The Bling Ring and The American Dream

January 28, 2014 in Fauxscars, Literary Movies, Non-Fiction, Pop Culture, Women Writers

It’s amazing how close The Bling Ring is to its source material. The article, originally published in Vanity Fair and entitled “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” does not judge the story’s subjects, a group of fame-obsessed teens who broke into celebrity homes and stole millions of dollars worth of goods. As any successful piece of hard journalism does, it leaves the readers to make their own decisions.

Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring takes on a similarly journalistic approach, mimicking exact lines and moments from the article down to outfits from the article’s pictures. In between these moments of accuracy are long montages of drug use, loud music, and thievery. You wouldn’t think that watching gorgeous teens break the law would get boring, but it does.

It is hard to know what to think throughout the entirety of The Bling Ring. Are we not supposed to get excited about seeing Paris Hilton’s real closet? At the end, as Marc faces his time in prison, I thought I understood that the film was showing us the price of celebrity obsession. But this was not the end. The Bling Ring ends with Emma Watson’s Nicki on a talk show, having just faced a short span in prison, cool as a cucumber and promoting her website.

Clearly, Coppola and Nancy Jo Sales, the author of the Vanity Fair article, have opinions about the real ‘Bling Ring.’ Sales said in a Q&A about her article that, “I think, like all stories that capture this much attention, there’s something very evocative of American culture. A friend of mine said, ‘This case implicates us all.’” As an investigative journalist, Sales doesn’t express these views in her article, but leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions. Films are typically more editorial, but Coppola has chosen to present only the facts. The result is voyeuristic and stunning, but it’s hard to feel any investment in these characters or their story. We don’t find out enough about the individual people to understand what would push them to make such poor decisions, nor enough to really feel sympathy for them. Though The Bling Ring is admirably close to its source material, its lack of emotion or editorializing created a film that is beautiful, but also boring and a bit empty. Perhaps this might have been Coppola’s point all along — to show an exclusive world that many aspire to join and how insubstantial and dull it all really is.

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If you hated to love The Bling Ring, let us know. It is nominated for in The 2014 Literary Fauxscars for “Best ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Adaptation.”  If you think it should take home the award, share your opinions in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter. #Fauxscars

Literary Traveler’s Food Issue – December 2013

January 8, 2014 in Book Review, Christmas Literary Traveler, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Cooking, Food, History, Holidays, Literary Food, New York Travel, Recipes

The holidays are behind us, and most of us are finally recuperated from the binge-eating extravaganza that can often be a more exhaustive sporting event than the Winter Olympics. Now, safely in the New Year, leftovers are passing their expiration dates, and as such, significantly lowering the chances of us dipping into them for a midnight snack. While we try to stick to resolutions of gym memberships and clean eating, we fall asleep at night dreaming of the pumpkin pies and cheesecakes of holidays past.

So, fittingly, as you up the incline on the treadmill and race into 2014, enjoy a tasty snack that you may have missed amid the hubbub of the holidays — our Food Issue! After all, reading about food doesn’t break any resolutions, right?

ARTICLE:

Southern Comfort: A Poet’s Biography of Antarctic Cuisine by Jessica Monk

Jess caught up with Antarctic poet and accidental food writer Jason Anthony at the Boston Book Festival and chatted with him about his latest work Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine. Now stateside, he shares historical anecdotes about the palatable oddities of Antarctic cuisine, how to spice up the culinary monotony at the bottom of the globe, and reflects on some pretty beautiful spaces with some equally beautiful words from his writing.

The greenhouse at McMurdo, where fresh vegetables are grown like living gemstones, is described in Hoosh as a verdant Eden where couples go to talk and kiss. Fresh vegetables are so prized down south that they have a nickname – “freshies” – that sounds like slang for an illegal drug. Whatever culinary rarities that can be begged, borrowed, or stolen are sought through swaps, trades and underground railroads of supply. Read more.

BOOKS:

In the Kitchen with Literary Traveler: 7 Cookbooks Inspired by Literature by Amanda Festa

Amanda explores the connection between food and literature with a list of cookbooks inspired by the culinary styling of literary favorites. From Southern fare inspired by True Blood (minus the human heart souffle, for which we are grateful) to Renaissance delicacies from the days of Shakespeare, there is something for every taste (literary and otherwise!). Highlights include luncheon with the eponymous girl detective, a dinner party with the original Austenian bad boy, and a Game of Thrones cookbook with the seal of approval from George R.R. Martin himself.

I’m not going to mince words here (although I am better at mincing words than I am at mincing anything edible), cookbooks have taken on a life of their own in recent years. No longer are they simply catalogs of recipes, organized rationally by time of day or dietary preference. Instead, they are literature in their own right, peppered with anecdotes, introductions, and sometimes characters. Read more.

TRAVEL:

A Rare Vintage: A Taste of Long Island Wine Country in 2013 by Jessica Monk

Planning a wine tour but want to avoid the heavily populated vineyards of Napa and the like? Or perhaps you want a wine experience a bit closer to home. If that home is the East Coast, we have just the thing. Go off the beaten vineyard path with a trip to the North Fork of Long Island, where farm-to-table restaurants and award-winning wineries make it the perfect place for a long vino-soaked weekend. We were so intrigued by the offerings of this local destination that we had to experience it for ourselves, and you should too!

Every vineyard seems to be guided by a different ethos. From chatting to locals and reading up on the growing reputation of these wines, we got the impression that now is the time to visit — when the stories of struggle and success are fresh in the memories of growers who staked out their territory in this pioneer region just decades ago. Read more.

FROM THE BLOG:

Have a Very Beery Christmas: Portland’s Annual Holiday Ale Fest by Antoinette Weil

Antoinette headed out in Portland, Oregon to see what all the fuss around their annual Holiday Ale Festival was about — turns out the hype is well deserved. She enjoyed some frosty beverages under heated tents in an even frostier Portland and spoke with the event organizer Preston Weezer about the outdoor venue, the massive attendance, and of course, the beer.

