Category Archives: books

RIP Tomie dePaola

When I was working in the book industry (B. Dalton and then Software, Etc.), my employee discount was a blessing and a curse.  Nice to get a discount on books but dangerous to someone who didn’t have a lot of disposable income.  During those years, the books that often went home with me were children’s books, particularly those with lavish illustrations.

If you have/had kids in your life, you’ve probably seen some of Tomie dePaola’s work.  In addition to writing his own stories, he also did all his own illustrations as well as illustrating for many other authors.  Often his work depicted his vision of folk stories or legends, including stories of his most memorable character: Strega Nona.   The first of the Strega Nona stories is a bit like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Strega Nona leaves Big Anthony at her hut while she is out and he is determined to show the village folks how her magic pasta pot works.  As you can imagine, it doesn’t go well, but Strega Nona gets home just in time to avert disaster.

Tomie dePaola passed away this week, complications from surgery after a fall at his barn studio on his property in New Hampshire, where he had lived since 1973.  He was still working at the age of 85!  Over his career, he wrote and/or illustrated over 260 books and won just about every award there is for children’s literature, including a lifetime achievement award presented in 2011 by the Children’s Literature Legacy, a branch of the American Library Association.

I have quite a few Tomie dePaola books, from a signed copy of Strega Nona to volumes of nursery rhymes, poems and folktales to The Legend of Bluebonnet, The Legend of Poinsettia (one of my holiday favorites) and a stunning pop-up book, Giorgio’s Village.  As I’ve been cleaning out and cutting back, I have hit my bookshelves hard, but I haven’t had the heart to cull any of my Tomie dePaola.  I don’t know if I’ll have grandkids at any point, but I’d better hang on to them, just in case.

We’ll miss you Tomie.

Is there a children’s author or illustrator that you’re fond of?  Or that your kids or grandkids are fond of?

Let’s Celebrate

Photo credit:  Jennifer Chen

A couple of month ago I had a doughnut ice cream sandwich for breakfast.  It was PJ’s fault – she had announced the day before that it was going to be National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.  It was a sweet treat that was a bit too sweet even for me and has not been repeated.

Of course the very next day was Groundhog’s Day and just a couple weeks later, I saw some silly bit on the internet that February 17 was Random Acts of Kindness Day.  I decided to do some checking and

    • National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (first Saturday in February)
    • Seuss Day (also called National Read Across America Day) – March 2
    • Pi Day – March 14
    • Star Wars Day – May 4
    • National Take Your Dog to Work Day – June 22
    • National Hammock Day – July 22
    • National Black Dog Day – October 1
    • Bathtub Party Day – December 5

There is actually a National Day calendar online and from a quick glance, there is something to celebrate every single day of the year, even February 29.  But there are plenty of things left to put on the calendar.  I looked and didn’t see Dust Bunny Appreciation Day nor did I see a National Day of Reading in Bed.  Sorely needed.

Any other days we need to celebrate?

Tolkien Reading Day

Photo credit: bernswaelz

Turns out yesterday was Tolkien Reading Day.  The Tolkien Society organized the first Tolkien Reading Day back in 2003.  If you’re a really big fan, you’ll know that March 25 was the day that the Black Tower was destroyed and Sauron, the Dark Lord was defeated.

Tolkien was a fascinating man.  Born in the late 19th century, he served in WWI, studied with honors at Oxford and then returned there as a professor.  He wrote many books and articles during his years of teaching, publishing The Hobbit when he was 45 and finishing the Lord of the Rings when he was close to his retirement.

I read The Hobbit the summer of 1973 while I was living in Northfield and working at The Ole Piper Inn.  All my Carlton friends were scattered for the summer months and my boyfriend was doing an internship in the Twin Cities; except for the weekends, I had a lot of time on my hands.  I had never read any fantasy prior to this, in fact didn’t really understand that there WAS fantasy.  It was still a subset of science fiction, and I hadn’t read much of that either.  After all these years, I don’t remember exactly why I decided to read The Hobbit, but within pages I was hooked.  I was not scheduled at the restaurant that night, and I just kept reading and reading.  I finished it the next morning, having not slept a wink.

The Hobbit turned out to be the door into the fantasy genre for me.  I immediately followed up with the entire Lord of the Rings triology, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks and on and on.  Then I found Ursula LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey who gave me the beginnings of my dragon fixation.  To this day, while I probably read more straight-up fiction, the fantasy genre is still my favorite.  And if I need “comfort” reading, that’s right where I go.

Tell me about a book that opened a door for you.

It Hits Home!

It says a lot about you when you really decide that there is a crisis going on.  Work from home? Concert cancelled? Dog class postponed? Even the decision to stay away from Target for now didn’t bring it home to me until this:  Tuesday morning I got a note that the Hennepin County Library is closed until at least April 6.  Oh, the inhumanity!

Of course, it’s ridiculous to think this will have a serious impact on my life.  First off, I still have 14 books checked out; the library computer generously changed all the due dates to April, even the interlibrary loans.  Second off, there are tons of audio books online and I could always break down by reading books on my phone or pc.  Then there is the third off; I probably have 50 non-library books in the house that I haven’t read yet either.  I don’t think I have to panic.  Matbe Funny Planet by Ken Jennings (the Jeopardy guy) will be my next read.

