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What’s Your One True Sentence? We want to know what has inspired you.

September 14, 2016 in American Authors, American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Literary News, Literature, One True Sentence, Uncategorized

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

We have just launched something special at Literary Traveler, and we can’t wait to share it with you. Literary Traveler’s “One True Sentence” will be a series of short video episodes that explore the meaning of words and the people who are inspired by their power. Literary Traveler will take viewers behind some of the greatest words in literature, bringing them alive through the people and places that hold them close.

One sentence is often all it takes to convey your truth. And each one of us has a sentence that we carry with us – whether it is a line from a novel, a verse of poetry, a song lyric, a personal mantra, words of wisdom from a loved one, or a simple string of words that bring you meaning. We take this “one true sentence” with us on our travels, drawing inspiration, motivation, and solace in times of trouble.

The first two episodes of this series feature contemporary authors sharing the sentences that inspire their life and work and how they came to find the meaning in their true sentences.

Nichole Bernier, author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., shares a quote from Henry David Thoreau, and Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughters, finds reassurance in the words of Gustave Flaubert. For Bernier and Meyers, and all of us, a truly great sentence can not only inspire, but influence your life, change your course, and start you on your own unique journey.

Our goal with “One True Sentence” is to inspire — to harness the power of words in our lives, and examine how one short sentence can hold so much meaning.  And we want to hear from you.

If you have a sentence that holds special meaning for you, we would love for you to share it with us and tell us a little about how it has influenced your life, whether it has inspired you to take a leap of faith, provided strength during a difficult time, or otherwise inspires, motivates, or comforts. Please send us your short personal videos (Be as creative as you want, but no need to get fancy. A smartphone camera is all it takes.) You can e-mail us at submissions@literarytraveler.com or share your video on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #OneTrueSentence. Your video may even end up on LiteraryTraveler.com!

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.

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.

Thank You for your Continued Support!

June 14, 2013 in American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Fiction, Kickstarter, Literary News, Television

We wanted to thank you for supporting Literary Traveler’s Kickstarter. Unfortunately we did not meet our short-term goal of raising $12,000.

But using Kickstarter as a way to launch our funding drive for the television series has been a success. Through the Kickstarter community, our campaign for the Literary Traveler television series has enabled us to reach out to funders, partners, and supporters and move our project forward towards our goal of a fully-funded series.

Kickstarter was phase one of our funding drive, and our fundraising efforts will continue over the summer as we continue to work with individual donors while we research and shoot additional locations for the pilot. For Literary Traveler it will be the “Summer of Gatsby,” as we continue to explore where Fitzgerald roamed and found inspiration for The Great Gatsby.

Here’s how you can help. Please continue to tell your friends about the project, submit your ideas for additional episodes and get involved! In order to hold on to our Kickstarter funds we need anyone who has already supported to re-donate here. If you didn’t donate to the Kickstarter, with the thought that you would give at the end, once we were close to our goal, we will be able to keep and use all funds donated directly through our website.

We’re asking you to stay with our fundraising effort for the long haul – If you subscribe to Literary Traveler or follow us on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll receive updates about the project. If you are just finding us now, please visit our website, check out our Kickstarter page, and take a look at our new fundraising page to see how you can donate to this exciting project.

As anyone who has taken on a project of this scope surely knows, it’s an exciting learning curve. What it boils down to is this: we have too many ideas to stop now.  There is plenty of great stuff on the brew – from exploring the origins of Gatsby this summer to the chance for readers to get personally involved with upcoming episodes.  Stay tuned for more!

We are so grateful for all your support!

Sincerely, Francis & the Literary Traveler Team

We’re Hosting a Party, Old Sport! — How to Throw a Gatsby Summer Soiree

June 9, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Food, Music, Summer Fun

So you want to throw a party, old sport? A fabulous soiree that those on the East Egg would envy from across the bay? Now, I’m no Jay Gatsby, but I think we can put something together that’s pretty spectacular.

SETTING:

The ideal way to create a decadent party-going atmosphere would be to find yourself a mansion on the water as close as possible to old money (Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps?). Surround yourself with well-manicured gardens, and extravagant sunset views are a must!

