‘Tis the Season: Donating Books

IMG_5636Perhaps, Dear Readers, you, like me, have a few books in need of new homes this holiday season. Maybe you’re clearing shelf space in anticipation of Santa leaving a few tomes under the tree, or maybe Hanukkah’s end finds you with more books than you expected.

There are many fine places to donate books; here are four where books from our house are headed this year.

Prison Book Program

This listing is for Massachusetts, but there are many similar programs that might be geographically closer to you. Book bloggers take note: ARCs are generally accepted by prison book programs.

Van Buren Family Shelter

This is a new shelter in Columbus, Ohio (home of my beloved alma mater) which I learned about from writer and professor Michelle Herman. She writes that about 250 children come through the shelter every month, and so volunteers are organizing a children’s book drive:

“The goal is to provide access to a library of books to every child, but also to send each child out of the shelter with two books of her or his own, and thus to collect at least 10,000 books now (or now-ish)–to cover the first two years or so. The organizers are contacting publishers, bookstores, libraries, and schools, as well as everyone they know, and I offered to expand the network to everyone I know. You could too, if you had a mind to. They are accepting new or gently used children’s books, which can be sent directly to the shelter.”

If you have new or gently used children’s books to send, the address is:

Van Buren Shelter
595 Van Buren Dr
Columbus OH

Our Local Library

Prison book programs typically don’t accept hardcovers, so we donate ours to our local public library, where they might circulate, but more likely will be sold in the ongoing library book sale to raise funds for library improvements and outreach.

Epilepsy Foundation New England

The New England chapter of the Epilepsy Foundation collects all sorts of household goods donated by the community, including books.

I’m sure there are many other worthy places to donate books, and I’d be happy to hear about your favorites!

“My heart and the gray world grow young”: Sophie Jewett’s “To a Child”

IMG_4651This past weekend, Dear Readers, my sister gave birth to the most beautiful little girl. She’s our first niece and H’s first cousin, and we’re so excited that she’s here (and we can’t wait to meet her!).

Naturally, I’ve had poems about babies and birth on the brain, and let me tell you: there are a lot of cotton-candy sweet poems about babies out there if you care to look, but also quite a few that are nuanced and lovely (Don Paterson’s “Walking with Russell,” for example,  is a fantastic father-son/parent-child poem).

Sophie Jewett’s “To a Child” is old fashioned, a quiet and simple poem. Its speaker looks back on early parenthood from the position of age, using a metaphor of a tree and a bird to show the parent-child relationship:

I was a dreaming forest tree,
You were a wild, sweet bird
Who sheltered at the heart of me
Because the north wind stirred;

It reminds me of Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny (one of the all-time great children’s books, and beautifully deconstructed in Margaret Edson’s beautiful play Wit). In the story (and aren’t children’s stories often very much like poems, with their rhythmic cadences and repetitions?) , the baby bunny says that he will run away, and the mother replies that she will find him, “for you are my little bunny.” In one scene, he says that he will become a little bird and fly away, but “If you become a little bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

Welcome home, Cora!

From the R&RG Archive: “I Love All Beauteous Things”

Friends, this week has been a busy one. In addition to work and the other work of child-chasing, there’s been traveling and a tiny bit of writing and even reading. I’m *this close* to finishing two books I’m very much enjoying (one novel, one collection of poems), so this week I’m taking you back to the archive, by which I mean a post from 2013, when not too many readers were to be found hereabouts.

I’ve picked this post because of its connection to a favorite book of mine. My sister’s baby shower was this past weekend, and one of the gifts we gave her is a copy of Miss Rumphius, which you must go read for yourself if you haven’t already. And just learned that Barbara Cooney’s original artwork for Miss Rumphius is in the museum at Bowdoin College, which is serendipitous because I know a certain incoming freshman who is just dying to give a museum tour—probably early on a Saturday morning, right?—to his extremely nerdy and old cousin (hey there, FB!) . . .


