadway production of "Hamlet" changed Gollob's life, and he began to study Shakepeare on his own. Part memoir and part guide, Gollob's book is full of good recommendations (particularly for books and films) for people who want to deepen their appreciation of the Bard. Gollob's adventures include a three-week summer course at Oxford taught by...Emma Smith.

A local company is performing an outdoor "Romeo and Juliet" soon, and that will probably be my next brush with Shakespeare. The Washington State cherries have hit the stores, too.


Shakespeare in the Park (now celebrating its fiftieth anniversary)

"Shakespeare After All: The Later Plays," with Marjorie Garber. A free video series from the Harvard Extension School. I haven't seen this yet, but it sounds great.

Shakepeare on the Sound. The Bard in the 'burbs.

Monday To-Do List

I'm borrowing this format from the What Do We Do All Day? blog, who employs it on Fridays.

Listen: Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Cool book, set in Revolutionary War-era New York and told by an enslaved girl. I am loving the history. 12-year-old Jr. and I listen to this one in the car.

Read: Henry IV, Part 1, by William Shakespeare. I am actually listening to this on audiobook, too, as I read the text. My first time with Prince Hal, Falstaff, and Hotspur. I am using a BBC Radio recording (rawther expensive at $14.95 on iTunes), and right like it.

Puzzle Over: A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster. Brits in India. Forster's syntax confuses me more often than I'd like to admit, but I think I'm going to stick with it. Something terrible is going to happen, yes?

Think About: Books for second graders. (I'm a volunteer classroom reader.) This year's Top Three were Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer; Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems; and SpongeBob and the Princess, by David Lewman (Clint Bond, illustrator). Several children knew the first two from kindergarten, and everyone knew SpongeBob. I'd like to find slightly longer books that the group will like as much as these for next year. Also popular was playing Mad Libs with the students.

Add: To the library list: Quinn Cummings' The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling. Due in August. Quinn Cummings! If you were a kid in the seventies, you remember this very funny writer as a child actor ("Family," "The Goodbye Girl"). She blogs at The QC Report. Hat tip: Melissa Wiley.

Recommend: 1. Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Essays, profiles from magazines like GQ and the Paris Review. The collection includes a somewhat disrespectful but fascinating piece on the Southern Agrarian Andrew Lytle. Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times, "Most of the essays in 'Pulphead' are haunted, in a far more persuasive way, by what Mr. Sullivan refers to with only slight self-mockery as 'the tragic spell of the South.'" 2. " 'Not Everyone Can Read Proof': The Legacy of Lu Burke," by Mary Norris, at The New Yorker's Page-Turner blog. A copy editor leaves a million dollars to a library. A town vs. library dispute ensues. Mary Norris is a friend of mine, and I am a huge fan of her always excellent writing and storytelling.

Saturday Morning Reading, 05.19.12

A few highlights from this week's reading:

Tanita S. Davis, author of the newly released YA novel Happy Families, pens a wonderful tribute to the late Jean Craighead George's novel My Side of the Mountain. I loved that book when I was a kid. Loved it. Jean Craighead George died recently at the age of  92.

In tomorrow's New York Times Book Review (available online now), Judith Shulevitz writes about listening to audiobooks with her children. I smiled at her choices, "...or they’re books we’ve always meant to read but needed children as an excuse to do so" because I've felt the same way. See "Let's Go Reading in the Car."

The Nonfiction Detectives review Kelly Milner Hall's Alien Investigations: Searching for the Truth About UFOs and Aliens. I added the title to our library list immediately; my 12 year old can't get enough of this subject. Don't miss the other articles on the Detectives' blog; you'll find all kinds of good recommendations for young nonfiction fans.

After following a link from Page-Turner, the New Yorker's revitalized book blog, I was happy to add Rohan Maitzen's Novel Readings: Notes on Literature and Criticism to Google Reader. In a recent post, she makes the case for Middlemarch and book clubs, providing a number of helpful tips to taking on George Eliot's 1,000+-page classic. Maitzen is an English professor at Nova Scotia's Dalhousie University.

I'm bookmarking this post from Misadventures of the Monster Librarian because of the folktale recommendations for second graders. "My" second graders (the class I read to once a week) like folktales a lot.

Speaking of second graders, I read Lita Judge's excellent nonfiction picture book Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why to them a few weeks ago. My crew was particularly delighted by the scat-bombing Scandinavian Fieldfare, mentioned by NC Teacher Stuff in his review. In our conversation after the read-aloud, I found out that several of the kids own parrots. Parrot stories abounded.

Advice from Emily Post, 1951: Hats

StateLibQld 1 205152 Two women enjoying a drink, 1940-1950


Shall I Wear a Hat?

Notwithstanding the continued practice of certain younger women to go hatless on all occasions, best taste exacts that in a city a hat be worn with street clothes in the daytime. In fact it is impossible for a hatless woman to be chic. With an evening dress a hat is incorrect—except on the stage in a musical review.

 from Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage, by Emily Post. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1951.

Reading excerpts from Emily Post's 1951 guide made three of us laugh til we cried. Hatless! Horrors. 

Image digitised by the State Library of Queensland, and provided to the Wikimedia Commons as part of a cooperative project. The original photograph is in the public domain. The metadata has been released by State Library of Queensland under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license.


I've been to Graceland a couple of times, and even wrote a little gift book about Elvis for a book packager years ago. The following passage, though, which comes from Darcey Steinke's memoir, Easter Everywhere, strikes me as about the truest thing I've ever read about E.P.

In Graceland light seems to come at you from all directions, as if the sun has liquefied and flowed into the floor, walls, and ceiling. I recognized in the glittery decor a longing for transcendence that is often labeled as tacky.