Barring the many years necessary to acquire the funds (and the availability of appropriate historic mansions), it is possible to create an almost-as-good environment in your own home. Dim lighting is a necessity, and tastefully hung strings of white lights can foster an intimate setting. Your daily household clutter will, of course, be hidden away, and simple table cloths will add a feeling of elegance.

ENTERTAINMENT

Scrounging up an orchestra complete with oboes, trombones and saxophones would be for the best, but a playlist chock-full of speakeasy-flavor jazz music will do the trick as well. Duke Ellington would be a great place to start, but you can also find lengthy 1920s playlists already compiled on music sharing services such as Spotify.

COSTUME

A dress code, of course, will get all attendees in the right mood. If men do not own “white flannels” akin to Nick Carroway’s threads, elegant dress in the form of bowties, fedoras, and pastels of all types will be considered acceptable. Women should plan on sticking to the 1920s flapper style of loose dresses, long pearls, extravagant broaches, and flowered and/or beaded hair pieces. Oh, and shawls! Shawls of all types!

Fortunately, with the recent Gatsby film release, your party has plenty of inspiration. Create a ‘lookbook’ of preferred dress using images from the film adaptation to inform. Brooks Brothers also has created a fabulous line of menswear called (unsurprisingly) “The Great Gatsby Collection”.

FOOD

A buffet table laden with appetizers is the best way to encourage mingling and social levity. Gatsby himself served pastry pigs (today’s oh-so-delicious pigs in a blanket work just fine), as well as spiced ham and roasted turkey. To maintain an hors-d’oeuvres only rule, you should slice up the meat before rolling and anchoring with a toothpick. Throw a cherry tomato or olive on top for a flashy garnish.

Molded salads (jello, anyone?) were popular in the ‘20s; lemon cakes were served in Gatsby, as was fried chicken. Add in citrus delights where you can — nothing screams 1920s wealth like fresh fruit. I also don’t think any guests would object to a few anachronistic (yet delectable) contemporary dips added to the menu, but that’s up to you as the host.

DRINK

The most important part of a Prohibition-era party: the drinks. Keep the alcohol flowing and your party is bound to be a smashing success. Gin and whiskey were popular liquors at the time. Champagne aplenty is a must, and fresh orange juice on hand will lead to thirst-quenching mimosas once the party extends to the early morning hours. While Gatsby was partial to lemons and lemonades, I don’t think your guests will object to a little lime included in some of the following drinks.

  • Gin Rickey: A refreshing libation perfect for those warm summer nights. Gin, lime juice, and club soda in a Collins glass will get any party started.
  • Mint Julep: Whiskey, mint and a dash of sugar will make any lady (or gentleman) swoon with pleasure.
  • Highball: This simple drink was popular during the 1920s. Bourbon is the spirit of choice mixed with craft ginger beer right in the highball glass (perfect for speakeasy-level secrecy).
  • The Royal Highball: Popular among the upper-echelons of New York society, this classy beverage demands fresh strawberries, champagne, and Cognac.
  • Sidecar: This gem is made of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, in a 4-2-1 ratio that’s best served in a standard cocktail glass garnished with a lemon rind.

Remember to stock ice in abundance to guarantee maximum drink freshness!

GUEST LIST

Send out your formal invitations about one week in advance to create an air of exclusivity, but make sure to inform your guests that they are free to bring whomever! Because large parties are really so much more intimate, don’t you think, old sport?

Enjoy!

 

Book Bound! (Two Weeks Remaining!)

May 29, 2013 in American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Kickstarter, Literary News

Derby Square Bookstore, Salem, MA

By Antoinette Weil and Amanda Festa

Books are not obsolete and reading isn’t dead.  It seems that everything is tech this and i-something or other and YouTube and Vine and Twitter. We love our social media connections as much as the next person, but we can’t lose touch with the tangible. People still read, people still love their favorite books from childhood and from adulthood, and people, although they may not have all the time in the world, still want to get that reading fix. We think that THIS is what sets us and our project apart. We are going back to books, back to great authors, taking the time for you to get to know these stories and places. Promoting reading, promoting travel, promoting exploration, the sharing of ideas. There are many, many people in today’s society who are tired of the constant surge of technology taking over everyday life. Sick of their beloved bookstores closing. We are doing this for them, for people like us who enjoy the story behind our beloved literature. We’re bringing books to life, and that’s something.