Robert Bridges’s fine poem is a brief, honestly joyous celebration of the beautiful, and our urge to create something beautiful ourselves. In the second stanza, he writes: “I too will something make / and joy in the making” even if his creation proves ephemeral.

One of the pleasures of this little poem, for me, is that it reminds me of one of my favorite children’s books, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. In the book, Miss Rumphius (as a child) is told by her grandfather that she must (among other things) over the course of her life do something to make the world more beautiful.

Isn’t that lovely?

I’ve loved this book since I was a little girl, and when I’m feeling reflective, I remember the beautiful illustrations and ask myself if I’ve done anything lately to make the world more beautiful, and, more importantly, what I can still do.

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(I’ll let you find out for yourself what Miss Rumphius sets out to do.)

On Poetry for Children

Photo courtesy Daniela Cuevas via Unsplash.

Photo courtesy Daniela Cuevas via Unsplash.

A long time ago—so long ago that I can’t find the post (although, to be fair, I only had the patience to look for three minutes or so)—I wrote about looking for poems for children. Nursery rhymes and jokey sorts are all very well, but I am a woman of distinctly unsaint-like patience (see parenthetical above), and when possible, I prefer children’s entertainment that is also meant to be palatable to adults (such as Pixar movies and a remarkable number of children’s books, which I would be happy to list in a later post if anyone is interested). Not for me are Saturday morning cartoons, Berenstain Bears, or The Wiggles, and I’m afraid to say that our son is deprived of these things thanks to his mother’s intransigence.

So some time ago, I thought to myself, “well, I should make a list of poems that aren’t meant for children but that they might like anyway,” since they seem to go over pretty well in our house (the principle applies to music, too, by the way). Edward Lear’s nonsense poems are great fun, and H likes Robert Frost quite a bit; I think the rhythms of formal poetry, particularly iambic pentameter, are soothing.

Of course, I was quite sure to file the idea in my Cabinet of Good Intentions I’ll Forget I Ever Had ™, where it remained until just a few days ago when I found that Lemony Snicket has done all the work for me.

So in lieu of a poem of the week, Dear Readers, I invite you to head over to the Poetry Foundation’s website and enjoy the hilarious introduction he’s written and the portfolio of poems he’s collected. 

Recommended Reading, Christmas Edition: Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien

photo (1)If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas book—and maybe inspiration to write the small people in your life some larger-than-life letters—look no further than Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. 

I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time, but the number of editions and their varying states of completeness put me off buying it until this year, when I came across what I think is the best edition out there: the HarperCollins hardcover edition published in the UK in 2012 (my copy came from the Book Depository). The only thing that could make it better? Bigger pages.

In this collection, edited by J.R.R. Tolkien’s former secretary (and his daughter-in-law) Baillie Tolkien, you’ll find over twenty years’ worth of correspondence from Father Christmas (with interpolations by the North Polar Bear and later notes from the Elf secretary Ilbereth) to the Tolkien children. What’s especially wonderful is that the transcriptions of the letters are accompanied by facsimiles of the letters, envelopes, and drawings themselves, so you can revel in Father Christmas’s shaky writing, the Polar Bear’s hilarious marginal commentary (and goblin alphabet!), and the beauty of Tolkein’s drawings.

You’ll find tales of mischief and eleventh-hour turnarounds, reindeer on the loose, and lots of firecrackers in these pages, and something more, too—a record of the joys and interests of the Tolkien children, and their father’s sadness at the woes of the world around them. The Depression and the Second World War do not go unnoticed, but Father Christmas’s reassurance that hope and light will return again is touching and poignant, and a good reminder for our own times.

Highly recommended reading for parents, children, Tolkien fans, and anyone who’s looking for Christmas cheer.

Reading While Pregnant: Or, “enough to love / to break your heart / forever”

I was nearly halfway through pregnancy at this time three years ago, and I remember feeling the baby kick for the first time around New Year’s Eve, which was also the same time I was reading one of the three books I strongly associate with being pregnant.

