Category Archives: Literary Influences

Chapter 719 Women, Books, and Art

I found this frontispiece page of a book recently.  I like how the woman portrayed in the picture is so engrossed in her book that she appears not to notice nor to care about the person who is watching her — the artist who drew and then engraved this picture. That artist paid close enough attention to his subject to capture the sheen of her hair, the shadow on her neck, the filigree of her fine lace collar and cuffs.   The attention to detail, while typical of engraved frontispiece portraits, makes me think that the artist is capturing an important interaction — that between a reader and her book. While I’m not an art collector, this frontispiece inspired me to look around for art that featured women reading books.  These days, with more women than men reading electronic books rather than the printed kind, this sort of bookish art may become a thing of the past.  Here are a few more:

See you in the stacks!


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Chapter 679 Tin Tin and Edgar Allan Poe Go To The Movies On A War Horse

 “Why should people pay good money to go out and see bad films when they can stay home and see bad television for nothing?”  Samuel Goldwyn

I don’t go out to see movies very often. Once upon a time, in the long ago days before I had children and before I understood how rare a truly well-told story is, I went to the movies almost once a week!  The only trouble is that most movies just didn’t tell stories as well as the books I read, and, gradually, I lost interest. That said, I did enjoy last year’s book-into-film portrayal of Charles Portis’s True Grit. As with a well-written book, well-written films are few and far between.  I now save my free time only for movies I really think I’ll enjoy. As you may have guessed from my bookish background, I like to see books that are developed into films. Too often, though, the adaptations don’t translate well to film. I recently learned about three “literary” films, based on books or authors that are coming soon to a theater near you. The trailers are interesting, but we’ll reserve judgment as to what the actual films are like when they are released.

The first is an adaptation of Herge’s Tin Tin books. The books themselves are great fun.  Written in a colorful, comic book style and depicting the adventures of a young reporter turned detective, Herge’s series of books take its readers on adventures all over the world with a very entertaining cast of characters.

I am optimistic about this film, and here’s why:  My own sons, Tom and Huck are, sadly, not (yet) enthusiastic readers. Oh, they can and do read just fine. It’s just that they don’t often seem to enjoy any of the current books written for their age group. I must say, after reading a few of today’s books written for boys age 10-13, I rather agree with the boys that most of them are rubbish. As for the “classics,” one hazard of being the sons of an antiquarian bookseller and former English teacher is that your mother is always shoving the classics down your throat and, while admitting to the superiority of the writing and storytelling, you reject them out of hand because your mom says you should be reading them. There are a few exceptions to this in our house, of course, and one series of books which Tom and Huck have long been ready, willing, and eager to read is the Tin Tin books.  They offer a lot of what young boys might like:  crazy characters, exotic locales, treasure hunting and adventure, and lots and lots of illustration.

I was pleased and excited to find out that Steven Spielberg (who seems to take great joy in directing adventure films — Raiders of the Lost Ark)  and Peter Jackson (who did a pretty good adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings a few years ago) are teaming up to produce this animated feature and to introduce Tin Tin to a new generation. I have my doubts about books being adapted into films, but if anyone could do justice to Tin Tin, it’s these two.  Here’s the trailer:

Spielberg also has a hand in another book-into-film being released at Christmas. War Horse, based on the book of the same title by Michael Morpurgo.

Last but not least comes The Raven, featuring none other than John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.  I enjoy John Cusack as an actor, but I can’t really imagine him as Edgar Allan Poe. We’ll see how the final film is.

In any case, it’s nice to see Hollywood paying an extra bit of attention to books these days. Books provide the best content, hands down!

See you in the stacks!


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Chapter 672 September — “New books, erasers, chalk, and such . . .”

Happy first day of September! (Okay — it may be September 2 by time I post this.) I often think of the beginning of a new school year as a sort of new year or new season. Such thoughts come from having been a student and then a teacher for so many years of my life. September always marks the start of fall and the start of all things new — new school supplies for Tom and Huck, new book fair season, and new recipes that don’t rely so much on the grill, which we use often during the summer months. Although the San Francisco Bay Area has rather gentle seasons the year ’round, I know that in other parts of the country it’s beginning to look like autumn. I like paying attention to the turning of each season.

For those of you living in the Eastern part of the United States who are, probably, not enjoying the September weather and who have suffered from Hurricane Irene and its aftermath, I hope that this Hurricane Season passes quickly for you and that your region is as resilient as I think it is. Californians are no strangers to earthquakes, floods, mudslides, and the like, so we are thinking of you during these difficult days.

And now for the annual September poem:

“The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.”
– John Updike, September

See you in the stacks!

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Chapter 655 Happy Independence Day!

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Chapter 581 “We few, we happy few, we band of bibliophiles . . .”

It’s Monday as I write this and it will be Tuesday when many of you read it. If I were better organized, I would have had it posted earlier in the day. . .

Like I said, it’s Monday.

Sometimes I need a little extra motivation on Mondays. Do you?

Lucky for me, today (Monday) is the 595th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, which took place on October 25, 1415.

Even though it took place a long time ago, Shakespeare immortalized this important battle in his play Henry V. When King Henry V and his band of outnumbered Englishmen are about to go “once more into the breach” of battle against the French, the king delivers a rousing speech exhorting his motley crew to think of the glory and the nobility they will attain if they defeat the French (Act IV, scene iii).