We have two weeks left to reach our funding goal on Kickstarter.  Please support our project and, in turn, our passion.  Every dollar helps us get closer to our goal, and every dollar shows that there are people out there who would like to see this project be made.  If you are a reader, if you enjoy the feeling of a creased and worn book in your hands or the smell of a library or independent bookstore, then this project is for you.  If you have the travel bug, and you treat it with long doses of wandering, whether it is done on the road or from the comfort of an armchair, then this project is for you.  SO take a look at our Kickstarter page, explore the posts written by contributors whose excitement and enthusiasm for this project is incredible, and if you enjoy what you see, please get involved, donate what you can, and spread the word to all kindred literary travelers.

Gatsby: Under the Red, White, and Blue

May 28, 2013 in American History, American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Kickstarter

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald was distantly related to the man who composed “The Star-Spangled Banner?” That, in fact, he was named after him?

I didn’t – Though, of course, Fitzgerald geeks are probably way ahead of me. Since beginning research for our latest project, the Literary Traveler team has closely followed the media attention that the Fitzgeralds attract even from beyond the grave. This sounds both melodramatic and macabre – but the Fitzgeralds are among those writers  – like Sylvia Plath – who attract the kind of personal, possessive fan attention that most celebrities only endure while they’re alive. Jumping in a fountain at The Plaza, or curled up asleep after a party, it seems as if they belong to us, American sweethearts in disgrace.

At Literary Traveler, however, we have been gearing up, not for the glamour of the movie or for dirt on the Fitzgeralds’ personal lives, but the real-life ingredients that went into The Great Gatsby. The main ingredient for us, since we’re a travel website, is place. We don’t only want to know why and how it happened — we want to know where, and we want to show where.

Many associate The Great Gatsby with the archetypal mansion or resort setting. But we think it’s crucial that readers understand the connection Fitzgerald himself made in the novel, between origin and destination, between starting out and success. That, after all, is the essence of the American dream: the difference between the two, and the near impossible journeys of those who made it to the top.

Readers of Gatsby will notice how the novel is structured along the arc of the journey east, from humble Midwestern origins, to glitzy palatial homes on the Gold Coast.  When Nick Carraway picks his Midwest, he rejects the wheat fields and lazy prairies. Instead, he relishes the sharp air of homecoming at Christmas, the bite of the bone-dry, wintry weather and of the bittersweet feeling of homecoming itself. Gatsby is a novel about heart as well as heartlessness – it is a book about how the heart experiences a wrenching journey from what’s familiar to what’s extraordinary – and ends up pining for the thing it cannot have.

Through the virtual travel of my research, I found myself at the grave of Scott and Zelda. Fitzgerald chose to be buried with his Maryland family members, one of whom was the famous author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (Francis Scott Key), who gave Fitzgerald part of his name. But Scott and Zelda had to wait to settle down in their final resting place until the 70s – Fitzgerald, having married a protestant, was barred from being buried in his ancestral plot at St. Mary’s in Rockville, Maryland.

One of Fitzgerald’s preferred titles for The Great Gatsby was “Under the Red, White, and Blue.” And the other place I found myself investigating (again virtually) was an ostentatious Long Island Dwelling. A New York Times article from June 30th, 1918 reports that Clarence H. Mackay had a dinner for forty guests and a reception for several hundred people at his mansion, Harbor Hill.

“A large American flag done in colored electric lights topped the house and, as Harbor Hill is the highest point on Long Island, it could be seen for miles around,” the article tells us.

The Fitzgeralds were in Paris by this time, but they had attended a party there the year previously. They may have heard about this blow-out event and drawn on its legendary parties for inspiration. For the one night that this glittering flag was flying over Long Island, everything there was “Under the Red, White and Blue.” But what about the family connection with the star-spangled banner?

Naming your son or daughter after a famous family member is an aspirational gesture. Similar to naming your child after a celebrity, it’s a blueprint for a green light, imparting a fatedness and limitlessness to the child’s future – whether they asked for it or not.