Reading while pregnant isn’t really different from reading while not-pregnant, I found, except I felt I should be more discriminating since I wouldn’t read as much right after the baby was born (true, in my experience), and also because I had to get up a lot more often. And while I generally remember my reading lists pretty well, most of the books I read during those many weeks went by in a haze, though I know there were quite a few. I was teaching intro-level Shakespeare and Readings in Drama at the time, so that’s a dozen right there, and of course I read novels and poetry on the side. Looking back, though, these are the three books that epitomized the whole experience of pregnancy for me.

One is the ubiquitous What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which was so awful and made me cry so often that my husband hid it from me around the end of the first trimester (for which I am profoundly thankful). Seriously, it’s the worst: fat-shaming and fear-inducing for starters. If you’re a pregnant person, there are far better options out there (try the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy for the nitty-gritty health stuff, and the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy for the “we’re-all-in-it-together” vibe, although if you read my edition from the late ’90s you’ll have to squeeze someone’s hand through the parts that hurt [ahem, assumption of shared privilege, ahem]). 

The second is Wuthering Heights, which is the first book I read on an e-reader. My husband got me a Nook for my birthday about a month after I found out I was pregnant. Though I’ll always be a lady of the printed word (mostly because I like books as objects, and my eyes hurt when I look at screens for too long, but we can have that tussle another day, if we must), it did make reading one-handed while standing quite easy (also: great for reading while nursing).  On the train and the bus to and from the university, I read about the unkindnesses that Cathy and Heathcliff inflict upon each other, and the harsh beauty of the moors. It wasn’t particularly uplifting, but it was distracting enough that for those forty-five minutes each way, I didn’t notice the sciatica or general discomfort associated with growing another human in one’s abdomen. And that’s all you  want from your pregnancy reading sometimes: distraction.

[It should be noted, here, that I am of the variety of plumpness that made it difficult for people to tell whether I was fat or fat and pregnant for the first twenty-seven or so weeks out of my forty-two (yes, it was awful) weeks of pregnancy. People in Boston aren’t jerks who don’t offer seats to pregnant women. For the most part.]

The third book I associate with pregnancy, the one I was reading when the baby started kicking, is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Now, I came very late to the Harry Potter fan club; the books started to appear when I, as a young teenager, thought that Ayn Rand was the height of reading sophistication. (As you can tell, my salad days have come and gone.) When the Harry Potter movies came out, my dad and I would go see them on a Monday at the Shaker Square Cinema for five bucks a ticket, with free popcorn (we’re yankees to the core); we liked them quite a bit. As it turned out, I saw all the movies with my dad, eventually. But for many years we eschewed the books as “kid stuff.”

It wasn’t til I was pregnant that I decided I should read the series to preview it for the baby, figuring, perhaps wrongly, that kids in the 2020s will be reading the same stuff as kids in the late ’90s and early ’00s. It tells you something about my reasoning ability that I thought I should preview books meant for kids 8 and up while I was still pregnant. It’s not just me, though: Pregnancy does weird stuff to your brain.

My nesting instinct pretty much came down to books: The shower was book-themed (thanks, bookish friends!), and I bought (or borrowed/stole from my siblings) every children’s book I remember loving, from Miss Rumphius and The Story of Ferdinand all the way up to the Chronicles of Narnia and Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables — without reflecting that it would be years before the baby would be big enough to understand them.

I read that first Harry Potter book and immediately ordered the set. I read them so fast that winter (three years ago now) that the plots spun together, thrilled that these were books my baby would someday, barring catastrophe, grow up to read. They might be built of the fantastic, but they made all the promise of childhood after the misery of pregnancy seem real and attainable, and I loved them unabashedly and in earnest.  While I’m not exactly sure I’m ready for our son to grow up, I can’t wait to read the books to him for myself (Mr. O read the first three to him to get him to sleep as an infant). Privet Drive is going to make his chores look easy, and even I would take gym class over Potions with Snape. Wait. No I wouldn’t. Scratch that. Sorry, kiddo. Gym class is the worst.