"A longing for transcendence." Beautiful.

Educational Bonus

9780553211801She [Rosamond Vincy] was admitted to be the flower of Mrs. Lemon's school, the chief school in the county, where the teaching included all that was demanded in the accomplished female—even to extras, such as the getting and and out of a carriage.

I laughed when I came across that passage in Middlemarch; "the getting in and out of a carriage" was just too delightful. I've recently begun George Eliot's novel for the fifth or sixth time, but this go-round feels like I'll read all the way through. My copy, a Bantam Classic paperback, features an introduction by Margaret Drabble, but I'd like to finish the book before reading Drabble's words. Sometimes authoritative opinions can color what I read. At any rate, a literary classic seems just right for the cold spring that usually constitutes April around southern New England.

Image courtesy of Powell's Books

Quoted: Wild

"I'd loved books in my regular, pre-PCT [Pacific Crest Trail] life, but on the trail, they'd taken on even greater meaning. They were the world I could lose myself in when the one I was actually in became too lonely or harsh or difficult to bear."

from Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf, 2012). I highly recommend this new memoir/quest story.


Biographile, whose tagline is "Real Stories. Real People. Great Reading.," is a new Random House site devoted to biographies. While most of the recommendations are strictly for adults, I recently wrote about some children's books from a variety of publishers.

Reading picture books together is often the beginning of a grand conversation about all kinds of subjects, from racial tolerance to fossils. Some children will be able to read the following illustrated biographies themselves, but given their rich vocabularies and somewhat higher reading levels, the books make ideal read-alouds for moms to share with kids.

To read the rest, go here. You'll also find Biographile pieces on biographies of Harriet Tubman, last night's NBCC (National Book Critics Circle) Awards, and more.

Arf! Arf! Dog Memoirs


For some time now I've been reading one dog book after another. My strategy for getting an actual dog has involved an obsession with Petfinder, talking about getting a dog ad infinitum, and reading stacks of books. The training guides are fine, but I especially liked the dog memoirs, or, really, writers' books about their pets. You can read about some of my favorites over at Biographile. (Scroll down on the page to "The 5 'Best in Show' Dog Memoirs.") Our real-life pooch arrives soon, too.

P.S. The thirteen puppies in the photograph need homes! Contact CARA, a nonprofit animal shelter in Jackson, Mississippi, if you're interested.

Image courtesy of CARA's Facebook page

Norman's Best Books of 2011

Once again I’ve asked my husband, Norman, to write about his best books of the year. Norman is always on the lookout for good suggestions and likes the reviews in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, People, and Oprah, as well as the ones on NPR.

Take it away. It's all yours, Norm. (See also Norman's Best Books of 2009 and 2010.)

I’ve read many good books this year, so I am happy that once again Susan asked that I share some of my favorites with Chicken Spaghetti readers. My top 5 books are Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman, Long Drive Home by Will Allison, Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrère (translated from the French by Linda Coverdale), We the Animals by Justin Torres, and The Free World by David Bezmozgis. Yes, that’s 7 books but I didn’t have the heart to drop 2 of these great reads.

Rules of Civility and The Hare with Amber Eyes are favorites that I encouraged Susan to read (as in, “Have you read it yet? Have you? Have you?”), and I have given both as gifts to others. Rules of Civility, by first-time author Amor Towles, is a wonderful story of three young people in New York City circa 1938. I was so taken by the characters when not reading the book I often found myself thinking about the them. Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes is a true story of family, survival, and art, and the fact that Mr. de Waal is an artist (he’s a ceramist) comes through in his vivid and detailed descriptions of palaces, furniture, and his family’s collection of netsuke (small, Japanese carvings of boxwood and ivory).

This Beautiful Life and Long Drive Home were well-told stories about how mistakes (and in the case of Long Drive Home a tragic mistake) can destroy a family. Lives Other Than My Own and We the Animals were deeply moving books, with the former containing two gracefully told stories of loss and the latter being a wild ride of a book that reminded me of the writing of Junot Diaz. David Bezmozgis’s The Free World is about the Krasnansky Family as they flee Latvia in 1978 and have to spend months in Italy before they can emigrate to their final destination. The Free World was the best of the books I read by the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” noteworthy authors, though The Tiger’s Wife (Téa Obreht) and Swamplandia! (Karen Russell) weren’t far behind. (Notice how I snuck in two more must reads!)

Though not in my Best of the Best grouping, I also would recommend the following well-written novels: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal, Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar, Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim), Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman, Bent Road by Lori Roy, Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, Faith by Jennifer Haigh, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, The Submission by Amy Waldman, and A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen. I also add to this grouping The Marriage Plot, but I have to admit that it took me several chapters before I fully got into the story, and the book was not nearly as captivating as Jeffrey Eugenides’s last book, Middlesex.

While novels are usually my favorite books, I was very glad to have read An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken (an outstanding memoir), Just Kids by Patti Smith (one of the best stories of love, friendship, and coming of age in New York), Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller (a fascinating story about the author’s parents and their multitude of challenges living in Africa), An Exclusive Love: A Memoir written by Johanna Adorján and translated from the German by Anthea Bell (the story of Adorján’s grandparents who survived the Holocaust but couldn’t bear the thought of living without one another in the final years of their lives), and The Empty Family by Cólm Toibín (a short story collection by the author of the excellent 2009 novel Brooklyn).

A few lighter reads that proved to be entertaining include An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French, My New American Life by Francine Prose, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky (translated from the German by Tim Mohr), and Starting from Happy by Patricia Marx. And, lastly, what would a year be without a few good mysteries, where Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson and A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny were among my favorites.

Happy reading in 2012,