Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reading Challenge 2010

I was thinking about what to do as my reading challenge next year. Having conquered the 52 books finished in a year, I could do it again, or increase the number, but it would be nice to do something different.
Early this year, there was a quiz circulating on Facebook based on a report by the BBC that claimed most people had only read 8 out of a list of 100 books. While it was a fun quiz, I found it a problematic measure of deep literacy. Some books were doubly listed--both Hamlet and The Complete Works of Shakespeare as well as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Chronicles of Narnia appeared, and the respective latter two are really collections of several books. The other issue for me was there was an emphasis on contemporary popular fiction, particularly British fiction. How could Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code make the list when Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Nathaniel Hawthorne didn't? For that matter, why include several works by Austen and Dickens and omit those American authors. Granted, this list was British and no doubt aimed at the general public (hence the inclusion of recent popular works), but I wanted a more comprehensive list.
And so I created my own Literacy Quiz, which I've posted below. I tried to think of classic works of fiction, and include one book for each author. To be a "classic," it has to have stood the test of time, which I set at 50 years. I focused on literary fiction, but also included key works in genre fiction. I also tried to include books from different countries. I used the BBC list in part, but mostly searched lists of top books and recommended reading lists. Because I was only including one work from each author, I had a scoring system to give credit for reading a different book by the same author. In the end I listed 122 books, and left 3 spots to write additional books at the quiz-taker's discretion.
So what I'm thinking is that my goal for 2010 should be to read a certain number of classics. They should primarily be books on the list below, or at least by the authors on the list below. I'm not sure how many. I'm thinking 20, but that would be about a classic every two weeks, and most classics take longer to read. I may also stick with my 52-book total quota--I need my commercial fiction fix, and I want to stay current on contemporary fiction, as well as nonfiction. So perhaps I should start with 10, and if I finish them by June, I'll make it 20. I think this will be a good way for me to keep reading, but emphasize the classics.
I may also include authors or books not on the list. I didn't include plays, which is why Shakespeare isn't included, but there are a few of his plays I haven't read. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller was published in 1961, so it didn't meet the 50-year criteria, but it's very close. I simply didn't think of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, and am actually currently reading it. Though I'll likely finish before the end of this year, I'm tempted to count it anyway since I've finished my 2009 challenge, and want to get started on the next one!

The Literacy Quiz

I Scored 207 on the Literacy Quiz!

Below are classic works by over 100 authors. These are books that are generally recognized as having great literary value that have already stood the test of time (i.e. have been in print for about 50 years or more). There are three slots for bonus titles: books by authors you think should be included (feel free to disregard the 50-year rule).

To determine your Literacy Score, use the following rules:
4 points – if you read the book listed
5 points – if you read the book listed and it wasn’t a school assignment
3 points—if you read a different book by the author than the one listed

