In the Field

Friday Field Notes 080114

BookTrunkPhoto credit: Twitter. RT @NorthshireBooks (7/30) It’s a bookcase. It’s a trunk. It’s a bookcase AND a trunk. It’s Louis Vuitton’s bookcase trunk RT @Libroantiguo

I threw The Jungle Book and The Wind in the Willows in my basket at Target, thinking them perfect stories for my young nephew. Sure, they’re adaptations (Bendon Junior Classics)—they’re also paperback (cheaper to send overseas) and a dollar, so what do I have to lose? Still, I wasn’t quite convinced of their goodness; then I read the Note to the Reader–

It touches on the characters and their story, how they’re well-known and pass the test of time;  it acknowledges the fact that this particular version has been shortened and is easier to read (but you simply must read the original, at one point or another); and it assures us they’ve kept the author’s style, and remained true to the heart of the tale.

Then it ends, with this:

Literature is terrific fun! It encourages you to think. It helps you dream. It is full of heroes and villains, suspense and humor, adventure and wonder, and new ideas. It introduces you to writers who reach out across time to say: ‘Do you want to hear a story I wrote?’

Of course, it is our answer that binds the likes of us bookish sorts.

Why yes, we most certainly do.

With that, here are a few other bookish bits from the week . . .

The winners of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards . . .

Speaking of literary awards, McSweeney’s has opened submissions for their first ever Student Short Story Contest (and by ‘student’ they mean undergraduate or graduate).

On the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brooke Obie interviews Tiphanie Yanique, regarding her first novel, Land of Love and Drowning, which  . . . ‘is so much more than a treatise on identity politics. It is a love letter to the Virgin Islands, both the land and the spirit of the place.‘

Anna Caltabiano self-published her first book at the age of 14. She explains how she did it  — good advice for any writer, no matter the age.

We said goodbye to author Louise Shivers. She published her first book, Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail at the age of 53. Even then, it wasn’t intentional. She submitted her story to a contest, in hopes of winning the $50 prize. That was all. But one of the judges, novelist Mary Gordon, passed it along to her agent; the agent passed it along to Random House; Random House ‘passed it along’ to us, and we received it with great excitement. Until the success of that book, none of Shiver’s friends believed she was a serious writer. “I’d tell them, ‘I really am a writer . . . Still, most of the people I was around said, ‘Well, it must be a cookbook or a romance.’ ” So, for those of you experiencing the same, let her life be an inspiration . . .


Tell me a story: I Capture the Castle

Despite the heat of the summer (and trust me when I tell you the heat is oppressive), I still can’t resist curling up with a good old-fashioned “hot water bottle” book, particularly during the last few weeks of cloudy, rainy days we’ve had here in Texas.  For me, a hot water bottle book means one that was written in the “days of yore,”  mostly starring young(ish) women and their roles and lives in respectable society, typically not without a splash of the romantic, but not enough to qualify as romance novels.  The recent spate of hot water bottle books I’ve read were all published before 1950 and I suppose it surprises me, although it shouldn’t, that the female characters are as sassy as they are.  Many of them would find the world we currently live in quite comfortable, I have no doubt.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – published in 1948

Dodie Smith is most famously known as the writer of 101 Dalmatians, the premise upon which the adorable Disney movie was based; but I Capture the Castle goes a bit beyond puppy dogs and be-furred (pretty sure that’s not a real word but to heck with it) villainesses.  Cassandra Mortmain is our young heroine of the novel. Cassandra’s father is a one-hit wonder of an author who blew all of his money on purchasing an old, crumbling English castle, in which the family now lives.  They’ve sold off all of their creature comforts, including most of their furniture, in order to buy food to eat. However, when Cassandra’s older sister comes of marrying age, suddenly it seems like the family’s fortunes may turn around.  With a rich set of bachelors moving in next door and her father growing more and more morosely hopeless in his writing escapades, her world is turned topsy turvy and Cassandra begins her own journey of maturation and discovering the world of adults.  If you’re familiar with Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce, Cassandra is how I imagine Flavia in her late teens.  At her very first adult party and observing the dancers, Cassandra remarks:

I leaned against the carved banisters and listened to the music and felt quite different from any way I have ever felt before – softer, very beautiful and as if a great many men were in love with me and I might very easily be in love with them.