The ambient lighting and wafting aromas of roasted nuts blended with the sounds of laughter and cheers from bundled up strangers-turned-familiar faces to create a cozy and warm feeling for which December winds were no match. Read more.

 TOURS:

Italy’s First National Cookbook: From Farm to Table in Romagna

We are huge fans of Scolastica’s literary tours of Italy. From Dante’s Inferno to Boccaccio’s Decameron, the tours provide a perfect way to experience Italy through the classics. Jessica recently spoke with Scolastica founder, Kyle Hall, about his love of literature, his mission for Scolastica to be more than the average group travel experience, and his latest endeavor — a cookbook tour! Pellegrino Artusi’s 19th century work Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, to be exact Read Jess’ interview with Kyle and check out Scolastica Tours for more on all of their travel offerings.

To offer a deeper and more vivid introduction to Italian life, Kyle began to develop tours based around foundational Italian texts… Kyle is particularly excited to talk about the cookbook tour as it’s an idea that was born spontaneously just 2 months ago out of a trip to the Romagna region to investigate extending the Dante tour there. Read more.

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Let us know what you thought of our Food Issue in the comments below, or tweet us using #LiteraryFood

 

Have a Very Beery Christmas: Portland’s Annual Holiday Ale Fest

December 19, 2013 in Christmas Literary Traveler, Literary Food, Weekend Getaways, Winter Travel

If you should find yourself in Portland, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest, next holiday season, you may want to consider dropping in on one of the most iconic beer festivals the city has to offer. The Holiday Ale Festival, the only beer fest brave enough to set up outdoors in December, has become a Portland winter tradition.

I was lucky enough to be in Portland to attend this year’s 18th Annual event, have a chat with organizer Preston Weesner, and test out some of the 50+ local seasonal brews offered. And I was not disappointed. The festival stakes its claim in Pioneer Square downtown, maxing out two tent rental companies, according to Weesner, installing 15 heating units and even gutters for the rain (critical in a place where rain falls pretty consistently during the winter months.)

“We essentially set up a small city in three days, have the festival for five, and tear it down, leaving no trace that we were ever there in the following 24 hours,” said Weesner.

It was shockingly comfortable for an outdoor venue. The ambient lighting and wafting aromas of roasted nuts blended with the sounds of laughter and cheers from bundled up strangers-turned-familiar faces to create a cozy and warm feeling for which December winds were no match. The dozens of ales tasted and tested that day may have helped too.

Ranging from spiced ales to stouts and porters, ciders and imperial brews, this festival offered a mind-blowing variety, but certainly was not the place for the faint of heart (i.e. light beer drinkers). With names like “You’ll shoot yer eye out kid,” “PantyHose,” and “Yo Baba Gaba,” to name a minuscule sampling, picking out which beers to try and finding them in the three levels of festivity was almost as fun as actually tasting them.

When asked about the imaginative names and intricate stories behind the ales, Weesner, who writes the beer descriptions for Cascade Brewery, admits that some are very creative, but stresses the importance of telling what’s in the brew.

“My descriptions may not be as elegant,” says Weesner, “but they tell what it tastes like. That’s more important.”

As a beer fan, I have to agree, although I do love a good story behind the name. We literary travelers are always looking for deeper meaning, aren’t we?

The thing that makes this festival so unique, besides the fact that it is the only one insane enough to set up outside in the middle of winter, is the fact that most of the brews aren’t available for sale. Many of them are aged with the finesse a fine wine would receive and can’t be found in any bars or stores. It’s a good dress rehearsal for beers that breweries are considering releasing and a good draw for the beer nerd who has tried everything out there.

“I’m a beer geek, always have been,” confirms Weesner. “I’m trying to create the best beer event that I would ever want to go to.”

The downside for Weesner is that, with all the hard work he puts in, he doesn’t get to take part in the fun of the Festival. Instead, he must enjoy vicariously through the guests and their good times.

In a place like Portland, a place making a real name for itself on the food and beer circuit, a place of many festivals, a place that has often been referred to as “Beervana,” it takes a little something special to stand out among the crowd. The Holiday Ale Fest averages 17,000 attendees each year, and based on my Saturday visit, did not look as if it would fall short in the 2013 season. And while natives comprise most of the Festival’s attendance, Weesner tells me that a solid 26% of ticket purchasers come from outside of the Portland Metro area, stretching all across the country.

“Many people travel to this because there’s nothing like it where they live,” said Weesner, “They’ll literally book their tickets and make a week of it — a beer-cation.”

Always looking for an excuse to get away, this works for us! And with more than 70 breweries in the Portland Metro area, this is a beer-drinker’s haven worth a visit at any time of year.

Find out about next year’s Holiday Ale Festival at holidayalefest.com

 

Analyzing Adaptation: Why the Source Material is Only Half the Story

December 3, 2013 in Classic Literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies, Pop Culture, YA Fiction

In the wake of a recent surge in successful movie adaptations of literature — from classic novels like The Great Gatsby to popular young adult fiction like The Hunger Games — it is often assumed that an adapted film that isn’t faithful to its source material can’t be good. Remaining objective is incredibly difficult, especially for fans of the books who see the story and characters they love represented in a way different from what they imagined.

I’m here to tell you that adapted movies need not adhere to their source material to be “good”—in fact, strict adherence is often just as inadvisable.

We all know significant deviation in an adaptation causes disappointment and backlash. Audiences see the title and expect a certain obedience to the original story, so that when there are missing subplots or characters they feel betrayed. Let’s talk about David Lynch’s Dune (1984) for a second. Lynch hadn’t even read the book when he signed on to write the screenplay. Watching the film makes you feel like Lynch got halfway through the book and then just skipped to the end. Cuts are inevitable when it comes to adapting literature, but in this case, the entire second half of the book is significantly altered.