1. Aesop’s Fables -
2. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe -
3. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - 5
4. Winesburg, Ohio – Sherwood Anderson -
5. Foundation – Isaac Asimov -
6. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - 3
7. Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin -
8. The Black Sheep - Honore De Balzac -
9. The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum - 5
10. The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow -
11. The Mandarins - Simone de Beauvoir -
12. Beowulf - 4
13. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - 4
14. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte -
15. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury - 5
16. The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck -
17. Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan -
18. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - 3
19. Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs -
20. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote -
21. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John le Carre -
22. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll -
23. My Antonia – Willa Cather -
24. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes - 4
25. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler -
26. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer - 4
27. The Awakening – Kate Chopin -
28. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie -
29. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins -
30. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - 4
31. The Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper - 4
32. The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane -
33. The Enormous Room – e. e. cummings -
34. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - 5
35. Divine Comedy - Dante -
36. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe -
37. The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick -
38. Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - 3
39. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky -
40. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - 3
41. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier -
42. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas -
43. Camille – Alexander Dumas fils. - 5
44. Middlemarch - George Eliot -
45. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison -
46. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner -
47. Tom Jones - Henry Fielding -
48. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - 4
49. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert -
50. The Good Soldier – Ford Maddox Ford -
51. A Passage to India – E.M. Forster -
52. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons -
53. Lord of the Flies - William Golding - 5
54. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - 4
55. Riders of the Purple Range – Zane Grey -
56. She – H. Rider Haggard - 5
57. The Glass Key – Dashiell Hammett -
58. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy -
59. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne - 4
60. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller -
61. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemmingway - 4
62. Cabbages and Kings - O. Henry - 5
63. The Odyssey – Homer - 4
64. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo -
65. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston -
66. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley -
67. Daisy Miller – Henry James -
68. From Here to Eternity – James Jones -
69. Ulysses - James Joyce - 4
70. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka -
71. Just So Stories – Rudyard Kipling - 5
72. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence -
73. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - 4
74. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis - 5
75. Babbitt – Sinclair Lewis - 4
76. The Call of the Wild – Jack London - 5
77. The Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer -
78. The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann -
79. Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham - 3
80. Selected Short Stories - Guy de Maupassant - 5
81. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez -
82. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers -
83. Moby Dick - Herman Melville -
84. Tales of the South Pacific - James Michener - 3
85. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne -
86. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell -
87. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery - 5
88. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov -
89. A Good Man Is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor -
90. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy - 5
91. Animal Farm - George Orwell - 5
92. Selected Short Stories - Edgar Allan Poe - 5
93. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand -
94. Clarissa - Samuel Richardson -
95. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - 4
96. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery -
97. Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott -
98. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley - 4
99. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute -
100. The Jungle – Upton Sinclair -
101. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith -
102. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck - 3
103. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson -
104. Dracula - Bram Stoker -
105. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe - 4
106. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift -
107. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray -
108. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy -
109. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien -
110. Lady Anna - Anthony Trollope - 5
111. Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain - 3
112. Rabbit, Run – John Updike -
113. The City and the Pillar – Gore Vidal -
114. All the King’s Men - Robert Penn Warren -
115. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh -
116. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells - 5
117. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton - 4
118. Charlotte’s Web - EB White - 4
119. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde - 3
120. Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder - 4
121. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf -
122. Germinal - Emile Zola -
123. (bonus) Harry Potter series - 5
124. (bonus) The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison - 5
125. (bonus) The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood –

Don’t forget to change the score to your own in the subject line!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mission Accomplished--52 Books Read

Well, I'm happy to report I've accomplished my goal of finishing 52 books this year, and with a month to spare!
Of course with a project like this I had to keep a record--to be honest, I wouldn't remember I'd read some books if I didn't write them down, which tells you of the impact of those books. Basically, I just kept a spreadsheet of the book details (title, author, genre, etc.), my personal rating, and maybe a brief note.
As far as my goal of being diverse, I'm reasonably satisfied, though I probably could have read a greater variety of nonfiction categories--I mostly stuck with memoirs, travel, essays, and humor. Another of my earlier goals was to purge my shelves, and I got rid of about half of the books I read that I owned (some were borrowed from the library or friends). Basically, anything that didn't get a 4-star rating or higher went in the canvas bin for donations/used book store trade ins.
Before I get to my favorite books of the year, I should briefly explain my rating system. There are half stars, but obviously those are for books that fall between.
* = repulsive, I actively disliked this book. Nothing got one star because I wouldn't have finished it, and only the books I finished counted.
** = Didn't like, regretted reading it. Only three books got a 2, two of which were slightly obscure 19th century children's *** classics.
= Okay, enjoyable read. Most books got this, which isn't surprising since I focused on books I wanted to read.
**** = Exceptional, I would read it again or recomend it to a friend. I'll note these in a moment.
***** = An all time favorite. None received this. There are only a handful of books I've ever considered a 5.
I should also note that my rating system is entirely subjective, naturally, and vastly skewed according to my personal preferences. I also weigh books in the context of their genres. For instance, a romance novel could get a 4, while Hemingway earned a 3. You can't compare carrots and cupcakes, each have their place and can only be compared to their kind.
So, without further rambling, here, in order of having read them, are the 4-star books of 2009 (a.k.a. those I would recomend):

Lord of Ice by Gaelen Foley (historical romance)
A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins (memoir/travel)
What I Did for Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (contemporary romance)
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (memoir)
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsely (personal finance)
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (fiction)
Wildlife Preserves by Gary Larson (humor)
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks (historical fiction)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (classic/science fiction)
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (memoir/essays)
Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley (historical romance)
Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich (mystery)
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (YA/fantasy)
Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (YA/fantasy)
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (memoir/essays)
Signspotting III by Doug Lansky(humor)
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (historical fiction)
Bear Portraits by Jill Greenburg (photography)
In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck (classic/fiction)

I tried to be diverse in my reading. I work on commercial fiction, so I try to keep up on genre fiction (romance, mystery, science fiction, young adult, etc.) I also tried to get in a few classics, and for most it was evident to me why they've lasted.
So now I'll have to think about what adjustments to make for 2010. More books? More diversity? Hmmm....

