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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.

 

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!! 

 

 

Announcing the 2013 Literary Traveler Fauxscars!

December 14, 2012 in Film, Literary Movies, Literature

Awards season is fast approaching, which means discussion–from the subway to the water cooler–will revolve around movies, movie scores, movie locations, characters, and this year, books.

2012 has been a spectacular year for literary films, with adaptations of everything from classic literature to young adult juggernauts. Here at Literary Traveler we think it is only fair these adaptations receive an award show of their own…

Welcome to the First Annual Literary Traveler Fauxscars (not to be confused with that other winter award show).

We will accept public nominations, so please send us your favorites via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail and stay tuned for the nominations, which will be posted on January 10th.  After that, make sure to vote before we announce the winners on February 24th!

In order to be eligible, films must have a theatrical release date in 2012, and have been adapted from some form of literary work.  Check out our 2012-2013 Literary Adaptation List for ideas, as well as some of the cinematic releases from this past summer, and of course, a film sure to find its way into a category or two, Anna Karenina.

To help you make an informed decision, we will be posting on our favorites throughout the next two months.  Join the conversation in our comments section. Don’t forget to vote via FacebookTwitter or e-mail.

And the Categories are…

Best “Almost as Good as the Book” Film

Best “Stand Alone” Film:
Best Film, even if you didn’t read the book

Best Adaptation of Classic Literature:

Best “Young Adult” Adaptation:

Best “Guilty Pleasure” Film:

Best “Remake of a Previously Adapted Film”:
Films have already been adapted at least once

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Best Cinematography:

Best Character Portrayal by an Actor in a Leading Role:

Best Character Portrayal by an Actress in a Leading Role:

Best Character Portrayal by an Actor in a Supporting Role:

Best Character Portrayal by an Actress in a Supporting Role:

Best Portrayal of a Literary Couple:

Best Book made into a Film:
Regardless of how bad the film may have been!

Most Anticipated Literary Adaptation of 2013:
Upcoming Scheduled Film Releases for next year

Happy Thanksgiving from Literary Traveler!

November 21, 2012 in Food, Holidays, Holidays Literary Traveler, Travel

Please enjoy this interesting article and accompanying pictures featured in The Atlantic about holidays all over the world that encourage “thanks giving”.

Here at LT, we’re grateful for the opportunity to travel, meet people, and share our love of literature and the arts.

What are you thankful for this year? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Beyond the Literary Extracts: Five New Ways to Savor Food and Literature at Thanksgiving

November 20, 2012 in Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Cooking, Food, Holidays

From Proust’s Madeleines to William Faulkner’s Mint Juleps, great literature has always influenced readers’ experiences of food. What literary geek doesn’t drink a Papa Doble and think about Hemingway’s famed thirst, or eat a Madeleine and associate the crumbling edges with Proust’s delicate Parisian nostalgia? But you don’t have to turn to the usual literary ‘extracts’ to savor holiday reading time. This Thanksgiving, Literary Traveler lists five ways to re-think the relationship between readers, writers and food.

1. The Cookbook as Literary Classic

Just recently, I discovered that Alexander Dumas wrote a cookbook, the enormous Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine. As you might expect, instructions for cooking and devouring large and exotic beasts are the meat of this manly aristocratic tome. But for any wannabe Heston Blumenthals out there, Dumas has some advice for you: don’t bother with eagle—it’s stringy and tough. Of course, the more attentive and energetic of cooks will probably read that as a challenge to ‘man up’.

2. The Drink Named After an Author

Literary Traveler recently went in search of the Papa Doble, Hemingway’s take on the Daiquiri. The manliest of writers created his own drink, a double frozen Daiquiri that he likened to “downhill glacier skiing” (recommendation and a warning in one).

3. The Writer’s Secret Recipe

Despite her wild and reclusive image, Emily Dickinson had a domestic side. Nelly Lambert writes about Emily Dickinson’s delicate coconut cake recipe, and how she used to hand out baskets of cakes to local children. Dickinson was famous in the neighborhood for her baking, her bread recipe even won a prize. If you visit the Emily Dickinson house in Amherst, Massachusetts, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Jean Mudge’s Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as a Cook with Selected Recipes.