And what if you haven’t read the book? I actually saw Dune before I read the book myself and I thought it was pretty decent. It’s incredibly weird, but it is David Lynch. All his movies are weird. The biggest disappointment is that you occasionally have to make generous inferences on behalf of the movie due to the fact that it is trying to pack a 412 page novel (or at least 206 pages of it) into 2 hours. Otherwise it was a pretty solid science fiction film.

Strict compliance to what you’re adapting has precisely the opposite effect: fans may be pleased, but those who haven’t read the novel will likely find themselves bored by the experience. Peter Jackson’s recent adaptation of The Hobbit is the perfect example. According to Metacritic, the film earned an average score of 58%, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that only 65% gave the film a positive (>50%) review. Personally, I had similar feelings. There were some scenes that might have worked on the page, but simply fell flat on the screen. And it’s not like Peter Jackson’s just a bad director, or that Tolkein’s world is unadaptable and doesn’t work in the movies. In fact, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring broke the top 50 of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies”, its list of the 100 most influential films of all time.

Speaking of the AFI, 15 of their top 25 films are adaptations, and 7 of those are in the top 10. The Godfather was a novel, Casablanca was a play, and Raging Bull was a memoir. Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Vertigo, and The Wizard of Oz were all books first. Even the ones that weren’t based on works of fiction were inspired by a real-life person or event: Citizen Kane was based on William Randolph Hearst, Singing in the Rain was based on Oscar Levant, and Lawrence of Arabia was based on T. E. Lawrence. And in each one of these cases the movie certainly didn’t become successful by strictly clinging to its source material.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to the AFI, either. Stanley Kubrick, one of the most influential directors in cinema history, almost exclusively filmed from adapted screenplays. In fact, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss are the only two of his thirteen feature films which were original screenplays. Kubrick is also famous for not strictly adhering to the original works. His movie version of The Shining was criticized by Stephen King himself as being a bad adaptation, but it has nevertheless come to be regarded as one of the best movies of all time. (It’s #29 on the AFI’s Top 100 Thrillers, its main character Jack Torrance is 25th on the AFI’s Top 100 Villains, and “Here’s Johnny!” is 68th on the AFI’s top 100 quotes.) Ironically, Stephen King collaborated with director Mick Garris to make a more faithful adaptation of the book in the form of a TV mini series which was, to make a long story short, pretty bad.

In the end, books and movies are two separate art forms with their own advantages and disadvantages. Movies are short, but a good cinematographer can create more beautiful imagery than your average reader may be able to think up on their own. Books lack this visual artistry, but their length allows for deeper development of language, character and theme. We should probably just understand that literature can inspire great film and leave the two as separate representatives of their own worlds.

But where’s the fun in that?

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100 Years… 100 Adaptations (or: The AFI’s Top 25 Films and Their Source Material)

1. Citizen Kane (original screenplay; based on William Randolph Hearst)
2. The Godfather (novel of the same name)
3. Casablanca (stage play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”)
4. Raging Bull (novel Raging Bull: My Story)
5. Singing in the Rain (original screenplay; based on Oscar Levant)
6. Gone with the Wind (novel of the same name)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (original screenplay; based on life of T. E. Lawrence)
8. Schindler’s List (novel; Schindler’s Ark)
9. Vertigo (novel; D’entre les morts)
10. The Wizard of Oz (novel; The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
11. City Lights (original screenplay)
12. The Searchers (novel same name)
13. Star Wars (original screenplay; inspired by The Hidden Fortress)
14. Psycho (novel of the same name)
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (short story; “The Sentinel”)
16. Sunset Boulevard (original screenplay)
17. The Graduate (novel of the same name)
18. The General (original screenplay; based on the Great Locomotive Chase)
19. On the Waterfront (original screenplay; based on “Crime on the Waterfront”)
20. It’s a Wonderful Life (short story; “The Greatest Gift”)
21. Chinatown (original screenplay; based on the California Water Wars)
22. Some Like It Hot (remake of Fanfare d’Amour – which was based on a book)
23. The Grapes of Wrath (novel of the same name)
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (original screenplay; based on Spielberg’s childhood imaginary friend)
25. To Kill a Mockingbird (novel of the same name)

Happy Thanksgiving! — Which Book are you most Thankful for?

November 28, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Classic Writers, Holidays, Holidays Literary Traveler, Staff Post

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on all of the things we are grateful for.  Our families and friends certainly top the list, but if this were a game of Family Feud, a survey of the Literary Traveler staff would be sure to reveal books in the top five answers on the board. So, this Thanksgiving, we are giving thanks to the books we are most grateful to have read. This book may not necessarily be our “favorite” book, but one that has stuck with us, shaped us, changed our world view, incited our passions, or provided us comfort.

Join us as we give thanks, and be sure to share with us the book you are most thankful for in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Antoinette Weil — The Giver by Lois Lowry – Choosing a book that I’m most thankful for was a difficult task as there have been so many that have touched me in some way; captured my imagination, caused sleepless nights or distraction-induced sunburns at the beach, made me privy to different ways of life, brought me to tears or to laughter. In thinking about a book that was not just a favorite, but one that I consider a gift, I had to look back to my childhood. The Giver is one of the first books I remember reading. It certainly was not the first book I read, but it may be the first that stuck with me. I read this Newbury Award-winning piece of children’s fiction in the fourth grade, then again last year after seeing it on a family member’s bookshelf and being unable to resist. Unlike many children’s books, the plot didn’t seem dumbed down to me, nor was the simple language off-putting. I appreciate this book just as much now as I did when I was a child, if not more, because I can better grasp, as an adult, what drew me into the story of Jonah, the chosen receiver.