It’s very likely that when it came to mapping the red white and the blue of an American success story, Fitzgerald felt that he was expected to go far. There are more connections between Jay Gatsby and the humble James Gatz than you might expect, and the clues are found both between the pages of the novel and in Fitzgerald’s life – in the places Gatsby aspired to and the places he left behind.

At Literary Traveler, we want to visit those places and show you the real roots of the Gatsby myth. We’ve done a lot of reading, we’ve plotted our mental maps – the next step is to talk to the experts and get filming!

Check out our Kickstarter page for more information on what is to come.

Exploring the Origins of the Charleston

May 21, 2013 in American History, American literature, Classic Literature, Dance, Kickstarter, Literary News, Music

Frank Farnum coaching Pauline Starke in the Charleston for a film role.

My recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina was incredible.  I have wanted to visit the city for years and I was delighted to partake in historical tours, hearing tales of the American Revolution and the Civil War, leisurely strolls and an abundance of incredible food and drink. The week-long getaway was exactly what the doctor ordered to cure the stresses, anxieties, and routine of day-to-day life.

But despite the feeling of freedom and blissful contentment at having no responsibilities, I found myself falling victim to that same sneaky trap that so many American travelers fall into: I was preoccupied with work.

Now let me say, for the record, that I love working with Literary Traveler. It’s a great company with great people and often when I’m working there it doesn’t feel like work at all.  This preoccupation may have been due, in part, to the knowledge that our Kickstarter was going live while I was away. It was weighing on my mind that if we were successful in meeting our funding goal we would be shooting our TV pilot and, that if we weren’t, we would be back to square one. The pilot episode and the Kickstarter campaign were just too big to put out of my mind.

Now, Charleston is a city rich with history and old-world elegance. One of the most preserved cities in the U.S., it looks today much as it did one-hundred years ago (besides the paved streets, upscale shopping boutiques and foodie hotspots). Meandering past war monuments, hotels and houses dating back as far as the 1800s, it was easy to imagine a world long ago and far away. But my mind wasn’t on war and it wasn’t going back that far. What I kept finding myself thinking about was The Great Gatsby, Nick, Daisy and Jordan, and of the roaring twenties.

Specifically, what I was wondering was whether that flapper-essential dance, the Charleston, was in fact named for my destination city. After digging up a little research, I found that the light and carefree dance had some dark history behind it.

Yes, the dance is named after the coastal landmark city. To be more precise, it is named for the show tune it was first danced to, “The Charleston,” by James P. Johnson, which premiered in the 1923 Broadway show Runnin’ Wild. The show was one of the most popular of the decade and created widespread love of the Charleston dance by women around the country who wanted to kick up their heels, flap their arms and let loose.

But long before the glamorized show-dance ever made its Broadway debut, it was being performed, though in a far less choreographed fashion, by African and African-American slaves. The Charleston, you see, is said to be based on the “Juba” dance, which originated in West Africa and was brought to America during one of our most shameful times in history.

The city of Charleston was a hub in the slave trade, housing an abundance of plantations for which slave labor was used and Ryan’s Mart, one of the most well-known slave auction centers ever to exist. Enslaved Africans and African-Americans have passed a number of our cultural treasures along including gospel, blues, and jazz music and the dancing to go with them. The Juba, sometimes called the “Hambone” or “Pattin’ Juba,” was usually danced in groups and consisted of slapping, clapping, and stomping in rhythm while rotating in a counterclockwise circle. The slaves were not allowed to use drums or other rhythmic instruments for fear that they were communicating with each other through the music, so they made their own rhythm using their bodies. This may not sound like the Charleston you have seen, but much of what has become jazz and tap dance originated from these steps.

Similarly, the women of the 1920s were using dance to express ideals that had once been forbidden and taboo: freedom, fun, carelessness and independence. As a matter of fact, the Charleston was outlawed in many places during the 20s because it was seen as crude and scandalous. It is interesting to see how these two groups of people, the slaves in the direst of circumstances and American flappers, many of whom were privileged monetarily and lived seemingly happy and easy lives, do relate to one another. Their environments were so ostensibly different, and yet, the feeling of being stifled, caged, confined, existed inside them all.  The dances of the day, the Juba and the Charleston, helped each group to cope with their circumstances and feelings and enabled genuine creative expression.

I wonder if Daisy ever thought about this.

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