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Novice in the Land of Manga

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been investigating the genre of manga. It's been a slow journey, but quite interesting because manga is a unique format (illustrated, like comic books), and heavily influenced by Japanese culture (because, well, they're translated Japanese books).
Traditional manga books read from right to left, meaning you start on what we would consider the last page, and read the top right panel first and proceed to the top left, then the second right panel, and so on. The panels are sometimes different sizes, so this can vary. Thinking this style wouldn't catch on in the US, they originally reset the books to read the Western way, a very time-consuming and costly process. But it's actually not difficult to adapt to. Manga written by Western (American) authors, and manhwa, which is the Korean equivalent of manga, is written in the Western style, like American comic books.
Manga is actually a Japanese adaptation of American comic books, which I think one of the great things about global culture. Japanese artists adapted American culture, and now their adaptation has caught on with a fierceness with American readers because of how they made it uniquely their own. In Japan, manga is published in thick magazines that feature different series. Episodes from popular series are then bound into books, and series of these books are published and translated for English-speaking audiences. A manga book might contain four episodes, and the beginning might remind readers of the concept or back story of the series, particularly in early episodes. This seems odd in the book, but makes sense when you consider how it was originally serialized.
Popular series are also made into animated television series. Anime series sometimes stay close to the books, but some episodes may differ, most often toward the end of the anime series to give it a conclusion where the books continue the story of the characters. Another impetus for me reading manga was checking out a few anime series on Netflix and online at Hulu.com and FUNimation.com after falling in love with the anime movies of Hiyao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is distributed by Disney in the US, and his movies are brilliantly imaginative, and so different from what I'm used to seeing. My favorites are SPIRITED AWAY and MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.
Manga is divided into sub genres according to gender and age. As far as what you'll find in the bookstore, it's primarily shojo manga for girls and shonen manga for boys. There's also kodomo manga for children under 10, josei manga for women, seinen manga for men, and hentai or ero manga which features very explicit adult content. I've mostly focused on shojo manga thus far. I tried a few shonen books, but the ones I read focused on fight scenes and/or scantily-clad female characters (very like American superhero comics).
In Japan, manga is read rapidly, and embodies the idea of a 'picture is worth a 1,000 words.' I've not come close to mastering reading a picture along with the words at a quick pace, and don't know all the symbolism. The shape of the eyes will tell you about the character's personality, for instance. Some of these are obvious, and akin to American comics (big eyes = good, squinty eyes = bad). Also, apparently the hair color is significant, but as most manga is black and white, you have to rely on dialogue or cover art--I think this may apply more to anime series than manga.
There are some characters unique to Japanese culture. The one that most frequently appears in shojo manga is the bishonen--basically a really good looking guy who often appear nearly feminine. Another odd one is a teen character who is drawn and behaves like a child relative to the other characters despite being the same age--I don't know if this character type has a name, but I saw it in several series.
There are other odd things that come up that take a bit of adjustment. When characters have extreme emotions, they turn into child-like caricatures of themselves. When they're nervous, a big sweat drop appears on their heads. Most baffling of all, when they are attracted to someone they get explosive nosebleeds. I still don't get that last one, but speaking of, apparently in Japan sharing your blood type is like telling someone your astrological sign, so it's included in the character profiles, and the authors will often note theirs in their bios.
Probably the biggest challenge for me was keeping the characters straight. Not only do they sometimes look similar, there are usually a lot of them and they have unfamiliar Japanese names and nicknames. Then there's the honorifics added to their names, which differ according to the relationship between the character and the speaker. For instance, a male character named Tamaki might be called Tama for short, Tamakisan (like Mr. Tamaki, general term of respect), Tamakikun or Tamakun (term of endearment used by close friends), Sempai by someone younger in school or a club, or Kohai by an upperclassman or senior member of a club. A female character can also have a -san added (like Ms.) or -chan as a term of endearment (the equivalent of -kun for boys). You can see how it can get confusing for a new reader. I think I've got it down, but it took a while (and a helpful glossary of terns from one series).
I also learned a lot from a book called Understanding Manga and Anime by Robin E. Brenner, which is a guide written primarily for librarians that gives a good overview and recommendations of series. If you're a parent, you'll find age ratings on the back cover that are in line with American standards. The Japanese have a different approach to sexuality, but for the most part I've found the shojo series to be very tame by American standards. A more open attitude toward homosexuality and cross-dressing are the most noticeable differences relative to American YA series. For some reason, the girls find it attractive when the heartthrob dresses like a girl--but since the bishonen look a bit feminine, maybe this makes sense.
I think the main appeal of these series is that they are plot driven with strong characters, can be read quickly, usually have cliffhangers, and for shonen manga tend to center on a love triangle. As far as specific series, the ones I liked best so far are as follows:
FRUITS BASKET by Natsuki Takaya - An orphaned girl moves in with a family with a secret--the members change into animals of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. There's a love triangle between the girl, gorgeous but lonely Yuki who transforms into the rat, and the rebel and family outcast Kyo, who becomes the cat (the animal cast out of the zodiac).
OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB by Bisco Hatori - A tomboy attends an exclusive private school on scholarship, where she is mistaken for a boy and ends up part of a social club full of good looking boys who entertain girls with lavish parties. They call this a reverse harem, a theme in manga where a girl hangs out with a group of goodlooking boys. Another example would be BOYS OVER FLOWERS by Yoko Kamio. I wouldn't recommend starting with OURAN, as I did, because it's a tongue-in-cheek take on common themes of the genre. If you read it without knowing what those themes are, it's a bit baffling and weird, but I grew to like it more and more as I kept reading different series.
MAMMOTTE! LOLLIPOP - An average girl accidentally swallows a magic pearl that is central to a final exam for wizards from another dimension. In order to protect her from others, and pass the exam, two young male wizards (yes, love triangle) have to stay by her side at all times. This series tends to stray a bit into shonen, with each episode having a battle scene where the characters use their unique powers.
GOONG by Park Sohee - This is a manhwa series (i.e. Korean) with beautiful illustrations which reimagines Korean society as having a royal family (like Britain). It focuses on a high school girl who is married to the surly but attractive prince through an arrangement made by their grandfathers and has to navigate palace life. There's a lot of intrigue and politics, and a love triangle involving the prince's cousin--the original heir to the throne before his father died. It's more contemporary and targeted at older teens than the aforementioned series.
DRAMACON by Svetlana Chmakova - also focused at older teens, this is a brief (3-book) series about a young woman who wants to become a manga artist. Each book takes place at a manga/anime convention and it delves into the culture of the genre.
I know I still have more to learn, but I hope this post informs and perhaps even inspires. If you are a manga fan and have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