4. The Cookbook for Readers

Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen’s The Book Lover’s Cookbook is a homely compendium of literary passages accompanied by the authors’ own recipes. The book is assembled like homecooking out of a hodge podge of what’s in the cupboard—from Louisa May Alcott’s to Stephen King to Anais Nin to Shakespeare (and a liberal sprinkling of Maya Angelou). Check out my recent interview with Linda Olle, author of The Upper East Side Cookbook, who told Literary Traveler her cooking was inspired by literary idols like George Orwell.

5. The Recipe as Literary Parody

Mark Crick’s Household Tips of the Great Writers is a joy. Two of the funniest parodies in it are the Trainspotting style chocolate cake cook-up, gatecrashed by the main characters cake addict friends, and Kafka mixing up Miso soup in a kitchenette, watched over by some intimidating bureaucrats.

Rich Chocolate Cake à la Irvine Welsh:

“Ah drop a packet of butter intae the pan and light the flame beneath it. As it melts, ah pour on the sugar, watching the white grains dissolve intae the golden brown liquid. They’re dissolving cleanly; it’s good f****** s*****.”

Quick Miso Soup à la Franz Kafka:

“When the soup was simmering, K. cut the tofu into one-centimetre cubes and dropped it into the steaming pan with the mushrooms and some wakame. Looking out of the window into the darkness he noticed that a girl was watching from the neighbouring house. The girl’s severe expression was not unattractive to K., but the thought that she was deriving some pleasure from his situation sent him into a fury and he struck the worktop with his fist. It occurred to him that she might in some way be attached to the interrogation commission or could influence his case…”

So, as our favorite literary chef chimed again and again, “Bon appetit!”

Reading Mark Twain On A Summer Day

July 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Image via AmazonToday, in honor the holiday and the long weekend, I’ve decided to forgo Friday links and instead focus on one of my favorite American authors: Mark Twain.

For a lot of people, “summer reading” means one of two things. Either they’re referring to the mandatory “great books” assigned by High school English teachers or they’re talking about the light, “trashy,” less-than-literary novels commonly termed “beach reads.”  But when I hear the term “summer books,” I think about something else entirely.

For me, a summer book is one that I return to over and over, one that breathes heat out of its pages and soothes with its particular brand of fantasy.  These books feel carefree – reading a summer classic is about as satisfying as climbing a tree, or diving into a swimming hole.

My all-time favorite summer book is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, though Huck Finn comes in at a close second.  These novels perfectly capture the mischievousness of childhood, the excitement and the continual yearning for freedom.  They speak to a part of me that still sometimes secretly longs to run away from home and join a circus, or a band of traveling musicians, or just float lazily down a river, ignoring all of my other responsibilities.  With his sharp wit and ability to capture the local color perfectly, Twain transports me back to a different time, one that only appears simpler at first glance.

Another reason I love Twain has less to do with his characters and more to do with the setting.  Twain is an American Author.  He is quite possibly the quintessential American Author.  Not only does he write in that hilarious, rambling, biting-yet-kind voice that feels so American, he also manages to inject each of his novels all the beauty of our country while remaining authentic.  He does not sugar-coat his books; childhood is not a perfect place, free of tension.  Tom and Huck may not be aware of the great injustices of the world at the beginning of their journeys, but as they grow and progress, they come to see our world for what it really is.

This July 4th, do America proud and pick up a book by one of our many great authors.  If Twain isn’t your cup of tea, how about some Faulkner?  Or Melville?  (May I suggest Benito Cereno?)  Or, if you don’t have that much time, check out one of our articles on Mark Twain, which include A Revealing Interview with Terrell Dempsy, Author of Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens’s World, Mark Twain in Unionville, Nevada, and Finding Mark Twain’s Hannibal.   You can also search for other American authors at LiteraryTraveler.com.

Happy reading!