Showing posts from September, 2018

G. K. Chesterton & My Initial Thoughts Upon Beginning The Pickwick Papers

In writing about Dickens, G.K. Chesterton says, " . . . ... the fault of Pickwick (if it be a fault) is a change, not in the hero but in the whole atmosphere. The point is not that Pickwick turns into a different kind of man; it is that "The Pickwick Papers" turns into a different kind of book. And however artistic both parts may be, this combination must, in strict art, be called inartistic. A man is quite artistically justified in writing a tale in which a man as cowardly as Bob Acres becomes a man as brave as Hector. But a man is not artistically justified in writing a tale which begins in the style of "The Rivals" and ends in the style of the Iliad. In other words, we do not mind the hero changing in the course of a book; but we are not prepared for the author changing in the course of the book."

The book changed because not only did its author change, but the focus changed when the suicide of its illustrator caused Charles Dickens to suggest to the pu…

How To Fracture A Fairy Tale

Why do fairy tales continue to have such power and continue to draw readers into their often forest-dark narratives?  Storytellers are magicians who weave their art through words and imagery. They delve deep into the subconscious of what it means to be human and draws for both the dark and the light. Who does not respond to a story that begins, "Once upon a time . . . " or "Once there was . . ." or "In a far off land there was . . ." These tales are populated with princes, princesses, witches, wizards, step-mothers, forests dark, mythical creatures that burn in our memory like firebirds across the sky. Fairy tales inspire wonder because they do delve deep into our psyches and echo our dreams and nightmares, it projects our inner selves into the outer world. The darkness of the forest that we fear is that which we fear in ourselves: the unknown. And there is a violence and brutality that the original tales contained that tapped into a reality that we all …

Dickens, The Illustrator's Suicide, & The Runaway Success Of The Pickwick Papers

There is something quite magical about beginning a book by a beloved author, especially when the writer is Charles Dickens and the book is one you've never read before. I searched my bookshelves and located my copy of The Pickwick Papers. It's a Great Illustrated Classics edition that I purchased at a library book sale (yet another reason to love libraries). I knew very little about this work. Dickens wrote it after the huge success of his Sketches by Boz, a collection of columns and essays he had written for various London newspapers. 

Like all of Dickens' novels, The Pickwick Papers was published as serials with the first installment coming out on March 30, 1836. The series was built around the illustrations of Robert Seymour. Seymour had already established himself as one the great English illustrators by producing over 300 humorous drawings and political caricatures. There is a controversy as to who actually originated the idea for The Pickwick Papers: Seymour or Dick…

Deciding On Dickens

I've never undertaken reading an entire author's work in their entirety, from the first novel published to their last, and read them in order and one after the other. Yet the more I began to consider this idea, the more I became fascinated by the idea of what I would learn reading book by book as a writer develops and hones their craft, their storytelling ability, their themes, their narrative structures and how they weave together an intricate plot. I wanted to undertake this literary journey with an author whose works I had not read all of, which meant that Jane Austen was out of the running, and with whom I would enjoy spending and devoting so much of my time to. There are some writers that were automatically removed from my decision (yeah, I'm looking at you James Joyce). Yes, though I love some of Joyce's work, I was in no mood to slog my way through Ulysses, of which I have already failed to do many times previously, nor face the even more daunting Finnegan'…

Reading Treasure Island During A Hurricane

Oak trees were lashed about by heavy winds. Rain endlessly poured down from the dark-charcoal sky and sluiced down the roof of our house.  The noise of the hurricane was broken only by the snapping of limbs and the sound of them crashing to the ground. I needed a book to take my mind off my circumstances. At first, I grabbed my copy of Best-Loved Folktales of the World from the shelf. I opened this well-read book and began to read the Norwegian tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon." I came to this line, " . . . the weather was so wild and rough outside, and it was so cruelly dark, and rain fell and wind blew, till the walls of the cottage shook again." And I immediately slammed the book shut! Clearly not the right choice. Then I took down a book I had not read since I was a boy: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. With my cup of tea and a blanket, I snuggled up on the couch and found myself lost within the pages of this adventure tale.

As a child, we …

The World Is Our Classroom

The word school is derived from the Latin schola, which means "free time." Hardly what comes to mind when one thinks of schools today. Henri Nouwen wrote that "schools were originally meant to interrupt a busy existence and create some space to contemplate the mysteries of life." Again, this is not what comes to mind when we think of the public school system that we have today. When we pulled our younger son out of the school system, I sought the advice of others who homeschooled about where to begin, what would be the right curriculum for our family's needs. It came back in resounding agreement: Charlotte Mason. Why? Because this curriculum connected both nature and reading, two of the things we love most. 
Cindy Ross writes of how much her children were taught simply by placing them in the natural world. "Experiential learning is better than a book," she writes in The World is Our Classroom, "better than a school building, better than a comput…

Sleep Of Memory

"Five o'clock on a winter evening, as darkness was falling and lights were already appearing in the windows. I felt as if I'd gone back into the past by a phenomenon we could call eternal return; or else it simply meant that, for me, time had stopped at a given period of my life," writes the Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick Modiano in his new novel Sleep of Memory
Memory haunts and Modiano's is of an imagined Paris. One that he returns to often and rewrites through the lens of the past and the imagination of the novelist. Like Cezanne with fruit, this Paris of memory is a favorite subject of his novels. As he told Euan Cameron in a piece for The Guardian, "I had the impression as a boy that if I crossed the Seine to the Right Bank I was entering a fantasy world . . ." Like his previous works, Sleep of Memory is a patchwork of remembrances and fantasy, as he tells the melancholy tale of his own past. Part Proust, part Camus. 
It's a novel that m…

A Love Of Libraries & The Library Book

Though I cannot remember the exact age I was when my mother first took me to a public library, I can still remember the wide-eyed wonder I had at seeing all of the books on the shelves everywhere. Rooms filled with bookshelves full of books. And there was a whole section for children's books: picture books, beginner's readers, and classics of all kinds. I was enthralled and amazed and aghast that such a place existed. It was even more astounding to me that one could check out as many books as one wanted to and take them home to read. 
In The Library Book, Susan Orlean writes, "I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way . . . Throughout my childhood, I went there several times a week with my mother, starting from when I was very young . . ." This sentence resonated with me as it was my own experience. The library was the beginning of so much that I would cherish and hold dear. 
If I close my eyes, I can still recall the excitement of waiting outside the do…