52 Books a Year

As I've mentioned before, I'm a bookaholic. Back in late 2007 I faced the usual dilemma--I had binged at the bookstore, and had a stack of books and no shelf space to put them. I've learned to occasionally weed out any books I no longer want. However there were no weeds at this point--I'd have to read some before I'd know if I wanted to keep them. The problem has always been that I shop faster than I read. So I decided that I would read as many books as possible. I didn't have to finish if I didn't like it, the goal was to purge the shelves, after all. But this naturally meant that I focused on the books I thought I'd least enjoy. It's not much fun to read that way.
For 2008, I changed the rules. I would see if I could read a book a week for a year. By the end of the year, I'd read 54 books. I was focusing on books I wanted to read more, and I did manage to get rid of about half of them. But I can't honestly say, "I read 54 books," because to me saying you read a book means you finished. And I didn't finish some of them.
So I upped the stakes again for 2009. Again, 52 books in a year is the goal, but I have to finish them. I think I've mentioned this before, but as the year has progressed, I've refined the rules.I have to be diverse, reading fiction and nonfiction, a variety of genres and authors. Audio books, I decided, count. The idea is no longer to purge the shelves (a hopeless goal, I accumulate about three books a week on average). The goal is to be more broadly read.
By summer, I was well ahead of schedule, and then I walked into my local Borders and noticed they'd rearranged the shelves, primarily to move the teen books into the adult part of the store and farther away from children's books. Most prominent was the manga section, which dwarfed the regular teen book section and was in the center of the store. I knew manga was hugely popular with teens--a friend of mine who teaches high school noted it's all kids are reading. All I knew was they were Japanese illustrated novels. So I decided I wanted to understand what the fuss was about and hit the library, where there were two large spinning racks of manga books. I'll save what I've learned about the genre for another post, and focus instead on what it did to my plan. Manga books can be read in about an hour or two, and I was reading about nine a week. I played with different ways of counting them--a full series would count as one, ten mangas would count as one regular book, etc.. after all, they're books, in a different genre, and I finished them, so they should technically count...but that made it too easy. So I decided none of them would count, and now was barely ahead and had to catch up.
So, here it is, second week of November, and I'm at 48 books read (not counting any manga). Things are looking good, but I don't know if the holidays will mean more or less reading time. Still, I'm confident, so when I've finished number 52 I'll post again, and talk about the top books I've read this year. Until then, I better get back to reading!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Literary Destinations in England

