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Monday, January 20, 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

This month we are honoring Lewis Carroll, the man who made us delight in nonsense and embrace madness.  Carroll's wildly imaginative tales of young Alice and her forays into Wonderland have inspired movies, television series, video games, music, teen books, picture books, graphic novels etc. You would be hard pressed to find a man, woman, or child unfamiliar with the Mad Hatter's tea party, the Cheshire cat, or the Queen of Hearts shouting "Off with her head!"

Prior to the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) was a shy math teacher who enjoyed making up stories to entertain children. When the daughter of a friend (the real life Alice) begged Dodgson to write down the story he had made up for her, he complied. By chance the story fell into the hands of another author who begged Dodgson to have it published. Could anyone have imagined that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland would still be universally popular more than a century later? Or that Alice and all of the interesting characters she meets in Wonderland would have such a pervasive impact on modern culture?

Lewis Carroll was born January 27th (also my son's birthday), 1832 and to celebrate the anniversary of his birth the library is hosting an Alice in Wonderland party this Saturday (the 25th) at 10am. I have been busily making Wonderland-themed displays and decorations so I hope that it feels like you have fallen down the rabbit hole when you enter the children's area.  
There will be "wonderful" activities for kids of all ages on Saturday from making unbirthday cards to finger-painting the roses red. After games and crafts, kids will attend the mad hatter's tea party and watch Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Business of Reading

I've read my fair share of business books, and have found that they often don't fit the bill.  How many times have I been lost in a sea of lingo, adrift in weird sayings that fit into the author's philosophy but have no meaning in the real world?  Or what about authors who spend pages and pages and pages explaining something to the reader without ever telling them how they can apply the information to their lives?  This is why, whenever I find a business book that is well-written and practical and good, I make a point of sharing them with others.  

One book that I found extremely helpful was I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know by Cosmopolitan Editor Kate White.  Although the subtitle posits the advice as being specifically for "gutsy girls," I think that readers of both genders can benefit from most of the tips within.  White has led a very interesting life, and she's not afraid to share both her mistakes and her successes in the book.  Unlike a lot of other books, the advice wasn't applicable only to people with high-level CEO-type jobs.

Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control by Christopher Lehane, Mark Fabiani, and Bill Guttentag took me a ridiculously long time to read, but this is not because I didn't like it or find it helpful.  I think that there was just so much information to absorb and so many things for me to ponder.  The great thing about this book is that the authors have come up with their ten commandments and have found a very effective way to share them.  For each commandment, they come up with famous examples of people who followed them, people who didn't, and ways that everyday people applied them to a crisis.  They also break each commandment down into a few simple statements that they reiterate often and list at the end of the chapter.  The information is easy to understand and easy to digest.  I may not have faced a gigantic crisis yet, but if one should ever arise, this book has given me the tools I need to rise above it.

And, for the women out there who feel like they just can't get ahead in their jobs and just can't figure out why, there's Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel, PhD.  The advice in this book is applicable to both work and private life, and it's arranged in such a way as to make this book very easy to use.  Each mistake that women tend to make--like couching opinions in the form of a question, or not taking the head seat at the table when going to a meeting--is explained, along with the negative things that can come from it.  Then, Frankel gives a short checklist of things you can do to counteract the behavior in question.  It's so useful!!  This book made me question things about myself that I'd never really thought of as liabilities in the workplace, and then gave me advice on how to overcome them.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Feeling Sappy

Ages ago (or at least it seems like it was an age or two ago) I had intended to write a follow up post to "Books are Great Gifts Too". Well, that was before an ice storm knocked out my power for a week, forcing my my family and I to move in with my parents. Bless my parents, for taking us in and, thank God that they didn't lose power. However, sharing my childhood bedroom with my husband, three children, and hundred pound lab was more than a little stressful.  Throw in the usual Christmas chaos and I just never had the time, energy, or will to post anything new.