The Giver is a story of a seemingly perfect society, where all pain, grief, malice, and negativity are nonexistent. By creating a culture of uniformity, with assigned families, homes, jobs, even birthdays, they have eradicated poverty, disease, war. But along with it, as Jonah discovers, they have depleted civilization of many of the beauties and joys that arguably make life worth living. Color, the warmth of the sun, love, all of these treasures withheld from everybody except for Jonah, who is assigned to receive and hold these memories. I’m thankful for this book because it sparked my love for dystopian themes. But more so, I’m thankful to this story for demonstrating to me at a young age the dangers of conformity and for driving home the importance and great value of independent thinking. It showed me that well-established notions and popular practices aren’t always the right ones, and that even the most carefully crafted way of life is far from perfect. And, perhaps most importantly, The Giver portrays individualism as the difficult choice that it truly is.

 

Amanda Festa – ”The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — While it is technically not a book, I would say that if I was to choose a piece of literature that I am most thankful for, it would be Gilman’s haunting short story, which impacted me as much in 6,000 words as any novel I have read since. I remember reading Gilman’s words as an undergraduate and being fascinated by how much is packed into such a short story, with so few characters and a narrator who is not even given a name. Because wasn’t that one of the points? This short story served two important purposes for me. First, it sparked an analytic fire inside of me, that unquenchable hunger to think critically about the choices writers make, the culture and time they were a part of, and how each element connects to make the words mean something bigger. Second, Gilman’s short story awakened (Chopin pun intended) my interest in feminist literature and prompted me to make it a part of my studies. Making the connection between feminism and literature was huge for me, because it in turn deepened my individual appreciation for both. I am fascinated by the image of women in art, whether it be literature, film, television, or pop culture. I think it’s really interesting to look at how one shapes the other, and how it has changed throughout the years. And, I owe it all to Gilman — and subsequently Chopin, Wharton, Woolf, Barnes, etc. etc. A brief tale of a nameless turn-of-the-century woman driven mad by the color of her wallpaper? Or so much more.

 

Matthew Nilsson — Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – During a brief phase of my life as a child I enjoyed waking up early. As part of my morning ritual I would walk out to the porch and grab the newspaper. The first thing I did was find the Arts and Entertainment section and flip to the back where the comics were housed. As I chewed and slurped my cereal I would pour over my favorite strips and often do my best to find the humor in each as I knew I’d eventually go over the day’s jokes with my dad when he got home from work. My mother, on the other hand, could rarely be found with a newspaper in her hands. She opted instead for literature. A new stack of plastic-sheathed hardcovers would appear near the front door weekly. Unsurprising given my mom was on a first name basis with the staff at the town library and trips there were always looked at with elation.  And so, more often than not, I found that opening a book was the easiest way to escape the world I sometimes seldom wished to find myself in.

It took until I was in my early teens for these two lessons to fully merge into a single concept—that reading was both a way to be taught as well as entertained—but when it did I found myself closing the final pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s seminal Cat’s Cradle. The final images of Bokonon lying on his back thumbing his nose at “You Know Who,” left me confirming—or at least buttressing—my existential feelings that we might really be totally, unequivocally without guidance in this life. That experience has led me to further questions and answers which have shaped my philosophy and heavily contributed to me being the person I am today. For this I am grateful.

 

Wesley Sharer – Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui – This is a bit of an odd one for me since the majority of my reading is either Shakespeare, Austen, or Dickens (I’m basically a walking, talking English major stereotype), but the book I’m most thankful for is Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika. Three summers ago, I quit smoking cold turkey and spent my first three days of withdrawal in another world where the borderline between dreams and reality become unclear. I joined Dr. Atsuko Chiba as she tried to cure Tatsuo Noda of his chronic anxiety, while I attempted to overcome anxiety of my own. Psychotherapy machines used to enter another person’s dreams are captured by terrorists who plan on controlling the real world by taking over the dream world. As dreams become reality in the story, my own reality became the fantasy land which springs to life from the pages of this wonderful novel. The immersive writing and captivating world of Paprika helped me escape from the dull pain and discomfort of the more difficult days of quitting.

 

Loretta Donelan – The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – A book that I have long been thankful for is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Whenever I am feeling like a Milo, and life seems a bit bland and meaningless, I return to this children’s classic. Reading about Dictionopolis and Digitopolis always makes me grateful to be a student, and the happy ending comforts me and gives me hope when I’m down. Also, every time I reread it I discover some clever joke or wordplay that I hadn’t noticed before. My favorite part? When Milo gets into a car and is instructed to be quiet because the car “goes without saying.” I’m grateful to be able to keep returning to The Phantom Tollbooth.

 

Alyssa Smith Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first novel I read entirely on my own and it helped me realize how much I loved to read. It was probably the most memorable part of 1st grade. I was amazed that being completely engrossed in a story that took hours and hours to get through could be so much fun. I became the kid who couldn’t help reading during meals and play dates. At my first job after college as an assistant Kindergarten teacher, I shared my fondness for the story by reading Dahl’s novel to my rowdy students during lunch. Thankfully, they were similarly spellbound throughout each reading and I was able to bond with the kids over Charlie’s zany adventure.

 

Phillips Exeter Academy: The School of Legend

November 20, 2013 in American History, American literature, New England Travel, New Hampshire Travel

There is a special kind of lore for boarding schools. They are full of century-old traditions, ghost stories, and sneaky romances. This might be why so many famous books have taken place at boarding schools. Jane Eyre escaped from her awful relatives to the sanctuary of Lowood Institution. Nicholas Nickleby tutored at a terrible school run by the odious Mr. Squeers. In A Little Princess, Sarah Crewe bravely suffers at Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls. And, of course, there’s Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s exploration and adoration of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

There is one boarding school in New Hampshire that has been so immortalized by books and lore that it seems almost fictional. The prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy has been the home to many a literary figure, from Dan Brown to John Irving. Robert Langdon of Brown’s hugely popular Da Vinci Code went to Exeter, as did Patrick Bateman of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. Irving has immortalized the school in many of his popular novels, including in A Prayer for Owen Meany and The World According to Garp. It is also the setting of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, the coming-of-age story read by high school students throughout New England.