Harry Potter & a picture of our Baby O  (now Mr. Baby, or H) on the day he was born.

Harry Potter & a picture of our Baby O (now Mr. Baby, or H) on the day he was born.

Turns out that I’m impatient, so I read the whole series again over the Thanksgiving holidays, and whoa, nelly. They’re still wonderful, inventive while nodding to and borrowing from the best in other fantasy novels, and heartbreaking.

I didn’t know, the first time I read them, that our Baby O would be a son, but this time I couldn’t help but picture our little dude as a kid away from home, navigating the tricky staircases at Hogwarts, maybe making friends like Ron and Harry, and especially Hermione.

This is a your weekly poetry post, I promise, even though it’s taken me awhile to get here. This week we’re saying hello to a new year, and so please head on over to The Poetry Foundation to read Diane Di Prima’s “Song for Baby-O, Unborn.

It’s the kind of poem that I imagine would have crossed Lily Potter’s mind sometime. It reaches for the future with eyes wide open to the deficiencies of the present, and the tangled power that is love.

In Which I Eviscerate the First Hobbit Movie

It’s Hobbit time again, Charlie Brown. All across the interwebs, people are writing handy “Previously on The Hobbit” recap pieces in preparation for the next movie’s opening today. Here’s my humble contribution.

As a nine-year-old, I thought the narrator of Tolkien’s The Hobbit was talking down to me, and thus disliked the book immensely — so much, in fact, that I delayed reading The Lord of the Rings until I was seventeen. It didn’t help that I hated the narrator of the audiobook version, which I was obliged to listen to during one of our family road trips (perhaps this is the source of my dislike for the medium?). The Hobbit

So, if you will, imagine my surprise when I picked up The Hobbit last year, before the movie came out, and found it charming, exciting, and full of respect for its intended audience. The narrator I once found condescending now seems conversational, inclusive, inviting. It’s a children’s book, yes, but the kind that an adult can read with enjoyment.  It’s like an amuse-bouche before the main courses — The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

Now, before I start in on the movie, let me disclose that I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a view not shared by many die-hard Tolkien fans, I know. But I thought Mr. Jackson handled the necessary exigencies well. Sure, I could have done without the Elves at Helm’s Deep and the ill-contrived Aragorn-isn’t-ready-for-kingship plot line, and yes, I would have liked to see Tom Bombadil & Goldberry, and the Scouring of the Shire, but these are issues I can live with.

And before you ask, there were some positives to my Hobbit movie-going experience: I thought the casting of the major characters was spot-on, and I loved Howard Shore’s score. But alas, not enough for the movie to avoid my wrath.

Herewith I present, in no particular order, my objections to Mr. Jackson’s treatment of The Hobbit:

Three movies out of a 275-page book? That’s just turning a beloved story into a cash cow. I know I’m not the first to make this argument, but I think it needs to be out there. Yes, asking people to buy three movie tickets instead of two will increase your profits by one-third. But that’s not a good reason to expand a story so drastically. (Much as I wish I hadn’t, I saw a preview for the second installment that featured Legolas and an Elf played by Evangeline Lilly. Oh, PJ. Please. Creating characters out of whole cloth? Where do you and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens get the nerve? If you REALLY need a female character, turn Beorn in a woman. For serious. That would work better.) I get that filmmakers have to make tough choices about what to cut from beloved books in order to make a reasonable run-time, but adding material to a fully-realized Tolkien story is sheer hubris.

Perspective: The narrator of The Hobbit shadows Bilbo, for the most part. When Gandalf disappears, Bilbo doesn’t know what he’s up to until Gandalf shares information with him. In this way, Bilbo is placed in the position of a child, not always allowed access to the adult world, unless it’s through a gate-keeper. He’s on an important quest with the Dwarves, but it’s the grown-ups — Gandalf in particular — who will deal with The Necromancer (aka Sauron) who gains power in Mirkwood. Here’s what The Hobbit has to say on the subject:

[. . .]but every now and again he would open one eye, and listen, when a part of the story which he did not yet know came in.