I promise that I will eventually post more about books that make wonderful gifts, but today I am going to write about a different topic.  What am I going to write about?  Great love stories in literature. You are probably wondering what prompted my sudden interest in romance. It sounds strange, but it was the death of my husband's grandmother last week on the one year anniversary of her husband's funeral. Charlotte and Dale Slisher welcomed me as a granddaughter when I was only 19 and I loved them just as much as my own grandparents. To lose them both so close together has been devastating on the family, but after Dale died last year Charlotte just seemed to fade a little more each day. It is their remarkable love story that has inspired me to write this post.

So before I start crying (again), here are a few of my favorite love stories in literature:

1. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I love every Jane Austen novel and would probably include them all on this list. Unlike modern romances, Austen doesn't need pages of salacious sex to express passion. It is present in every gaze and conversation between the two. The dialogue may come across as very prim and proper, but you can feel the heat flaring between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.
    “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” 

2. Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 
This is one of my absolute favorite books and I have read it more than a dozen times. Jane's life is fraught with tragedy and misfortune, but her fortitude and aplomb remain resolute. In the majority of romance novels the man is the one to fly in and sweep the girl off her feet, but in Bronte's novel it is Jane who comes to the rescue of Mr. Rochester. The strength and intelligence of Jane was probably quite radical for a novel published in 1847.  Of course, the book is superior, but the movie adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Joan Fontaine as the title character and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester is outstanding. Honestly, can any actor compete with Orson Welles; I don't think so.
3. Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Personally, I never cared much for Scarlett. After all, she was selfish, vain, cruel, and materialistic; but who cares about her. I just wanted to be carried away by Rhett Butler and I am sure that I am not alone in that desire. Most people are familiar with the movie and I am a huge Clark Gable fan, but I highly recommend reading the book. The writing is rich and beautiful and there are so many details that could not fit in a movie. Mitchell actually won the pulitzer prize for Gone With the Wind in 1937, much to the dismay of many critics who did not consider the novel "real" literature.  No matter what the critics thought, I think that it is a wonderful and enjoyable book.

4. Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man
I admit that I read Hammett's book, because I was such a huge fan of The Thin Man movie and its sequels. I love old movies and William Powell and Myrna Loy are brilliant as the title characters.  Hammet's book contains all of the witty banter that I love in the movies and it is a devilishly clever mystery to boot. The relationship between Nick and Nora is really what makes the book (and films) so much fun. There is no "will they" or "won't they" get together because, obviously, they are already married. What makes their love story remarkable is the fun Nick and Nora (and we cannot forget Asta) have together.  No doubt, the two are madly in love, but they are also silly, facetious, and flirtatious with one another.

5. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Most people would probably include Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on a list of Greatest Love Stories, but, honestly, those two were children who became infatuated with one another and didn't have an ounce of brains between them. Besides, I prefer Shakespeare's comedies and Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite. At the beginning of the play Benedick and Beatrice loathe one another, or at least they love to taunt one another.  

   “What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?
   Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
   such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?”
   ― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
Obviously insults and snappy comebacks are the foundation of the best romances.  Claudio and Hero may be the primary couple in Much Ado About Nothing, but Benedick and Beatrice are the most fun.

6. Ash and Anjuli from The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
One summer I got it into my head to read books that had been made into television mini-series. Don't ask me why, I think that I was 13 at the time. The Far Pavilions was by far the best book that I read that summer and if you have not read it, I promise that it is worth the nearly 1000 pages (don't fall of your chair, it's really good). The novel takes place during the British Raj, around the mid 19th century, and the historical aspect was fascinating. You cannot help being swept away as Ash and Anjuli battle race, caste, and culture in order to be together.

7. Anne and Gilbert from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series
Most people do not think of love and romance when someone mentions Anne of Green Gables. However, from the moment Gilbert calls Anne "Carrots" you just know that they are destined to be together. It takes her a few books, but Anne eventually realizes that calm and intelligent Gilbert is her perfect match. After all, could anyone but Gilbert contend with the fiery wit and vivacity of Anne? I had to put pictures from the amazing movie version. You know that you watched it and you had butterflies in your stomach every time Gilbert was on the screen.

If I did not include your favorite love stories I apologize.  These are the characters that first came to my mind when I was thinking about timeless and insurmountable love stories.