Phillips Exeter Academy, often known simply as Exeter, was founded in 1781 by a Harvard University graduate. It has since been the home to many historical figures, from Daniel Webster to Mark Zuckerberg. At first it was seen as a stepping stone to Harvard, though today its students go on to many different colleges, most in the Ivy League. In 1930 the school received an important gift: a series of round tables meant for classrooms. The learning style associated with these tables was the Harkness method, named after the gift-giver Edward Harkness. Small groups of students today still sit around the Harkness tables and are encouraged to participate in a Socratic discussion, often with little involvement from the teacher. Exeter is now known for this method of teaching, and it’s mimicked in schools throughout the country.

The campus is regal and collegiate, with its stately brick Academy Building and vast green grounds. It’s located in the beautiful town of Exeter, New Hampshire, an historic and quaint New England town. The school’s grounds feature a huge modern library, holding thousands of volumes and lots of space to study. Just entering the library imparts a feeling of studiousness. You can sense that many great literary minds have come and gone through its doors. And Phillips Exeter, with its prestige and literary significance, feels even more magical.

If you find yourself in New Hampshire, take the time to drive by Phillips Exeter. You can stop and wander the beautiful grounds. See the building in which Owen Meany squeaked his way to the head of the class, view the gym where Garp joined the wrestling team, and take in the breathtaking chapel (now called Assembly Hall) where the climactic end to A Separate Peace takes place. Who knows – maybe some of that literary genius will sink in.

Summer Reading Round-Up

September 26, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Book Review, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Summer Reading

I had an interesting start to LT’s Summer Reading Challenge. I was already immersed in two books from our extensive Summer Reading List (Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick and MT Anderson’s Feed) when the Challenge list was ultimately decided. Neither of these books made the list. Nevertheless, I vowed to finish them both and at least one or two of the challenge list books by the end of summer.

Once Labor Day, the unofficial end of the season has passed, I decided to continue this pursuit until the technical end of summer, which gave me until September 21st. And I needed the extra couple of weeks. Amazing, isn’t it, how one day you can be on such a roll, laying on the beach and reading for hours at a time, tearing through chapters, and then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, some form of “life” happens and the book gets stuffed in the bottom of your bag, not to see the light of day or reading lamp for weeks. This is what happened to me and why I am failing the summer reading list challenge. I lost momentum.

I like to read two books at once. I like one hard copy (NO, not an e-book, an actual book with paper and a cover and pages you can flip) for the beach and the outdoors, and one audio book for the car. I don’t usually get the stories mixed up, and I don’t find it difficult to follow two stories at once. But there is a significant difference in the amount of quality reading I can partake in at the beach versus in the car. The beach is for my reading the legal equivalent of what steroids are for a workout. With open space, the white noise of waves lapping at the shore, and the feeling of the sun warming my back, there is little distraction other than the occasional nap. In the car, on the other hand, there is many a distraction. A phone call, being late for work, a traffic jam, an interesting talk radio show, a favorite song (or that terrible one you can’t stop singing), all can cause my focus and my “reading” to slack severely.

That being said, I chose to listen to Moby Dick on Audio. Why? Because it’s free on the Audiobooks app and I had never read it before. Because I thought driving while consuming classic literature was a great use of multitasking abilities. And after the wonderful Charlotte Bronte Audiobooks experience, it seemed like a great idea. Now, only at chapter 89 of 136, I am starting to think I’ll need to double up, with an e-book and audiobook, if I’m to finish this before summer’s end…or before year’s end. To add insult to injury, this book is not even on the Summer Reading Challenge that I agreed to partake in.

Not to worry, though. In the meantime, while Moby Dick is snailing along, I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises for the first time. I completed the first half of the book in a day or two but then, after the aforementioned “life” experiences—weddings, weekends away, moving—I lost steam and took about three weeks to finish the remaining half. I’m a newcomer to Hemingway, having only read a book of short stories by the prolific author, so I was excited to get started and to experience the magic of Hemingway for myself. His style of writing, at once beautiful and yet simple and straightforward, makes one question how something so skillful can appear so effortless. The content of the stories, the places and well-developed but never cartoony characters, make one question whether her own limited life experience could ever warrant great writing. I won’t get too far into summary or review, but The Sun Also Rises was a long-anticipated journey into the world of Hemingway; one which I will be making again.

After the sun also rose and set, I dove into a book from our “fantasy” genre, E.B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black. When I say “dove in,” I mean that I am still swimming (and floating) in the sea of quirky darkness that is The Resurrectionist. A tumbler of scandal, science and docu-bio unveilings, this book has left me scratching my head wondering whether it’s fact or fiction. Seems too strange to be either. I’m midway through Dr. Black’s story, and I’m looking forward to getting to the good stuff. I’ll also be checking out the second volume of the book, an encyclopedia-esque index of sketches depicting mythical creatures and hair-raising skeletal structures thought, by Dr. Black, to be early descendants of humans. Just creepy enough to be interesting, but not enough to cause sleeplessness.

By the end of “summer” I hope to have finished four books from the LT Summer Reading list, two of which are LT Summer Reading Challenge books. Not to be mistaken for an overachiever, I’ve got a long way to go.

LT Summer Reading Challenge: An Alien Genre

August 5, 2013 in Fiction, Film, Science Fiction, Summer Reading

The genre of science fiction, although quite popular among many readers, had until recently remained relatively foreign to me. I had nothing against it, but the subject never seemed to grab my attention. However, despite all protests, my fellow bookworms held tenaciously to their predilections for the oddities that science fiction offers. So, under the influence of others and with the excuse of the LT Summer Reading Challenge, I proved amenable to a change; I delved into the depths of the incongruous as I began Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, surrendering to the vast sea of genres before me. Ender’s Game is only one of two science fiction novels that I have ever read, and I am pleased to say that I am effusive in my praise of the novel, as it was extremely entertaining and endlessly thought provoking.