What’s up next on your reading list?

Narration

This was one of the poems last week on Writer’s Almanac.

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face—the face of one long dead—
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Although I’ve never been a huge Longellow fan, I had been thinking of Rhiannon right before I clicked on the site, so this poem really spoke to me.

Of course, I had to look up “benedight” (it means blessed) and that led me down a rabbit hole where I eventually found this spoken version on YouTube.

The poem is read by Jean Aked, but I found it a little off, partly because it’s a woman’s voice narrating a poem from the point of view of an older man, but also because of her English accent; Longfellow was such a quintessential American poet.

Several years ago I might not have really noticed this, but listening to lots of audiobook has made me a bit of a voice “connoisseur”.  There are quite a few book narrators whose voices I recognize when I hear them and I have favorites: Simon Vance, Robert Bathurst, Jayne Entwhistle.  I usually like it when authors narrate their own books (like Bill Bryson) because they bring a special nuance to their own material.  Occasionally I don’t like a narrator at all, which can actually sour an audio book for me.  One of the most prolific audio book narrators is George Guidall.  Unfortunately, the very first audio book that I heard him narrate was something I just couldn’t stand.  So even after several years, every time I hear his voice it takes me right back to that dreadful book and I have to really concentrate to get past my negative feelings.  But he is a very good narrator so I continue to try to get past this.

All this leads me back to the Longfellow poem.  I’ve heard two narrators read it now and I think I’ll stick with the Garrison Keillor version!

It’s the story of your life.  Who would you like to narrate it?

Remaking Murder on the Orient Express

When they re-made Murder on the Orient Express a couple of years back, I made it a point to NOT go see it.  The Albert Finney version made in 1974 is a favorite of mine and you all know full well that I don’t generally like Hollywood to re-make my favorites.

But it’s been on tv lately, so I succumbed last week.  It wasn’t a good beginning as far as I was concerned and by the time it got to the discovery of Ratchett’s body (which was very weirdly and disorientingly shot from above), I was done.   Then a couple of nights ago, I thought “what the heck” and clicked it on.  By luck of the draw, it was right in the spot where I had turned it off before so I didn’t have to watch the first 25 minutes again.  I made myself watch it until the end.

For the most part I like Kenneth Branagh but his Poirot was dark and moody, something I didn’t expect.  The characters weren’t all the same and the two movies varied widely on how the interviews were done and the murder solved.  Not to mention a couple of wildly grandstanding moments like when Branagh is standing on TOP of the stalled train “thinking”.   This MOE just isn’t a good a film as the 1974.

The wide variations between the two films made me really stop and wonder.  Do I really know which of the two movies is closest to the book?  I have to admit that no, I do not.  I read Murder on the Orient Express in high school, which is when I read all the other Agatha Christie novels.  High school was a LONG time ago so I’ll have to say, except for the stunning “they all killed him” denouement at the end, I really don’t remember most of the book.

You know where this is going, right?  I’ve requested the book from the library to find out.  I’m hoping the 1974 version is closer to the book, but even if it isn’t, I’m pretty sure it will still be my favorite!

When was the last time you had to look something up to refresh your memory?  Any movie remakes that you actually LIKE?

Brave New World?

Tech savvy are not two words that probably come to mind when you think of me. Some folks even laugh when they find out I am the go-to person at work when things are not going well computer-wise. My co-workers come to me when files go missing, when they need to know how to do something in Word or Excel (even Powerpoint occasionally) and I’m also the head of a long-standing group that controls all the various forms that we use in the events division. That doesn’t mean that technology isn’t moving faster than I can sometimes keep up with it. I have a new computer at home and it feels slow going to get used to it and at work it does feel like sometimes the tech folks are speaking a foreign language. But even so, I generally don’t feel flummoxed when faced with technology.

So, my trip to Texas a couple of weeks back took me by surprise. I got to the hotel around lunchtime – the front desk offered to have someone show me to my room but I declined; seems a little silly to make somebody walk to my room with me. I got into the elevator, pushed the button for the 5th floor and the doors shut. After a bit, the doors opened and as I was about to step out, I looked up to see that the elevator was still on the lobby level and the man waiting seemed surprised that I stayed on as he entered. Then I saw him swipe his room key card up against a panel at the bottom of the floor buttons; you need your key card to signal the elevator to move.

Key card in hand, I approved my door once I finally got to the 5th floor. There wasn’t a noticeable “slot” to enter the key card, so I assumed you just swiped it. I held it up to the door knob. Nothing. I turned I sideways. Nothing. I held it upside down. Nothing. As I was about to go back to the desk to get a new key, I happened to very quickly move the card against the door. Open sesame!

And as if that wasn’t enough trauma in two minutes, I had to call the front desk for the wifi password and I couldn’t figure out the phone. I pushed the Line 1 button, then the Line 2 button, the speaker button and all the combinations I could think of. I eventually did get through, but I tried so many things that I don’t remember what I did that worked.

Three times in 10 minutes, I was stymied by technology at the Four Seasons. It made me feel a little old and outdated so to sooth my nerves, I took my book and sat out on my balcony for a while, reading the old-fashioned way. I left my phone and my pc in the room.

Been flummoxed by any technology lately?