You should read this one to find out if the precocious teenager grows up, falls in love, and comes into adulthood (relatively) unharmed and unscathed.

Bookish sorts

Have a heart


On the twenty-eighth of July, in 1814, twenty-one year old Percy Bysshe Shelley set off for Europe with 17-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin . . .

He was married to another at the time.

You see, a few years prior, he had eloped with a sixteen-year-old named Harriet Westbrook. Harriet attended boarding school with his sisters; she wrote Percy long letters, describing her desperation to escape her circumstances. Percy decided to be her knight in shining armor. As you might imagine, their marriage was less than idyllic. Harriet remained miserable and Percy soon followed suit.

Then he met Mary — a bright, intelligent young lady — and all sensibility went out the window. So it was, while his wife was pregnant with their son, he thought it a splendid idea to take off for Europe with Mary and her step-sister. For six weeks they sailed and walked and read aloud great works of literature.

Just a little culture, before heading back to domestic life.

Two years later, Harriet drowned herself and their unborn child.

Two weeks after that Percy married Mary.

Of course, so as not to sound quite so callous, he was attempting to gain custody of his children. Not that it did any good.

The Shelleys spent most of their short, married life ‘escaping’ to Europe, dodging creditors, but surrounded by literary sorts.

Just shy of his thirtieth birthday, a sudden storm overtook his boat on the Gulf of Spezia (or so the story goes) and he drowned . When his body washed ashore, he had to be cremated, due quarantine laws of the day.  Nonetheless, a friend snatched his heart from the flames. A gift to his wife.

His remains are now buried near Mary’s, at St. Peter’s Church.

In the Field

Friday Field Notes 072514

Novelist Thomas Berger (1924-2014)

It seemed a slow news week–on the book front, at least. Maybe the news of this world got too dad-gum depressing; maybe news folk just needed to stick their noses in a book and forget all about the rest. Now that I mention it, that sounds like a brilliant plan.

Of course, it could simply be me. It was an insanely busy week; maybe I missed all the bookish news bits flitting about (if that’s the case, you simply must fill me in).

Nonetheless, here are a few things that did catch my eye . . .

The Verge has a story on a fellow who intends to redesign the Bible. I kind of love it.

5 American authors made the cut for the longlist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize; they include: Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Richard Powers and Irish-American writer Joseph O’Neill.

Katie Crouch writes of suicide and Sylvia Plath (BuzzFeed)

We said goodbye to Thomas Berger. Though most known for his novel Little Big Man, he actually published over twenty novels and short stories, including sci-fi, Arthurian legend, and hard-boiled detective stories.  He wrote plays, too. With that, I’d say the best way to honor his memory is to read one or two of his books; but before you do . . .

I should like the reader to be aware that a book of mine is written in the English language, which I love with all my heart and write to the best of my ability and with the most honorable of intentions — which is to say, I am peddling no quackery, masking no intent to tyrannize, and asking nobody’s pity. (I suspect that I am trying to save my own soul, but that’s nobody else’s business.)” — Thomas Berger


Picture perfect reading lamp

Sure, one of the perks of summer is longer daylight hours by which to read. But I’m more of an autumn girl, myself. And I’m counting down the days. After all, long nights, gloomy days–they make for the perfect backdrop to snuggling in with a good book  . . . so long as you have a good reading lamp nearby. While any ol’ reading lamp will do, one with personality and panache is all the better . . .

{Vintage Kodak Duaflex reading lamp by Light and Time Art}

Wouldn’t you agree?