It was in this way that he learned where Gandalf had been to, for he overheard the words of the wizard to Elrond. It appeared that Gandalf had been to a great council of the white wizards, masters of lore and good magic; and that they had at last driven the Necromancer from his dark hold in the South of Mirkwood. (266)

Yep, that’s pretty much it. If Tolkien thought a blow-by-blow of the Battle of Dol Guldur was necessary to elucidate the plot of The Hobbit, he could have included it. But he doesn’t. And apparently Mr. Jackson knows better: In the first Hobbit movie, we’re shown Gandalf deep in conversation with Elrond & Galadriel (and good old nefarious Saruman, nice to see you as always, Mr. Lee), and that’s just a taste of what’s to come. I understand that in some quarters, there are calls to get as much of Middle Earth on screen as possible. But guess what? There are other books for that!  Seriously, quit calling the movies The Hobbit: An Obvious Subtitle. Call them Money-Making Lord of the Rings Prequels.

Violence: The Hobbit is a children’s book that doesn’t gloss over difficult choices, the risk of death, or various fantastic dangers. However, there were a couple instances of gore (especially the beheading of Thorin’s father) that make the movie a no-go for kids 8-10. I know that they don’t belong to the coveted ticket-buying demographics, but you think Mr. Jackson could have flexed some muscle with the studios — or exercised some self-restraint — and toned it down a notch or two, so that Tolkien’s intended audience could be his audience, too. He lost a great opportunity to make a family film — and not in a schmaltzy (or cartoon) sense.

Radagast: Oh dear, where to begin. Radagast is, as anyone who’s read The Silmarillion can tell you, a Maiar, a being of divine origin though not one of, and less powerful than, the Valar. Like Gandalf, Radagast walks Middle Earth is the guise of an old man, but unlike Gandalf, his affinity is for flora and fauna, not Elves and Men and Hobbits. A little odd he may be, but the totally bizarre movements and costume Mr. Jackson gave him are a bridge too far. I was viscerally angry with this portrayal, which is in line with Mr. Jackson’s choice to turn Gimli into a buffoon to play for cheap laughs in LOTR. Mr. Jackson has departed from Tolkien’s nuanced, gentle laughter with the characters (and sometimes at their foibles) and created his own brand of cruel comedy that attacks Radagast. And the bird excrement (this is a blog for all readers, but you know what I’m saying) on his head? BAD FORM, Mr. Jackson.

An effects issue: While Gollum, played by the always-amazing Andy Serkis, was graced with the best CGI effects ever, Azog was just atrocious. Totally fake-looking.

And the cherry on top of my dislike sundae: my favorite musical section of the movie, which worked so well in the trailer, is the Dwarves’ song (not the over-long dishwashing one — the other one). And it’s cut off too soon! Gah!

Essentially, I think Mr. Jackson shows a significant lack of respect for his source material.

Here’s hoping I’ve saved you twelve — make that twenty-four — bucks.

“I Love All Beauteous Things”

Robert Bridges’s fine poem is a brief, honestly joyous celebration of the beautiful, and our urge to create something beautiful ourselves. In the second stanza, he writes: “I too will something make / and joy in the making” even if his creation proves ephemeral.

One of the pleasures of this little poem, for me, is that it reminds me of one of my favorite children’s books, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. In the book, Miss Rumphius (as a child) is told by her grandfather that she must, over the course of her life, do something to make the world more beautiful.

Isn’t that lovely?

I’ve loved this book since I was a little girl, and when I’m feeling reflective, I remember the beautiful illustrations and ask myself if I’ve done anything lately to make the world more beautiful, and, more importantly, what I can still do.

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(I’ll let you find out for yourself what Miss Rumphius sets out to do.)