Card’s novel proved to exceed my uninitiated understanding of the genre, as I imagined the stereotypical Sci-Fi narrative centered around aliens and spacecrafts. In fact, I found that the story ignited many ponderings about deep philosophical questions. For example, one of the main themes that Card toys with is the notion that humans are merely parts to a much greater entity. This makes acts like betrayal or manipulation justifiable under the condition that they benefit this greater being or purpose we humans are serving. Under this idea, we, as individuals, become somewhat valueless. At the end of Ender’s Game, Card confirms that this manipulation is inescapable, for even Ender’s sister slightly manipulates Ender at the end of the book. She argues that he must help her save the “buggers,” and that if he doesn’t, he will simply be following the path set for him by someone else. Therefore, although Ender does end up living his life happily and by his own volition, I was left  with the big question: is Ender really free, or is he merely being used as a tool for a different purpose? And if he is in fact being used, is he free as long as he is happy?

It’s no wonder that Card’s story is considered by many to be among the best Sci-Fi novels ever written. He has a way of effortlessly combining action and adventure with an emotional, moving plot and relatable characters. There is also a flawless balance between fiction and reality throughout Ender’s quest to save the world. For example, the games he plays are fictitious simulation exercises, yet there are often realistic components involved that many readers can easily relate to, such as bullying. In this way, Card is careful to prevent readers from forgetting that Ender is not simply the typical Sci-Fi hero with superhuman strength and intelligence, but a little boy with feelings.

Card has opened my eyes to the potential of the science fiction novel, its limits vanishing along with any previous misconceptions I once had. I will be sure to branch out from my usual book choices to explore other inventive worlds. With high hopes and expectations, I move on to my next journey.

One in a Million — Words to Celebrate the 4th of July

July 4, 2013 in History, Holidays, Holidays Literary Traveler, Staff Post

Like any big festival, 4th of July is about first losing yourself, then finding yourself in the crowd. It’s an experience that can sometimes result in moments of meaningful transcendence when individuality expresses itself as part of greater humanity. But it can also explode in protest, when the individual recognizes their own self-worth and takes a stand for their rights. It can take the form of individuals in dire situations, who maintain a hope for the future where it would be easy to give up.  And yet they persevere.

We all have memories, gorgeous conceptions of this day.  From what it means on a larger scale as Americans to the modern-day traditions associated with the holiday. For every person filled with childlike wonder at the spectacle of fireworks there is an adult weary of the sparkle and clamor of the celebration’s chief export. And since this is America, where everyone gets to choose how to spend their time, a solo barbecue to an indie rock soundtrack is as good a way of celebrating as any. America invites all perspectives, so this 4th of July we crowdsourced some words from literature and song that soar above the soundbites and express something greater than themselves – and ourselves.

Jessica Monk, Contributing Editor

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. - Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and author was asked to give a speech in Rochester, New York for the 4th of July celebrations, 1852 — eleven years before the abolition of slavery. He used it as an opportunity to mastermind a righteous attack on the hypocrisy of a nation who held the liberty of human beings to be a self-evident truth, and yet had allowed the fugitive slave law of 1850 to be passed by Congress. Douglass’ speech is delivered with the pure rage of a man who had lived his truth and found no alternative but to fight for his own liberty. He showed America that just as there was no way back for an escaped slave who had declared his independence, so America too, after shaking off its own oppressor had no alternative but to live according to the principles that had freed the nation.

This urgency of progress is what Douglass gave back to America, 76 years after the founding of the nation. He told America in no uncertain terms that the world was changing due to technology and communications, that it was no longer a closed, oppressive prison. And that America would have to keep up with this new open world by reexamining their commitment to freedom. Freedom, for an escaped slave, was not an easy word to cast around. 150 years after the emancipation of slaves, Douglass’ words inspire Americans to keep close to the pulse of freedom as a living thing, rather than just a graceful ideal.


Antoinette Weil, Marketing Coordinator

Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. -Dwight Eisenhower

On the Fourth of July you can find me poolside, Bar-B-Qing, watching fireworks and drinking a few cold ones with my closest friends and family. Relaxing with my favorite people is how I like to spend my holiday. But in thinking about the meaning of Independence Day, what it’s all about is freedom and liberty. In looking for words to celebrate this American holiday I could find none truer than Eisenhower’s words. For each of us has a role to play in making this nation work. Each of us has an individual responsibility to take part in the system to ensure that it stays strong. A mass of people working for each other and for themselves. I know it may not seem very literary to quote a former president. But for me this is freedom, these words are liberty, and this is Independence Day.

 

 

Caitlin O’ Hara, Editorial Intern

Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed— I, too, am America.

- Langston Hughes, “I, Too, Sing America” 

In 1945, roughly 20 years before the Civil Rights movement would come to a head in America, Langston Hughes was a major part of creating the feeling that would define African American nationalism. Hughes doesn’t denounce America, he relays a powerful, positive certainty that change awaits. Almost 70 years later, the last words of his poem “I, Too, Sing America” resonate in an America embroiled in the gay marriage debate. I am proud to live in a state that has seen the light for almost 10 years, and have faith that our country will slowly but surely follow, bit by bit. It is because of the hopeful certainty of Americans like Hughes that the fight for rights becomes a peaceful, beautiful reality.

 

Amanda Festa, Managing Editor

Today’s the fourth of July
Another June has gone by.
And when they light up our town I just think,
What a waste of gunpowder and sky. – Aimee Mann, “4th of July”

Since I am patriotic, but also a fan of angsty female rock vocalists, I am drawn to rock goddess Aimee Mann’s 1993 song “4th of July.” The song is classic 90s — mellow, brooding, and in my head she is wearing flannel when singing it — but it also sums up my secret shame surrounding the Fourth.