I doubt this list is nearly complete, so feel free to comment if you see anything missing. I went to England about ten years ago and visited a few of these sites (which I've starred)--wish I had a digital camera back then, but I guess it gives me an excuse to go back (as if I needed one)! The photos below are the ones I took with my 35mm.

Church Cottage, home of Kenneth Graham – Pangbourne


*John Milton's Cottage - Chalfont St. Giles (pictured)

*World of Beatrix Potter- Bowness
*Dove Cottage, home of William Wordsworth - Grasmere (pictured)
*Hill Top, home of Beatrix Potter - Near Sawrey

*Thomas Hardy's Cottage - Dorchester
Dorset County Museum, Thomas Hardy - Dorchester

Charles Dickens' Bleak House Dickens Maritime & Smuggling - Broadstairs (now a private residence, no longer open to the public)
Charles Dickens House Museum - Broadstairs
Geoffrey Chaucer Centre - Canterbury
Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Canterbury
Dickens World (Charles Dickens-themed amusement park) – Chatham Maritime
The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, haunt of Charles Dickens - Rochester
Charles Dickens Centre - Rochester
Frances Hodgson Burnett's Great Maytham Hall - Rolvenden
Lamb House, home of Henry James - Rye

*Chawton House, Home of Jane Austen - Alton
William Cobbett, walking trail - Selborne
Charles Dickens Birthplace - Portsmouth


*The Charles Dickens House Museum
*Shakespeare's Globe Theater (reconstruction) (pictured)

*Sherwood Forest - Edwinstowe

Mapledurham House [John Galsworthy, Kenneth Graham & Alexander Pope] - Mapledurham
Alice's Shop, inspiration for Lewis Carrol - Oxford
Thames River, inspiration for Lewis Carrol - Oxford
The Eagle & Child Pub, haunt of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkein – Oxford

*Jane Austen Centre - Bath


*Bateman's, home of Rudyard Kipling - Burwash (pictured)
*Pooh Corner, inspiration for A.A. Milne - Hartfield
*Ashdown Forest (A.A. Milne's 100 Acre Wood) - Hartfield
Monk's House, retreat of Virginia Woolf - Lewes

*Shakespeare's Birthplace - Stratford-Upon-Avon (pictured)
*Anne Hathaway's Cottage (Shakespeare's wife) - Stratford-Upon-Avon
*Hall's Croft (home of Shakespeare's daughter) - Stratford-Upon-Avon
*Mary Arden's House (Shakespeare's mother) - Stratford-Upon-Avon (pictured)
*New Place, Shakespeare's retirement house - Stratford-Upon-Avon

*Bronte Parsonage Museum - Haworth

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Literary Destinations in the United States

Several years ago, I got it in my head to start a website (this was before blogging had become mainstream), which I ultimately determined to be more trouble than it was worth. Anyway, part of the site was devoted to literary destinations--primarily homes of famous authors. Visiting these homes combined my passion for literature and travel, and they continue to be favorite destinations of mine. I compiled a list of these locations using travel guides, web browsing, etc. and I thought it was worth posting here as a reference. I've starred the ones I've visited, and included some of my personal photos.
Please feel free to comment if you know of a site that is missing. My goal is to compile the most comprehensive list possible. However, please note that this is a list of sites which are open to the public--this seems obvious, but someone once contributed a photo he'd taken of a current bestselling author's private home, something I do not want to encourage!