When I’m tired, or procrastinating, or just plain believing I can’t accomplish something, I re-read King Henry’s speech. And when I re-read the famous lines, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” I secretly replace the word “brothers” with “bibliophiles”. We hear so much about the death of print and so often that books are dying, that, in this age of digital media, we bibliophiles are, like King Henry’s little army, a small but happy band who seem outnumbered and surrounded by the encroaching technology of our epoch. When I read it with my — ahem — small correction, this speech makes me, like all good bibliophiles, want to preserve and promote print.

(The encroaching technology of our epoch? Yikes! When I read too much of an author like Shakespeare I subconsciously — and badly — attempt to mimic his style. I’m sorry. I just can’t help it.)

You try it. Listen to the speech and replace the word “brothers” with “bibliophiles” at the appropriate part. If you’re a bibliophile, you’ll like how it sounds.

Here’s a very inspiring performance of King Henry’s speech performed in 1989 by Kenneth Branagh. Makes me want to rally and do great things every time I hear it:

And for those who prefer to read Shakespeare rather than to see his work performed, here’s the text of most of the speech, though slightly altered from the performance above:


What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

After that, I’m ready to take on the world, at least for a little while.

And now, “once more into the breach, dear friends, once more . . .”


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Chapter 549 The Bronte Sisters — “Forced to Fight Evil Publishers to get their Books into Print”

The video below arrived in my email inbox today from from a friend who knows my love of all things Bronte. Yes, I know. I am too easily amused. Enjoy!

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Chapter 502 What a Character! The Answers – UPDATED

Sorry not to get back to this sooner. It’s been a busy week. Without further adieu, here are my answers to the literary character questionnaire I posted a few days ago.

1. If you could host a party with 7 literary characters, who would they be and why?
Gatsby (who could throw a better party?), Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler (ditto), E.M. Delafield’s Provincial Lady (the after-party gossip would be hilarious), Shakespeare’s Henry V (he could give an inspiring toast), Cliff Janeway (John Dunning’s biblio-detective would have great bookish tales to tell), and Bertie Wooster.

2. Who is your literary role model?
I’m assuming this question refers to a fictional character rather than an actual author and writing style. So, in that vein, I answer with two very different people as my role models: Dante Alighieri (the pilgrim in the story) and Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, that answer will not surprise you.

3. Which literary house would you like most to live in?
Tara (the huge plantation house in Gone with the Wind), Pemberley (Mr. Darcy’s House from Pride and Prejudice — just imagine the library in that house!), or the Ingalls homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota (one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood homes), or, though it’s not fictional, Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s farm. Sorry. I can’t pick just one.

4. Which literary couple would you like most for parents?
Either Ma and Pa Ingalls or The Man with the Yellow Hat from Curious George.

5. Pick 3 literary characters you would like to have as siblings.
Tiny Tim (from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens) — he is kind.
Laura Ingalls (from Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder) — she has spunk and self-sufficiency.
Elinor Dashwood (from Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen) — she has common sense.

6. Who is your favorite literary villain?
I don’t really have a favorite. There are lots of interesting villains in literature. There’s Nellie Olsen, tormentor of Laura Ingalls Wilder. There’s also everyone who is in Dante’s vision of Hell in the Divine Comedy. They were villainous in their lives on earth, and now they are being tormented in Hell. The literary villain who scares me most is O’Brien from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

7. Name a character that most people dislike, but that you do not. Why do you like them?
I always liked Melanie Wilkes from Gone with the Wind. She is liked by all of the other characters in the book for being a gracious, generous, and truly kind lady. However, most people I know who have read the book think she is kind of wimpy and too sweet to be human. Most people want to be Scarlett O’Hara. I really like Melanie, though, and I think she has a hidden strength and fearlessness, demonstrated when, shortly after giving birth to her first child, she kills the Yankee who sneaks into Tara and then helps Scarlett hide his body. I first read GWTW when I was 13, and Melanie’s character made an impression on me. I like that her virtuous personality is combined with her willingness to slay dragons (or Yankees) when necessary.

8. Which minor character deserves a book all to themselves, in your opinion?
The hero’s best friend from any book is certainly someone whose back-story deserves to be told. I think we should start with Stephen Maturin, close friend of Jack Aubrey in Patrick O’Brian’s books.

9. With which character from literature do you identify most?
The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe. 🙂

10. If you could go into a novel, which one would it be and why?
Again, I can’t choose just one. Allow me to say that when I do read a novel I like, I become engrossed enough to tune out all that is going on around me. This is not necessarily a good thing for child safety. 🙂

11. Name 3 — 7 books that you rarely see on people’s favorite book lists, that are high on your own.
The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
A Gentle Madness, by Nicholas Basbanes
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

12. Which is your least favorite book of those that are considered “classics”?
I don’t really like Catcher in the Rye. I know it’s supposed to be a classic portrayal of teenagers, but I worked with a lot of teenagers when I taught high school, and most were not as whiny as Holden. Just sayin’. . .

UPDATED: In #7, I got some information incorrect. Melanie did NOT kill the Yankee. Scarlett killed him and Melanie helped pick his pockets and hide his body. Then she cleaned the bloody floor. Sorry. It’s been years since I last read Gone with the Wind.

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