I love celebrating America’s birthday and all that Independence Day stands for. I feel incredibly fortunate for my life and my freedoms. I am always available to partake in BBQ or beach day, and I really enjoy wearing clothing fashioned out of the American flag — but when it comes to the 4th of July there is one tradition that I don’t quite understand. I don’t like fireworks. There, I said it. This is covered in that free speech thing we are celebrating, right? I was born and raised in Boston, I did the Boston Pops Esplanade hoopla as a child, and I think it had the opposite effect on me than it did on most. I think the large, slow-moving droves of people craning their necks and pushing and shoving their way closer (It’s in the sky, people, you don’t have to move forward, just look up) have sufficiently outweighed the aesthetic. Yes, I’ve seen the finale. It’s just a lot of them at once. I understand they are a big deal to a lot of people (absolutely everyone except me), and I will feign excitement if my 3-year-old nephew looks my way during the display — I am not a 4th of July Scrooge, I swear. But, Independence Day is about more than just fireworks — and at 237 years old, we have a lot to celebrate. I’ll be over here, with my American flag jean shorts and Sam Adams Summer Ale. Cheers, America!

 

Jamie Worcester, Editorial Intern

They had pattern and sequence, colour and sound, brilliance and mobility; they had suspense, surprise, and a faint hint of danger; above all, they had the supreme quality of transience, which puts the keenest edge on beauty and makes it touch some spring in the heart which more enduring excellences cannot reach. – Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver

Growing up, the evening of July 4th was always spent on my grandfather’s boat anchored out on the Long Island Sound. Good food and anticipation always awaited me on those evenings spent with the family. Being on a boat, we avoided the traffic of cars and beach chairs, of wild revelers and antsy children, and had the best seats for this community spectacle. We were rocked by the ocean and deafened by the sounds of fireworks launching. What I remember most is waiting for the grand finale. Nothing trumps a grand finale.

 

Tatsiana Litvinskaya, Editorial Intern

I’m proud to be an American – Lee Greenwood

I had often heard the phrase “Proud to be an American” and didn’t know that it was from a famous song back in the 80s sung by Lee Greenwood. I celebrated my first 4th of July in 2009, just a month after I came to the U.S. I had culture shock, experiencing how different this country is from my home country. On the 4th of July, friends and I went to the Charles River, a favorite place for Bostonians to watch fireworks. Thousands of people were gathered there with tents, chairs, sport mats, ready to spend time and have fun.

When the time came, people stood up, put their hands on their hearts and started to sing. I don’t know exactly what they sang — I couldn’t make out the words in such a mix of many voices, and my English wasn’t good, but my friends and I tried to join in with the crowd anyway. At that moment I experienced an unbelievable few seconds of happiness, luck, and blessing that I came to this country. I felt myself to be an American, and I could sincerely relate to the words of Lee Greenwood, I was indeed “proud to be American.” Happy Independence Day, America!


Alice Pinero, Editorial Intern

I came to this country without a penny. I went to medical school. I’m a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst. That’s America. That’s America. – Holocaust survivor Henri Parens, from America’s Table.

Like so many others during WWII, Henri Parens and his family fell victim to Nazi rule. When he was twelve, his mother put his name on a clandestine list of children to be transported from France to America. He recounts memories of his final goodbyes to his family and his arrival by ship to New York City after successfully slipping free of Hitler’s grasp. Henri landed in America alongside many other young escapees, knowing no one, with no money, and no idea where to go. His success story is one that truly accentuates the infinite possibilities provided by America. It was a safe haven and new beginning for Henri and remains to this day synonymous with “the home of the free” and “the land of opportunity.” As we begin to celebrate the Fourth of July, it is essential to acknowledge and appreciate these boundless liberties with which our country has blessed us. May the Statue of Liberty remain forever, as it did for Henri many years ago, the threshold to safety and hope in times of hardship and adversity.

 

From all of us at Literary Traveler — Happy 4th of July!! 

 

 

Happy Father’s Day! — Who is your Favorite Literary Father Figure?

June 14, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Book Series, children's literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Leo Tolstoy, Special Events, Staff Wishlist, Uncategorized

In honor of Father’s Day, the Literary Traveler staff has decided to pay homage to some fatherly favorites. We initially thought that this would not be an easy task, since many of the parental relationships in literature are represented as difficult, complicated, and neurosis-producing catalysts.  Yet, we learned that while much literature includes vivid portrayals of father/child relationships, and many of them are difficult and complicated, sometimes literature gives us strong bonds, unconditional love, and cherished role models who are figures to be admired. And, even the difficult and less-than-perfect relationships often offer very human representations of family.

Some of these characters may not be “fathers” in the biological sense.  They may be grandfathers, stepfathers, uncles, brothers, friends — sometimes they are not male at all. Sometimes they are even anthropomorphic bears.  But, in honor of these very important people in all of our lives, we’d like to say “Thank You” with our literary tribute to Father’s Day.

Melissa Mapes, Social Media Coordinator – Papa Bear, The Berenstain Bears – I am a big fan of bear hugs, and remember learning so many lessons about family from the happy group of bears that live in a tree house.

Amanda Festa, Managing Editor – Carson Drew, The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories — Raised in a family where I could barely cross the street before I was 11, I appreciate Attorney Drew letting his daughter help out on his criminal cases. The relationship between Mr. Drew and his daughter is one of mutual respect and admiration — which is refreshing for a series that began as early as 1930.  Mr. Drew trusts Nancy’s judgment and skill, turning to her often for help.  She’s even come to his rescue on more than one occasion.  As someone who grew up by flashlight with the Drews, I always enjoyed their dynamic and looked forward to Carson’s telegrams and the occasional phone call, when Nancy could drop a case and get to town to use a phone, of course.  And there seems worse places to be reared than the charming suburban town of River Heights. Sure, the crime rate is high, but I’d surely outrun evildoers in my smart little roadster, a pretty sweet birthday present from Papa Drew. And all expense paid trips with my two best friends?  I’ll pack my magnifying glass and be there in a jiff.

Jessica Monk, Contributing Editor —  Mr. Tom, Goodnight Mister Tom– It’s been years since I read the children’s book Goodnight Mister Tom, and even just re-reading the basics of the story on Wikipedia (ahem), I found myself welling up again. It’s hard to distill the plot down to a paragraph, but it goes something like this: In wartime Britain, William is evacuated with other children to the countryside, as London prepares for the battle of Britain and a heavy bout of bombing. He is elected to stay with the reclusive, crabby Mr. Tom, who, it turns out, lost his wife and son years ago, causing him to retreat from society. William is an awkward, shy boy, who was raised by an abusive, god-fearing mother. Away from his mother, he thrives under Tom’s care, and it becomes clear that he and Tom represent a second chance for each other as an oddball father and son duo. Goodnight Mister Tom is one of those kids’ books that tackles tough issues – so tough that it’s difficult to believe that you were confronted with them at such a tender age. But it’s a wonderful story of unconventional fatherhood; Mr. Tom is not only moved, but tested by love, and challenged to act out of his own comfort zone on behalf of William. He acts with courage, providing a good example to William, but also with tenderness and caring. In this way, he ends up becoming both father and mother to the boy, and the story shows that there are second chances, and that parenting is a relationship that both father and son can grow into.

Antoinette Weil, Marketing Coordinator – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird —  My literary ‘Father of the Year Century’ would have to be Atticus Finch. Harper Lee’s classic novel reads like a literary handbook for justice, and famed father and lawyer Atticus believes in it with his whole heart.  A widower, Atticus takes on the task (much more bravely than many in the 20th century) of raising his two children alone. He instills in his children a sense of morality and a sense of justice that is seldom seen in fictional portrayals of lawyers. He doesn’t allow his children to take the easy way out — a standard he also holds himself to. He speaks to them like he speaks to his peers — big words, lawyer-lingo, and all. But he is never impatient and will explain and re-explain what he means. And Atticus always says what he means. He never lies. Defending a black man puts Mr. Finch in the hot seat with the rest of the town. But he takes it as a learning tool, explaining to his children the principles of equality and of not judging a book by its cover. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch teaches his children exactly what he taught all of us in the classroom. And for millions of people around the world, myself included, those lessons have remained intact and Mr. Atticus Finch enshrined.

Caitlin O’Hara, Editorial Intern – Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind — So, perhaps it’s all in a name, but I would choose Mr. O’Hara from Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel as my favorite literary father figure.  As a young Caitlin, unable to fathom why on earth my parents didn’t name me Scarlett, the fiery southern belle was to me the epitome of gutsy beauty.  As an adult though, one sees easily how flawed she is, how careless and juvenile.  She might have failed altogether if not for the lessons she learned from her father. Mr. O’Hara instills in Scarlett the love of the land that ultimately saves her. He loves his wife and daughters with great fidelity and patience. True, he falters when he begins to lose it all, when his beloved slave-holding society falls to pieces, but his values of respect for the land and love of family are at the core of the book; they are the strength that ultimately redeems Scarlett, for all of her faults.  In real life, however, I will always choose the real Mr. O’Hara — my dad.

Tatsiana Litvinskaya, Editorial InternNikolai Bolkonsky, War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy’s novel is one of the greatest Russian works of all time.  I first read it when I was 15 years old, and I fell in love with Andrei Bolkonsky, a young, handsome, and courageous man, who loves his country and is ready to fight and die in the War. But who raised him and made him such a strong man? The answer is simple: his father Nikolai Bolkonsky, a man who lived his life according to moral principles.  Nikolai raised his children to be noble, kind, hard-working, and not divide people by class, even though Bolkonsky’s family belongs to high society. When the father sends his son to the War, he tells him that he will cry if Andrei is killed, but if he learns that Andrei acted not as his son, it will be a shame to him as his father. These words show how important it was for Nikolai to be proud of his son’s sense of honor.

Katie Stack, Editorial Intern – Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter series – Wise, kind, mysterious, famous, knowledgeable…The complex Dumbledore was a father to Harry when he had none. Not all of these adjectives are what one might want or expect in a father, which is why Dumbledore is such a valuable example of a flawed and oh-so-human father (wizard or muggle). In his efforts to shield Harry from the difficult realities of adult life, Dumbledore often caused further hardship. This, in essence, is what fatherhood is: a constant struggle between facilitating a magical and care-free childhood and raising your child to be an independent and resourceful adult.

Jamie Worcester, Editorial InternRex Walls, The Glass Castle – My favorite literary father figure would have to be from Jeanette Wall’s memoir, The Glass Castle. Although he is not the protagonist of the story, I find him to be the most compelling. The story starts off with Jeanette reflecting back to her childhood where her incredibly intelligent father, Rex, and free-spirited mother move the family around to various locations, even spending some time in the desert. There in the desert, Rex teaches his three children about different plant species, encourages them to play in the dirt, and allows them to pick out stars as Christmas presents. Readers will often find themselves enchanted by his intellectual nature and childish curiosity. However, as the story unfolds, the reader becomes disillusioned, and the reality of the family’s unstable lifestyle sets in. Although Rex is indeed deeply flawed, his adventurous spirit and charm are what make him my favorite.

Ali Pinero, Editorial Intern – Mr. Emerson, A Room with a View – Mr. Emerson stands by his son George and urges him to put passion and love before convention, even when everyone else warns George to do otherwise. He is the reason Lucy Honeychurch realizes that she loves George after rejecting him multiple times due to his social status, as Mr. Emerson urges her to follow her soul. I think it would be the greatest comfort to know that my father holds his heart higher than his head and would insist that I strive for the impossible. He also constantly offends people and disregards proper social conventions through his blatant honesty, which would be great fun to watch, as long as it doesn’t get to the point where I am too embarrassed. I’d have to fill him in on where to draw the line. Plus, if I ever fell victim to unreciprocated love like George, he could easily convince my crush otherwise, and we would elope like George and Lucy! Can’t go wrong there!

Who’s your favorite literary father figure?  The Literary Traveler team shared their choices, now share your own in the comments section.