*F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum - Montgomery, AL (pictured)
Helen Keller Birthplace: Ivy Green - Tuscumbia, AL

The [Ernest] Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum - Piggott, AR

Zane Grey's The Pueblo - Avalon, CA
Robinson Jeffer's Tor House - Carmel, CA
Jack London State Historic Park - Glen Ellen, CA
John Muir National Historic Site - Martinez, CA
Eugene O'Neill's Tao House - Danville, CA
Will Rogers Historic Park - Pacific Palisades, CA
John Steinbeck's Birthplace & Boyhood Home - Salinas, CA
Robert Louis Stevenson House - Monterey, CA
The Silverado Museum: Robert Louis Stevenson memorabilia collection - St. Helena, CA
Mark Twain Cabin - Sonora, CA

Eugene O'Neill's Monte Cristo Cottage - New London, CT
*Harriet Beecher Stowe House & Center - Hartford, CT
*Mark Twain House - Hartford, CT (pictured)
*Noah Webster House - Hartford, CT

Robert Frost Cottage - Key West, FL
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum - Key West, FL
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site - Cross Creek, FL


*Joel Chandler Harris' The Wren's Nest - Atlanta, GA (pictured)
Uncle Remus Museum - Eatonon, GA
Sidney Lanier Cottage - Macon, GA
*Margaret Mitchell House & Museum - Atlanta, GA

Ezra Pound Birthplace - Hailey, ID

Ernest Hemingway Birthplace - Oak Park, IL
Vachel Lindsay Home - Springfield, IL
Edgar Lee Masters Memorial Museum - Petersburg, IL
Carl Sandburg Historic Site - Galesburg, IL

James Whitcomb Riley Birthplace & Childhood Home - Greenfield, IN
*James Whitcomb Riley's Lockerbie Home - Indianapolis, IN
Gene Stratton-Porter's Limberlost - Geneva, IN
Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site, Limberlost North - Rome City, IN

Kate Chopin House - Cloutierville, LA

Sarah Orne Jewett House - South Beswick, ME
Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow House - Portland, ME

*Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum - Baltimore, MD


*William Cullen Bryant Homestead - Cummington, MA
*Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House - Concord, MA
*Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Wayside - Concord, MA
*Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Old Manse - Concord, MA
*Nathaniel Hawthorne's Little Red House - Lenox, MA
*Nathaniel Hawthorne's Birthplace - Salem, MA
*Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables - Salem, MA (pictured)
*Emily Dickinson Homestead - Amherst, MA
*Herman Melville's Arrowhead - Pittsfield, MA
*Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond - Concord, MA
*Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow National Historic Site - Cambridge, MA
*The Mount, home of Edith Wharton's The Mount - Lenox, MA (pictured)
John Greenleaf Whittier Home - Amesbury, MA
John Greenleaf Whittier Homestead - Haverhill, MA

Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home - Sauk Center, MN
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum - Walnut Grove, MN

William Faulkner's Rowan Oak - Oxford, MI
William Johnson House - Natchez, MI

Eugene Field House - St. Louis, MO
Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum - Hannibal, MO
Laura Ingalls Wilder Home - Mansfield, MO

Bess Streeter Aldrich House & Museum - Elmwood, NE
Willa Cather Childhood Home - Red Cloud, NE

Robert Frost Farm -Derry, NH
Robert Frost Home & Museum - Franconia, NH


*Walt Whitman House - Camden, NJ (pictured)

D.H. Lawrence Home - Taos, NM

William Cullen Bryant's Cedarmere - Roslyn Harbor (Long Island), NY
*Washington Irving's Sunnyside - Tarrytown, NY
Christopher Morley's Writing Studio, The Knothole - Roslyn, NY
Edgar Allan Poe Cottage - Bronx, NY
Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage - Saranac Lake, NY
Walt Whitman Birthplace - Huntington Station, NY

Carl Sandburg Home - Flat Rock, NC
Thomas Wolfe Memorial - Asheville, NC

Paul Laurence Dunbar House - Dayton, OH
*Harriet Beecher Stowe House - Cincinnati, OH

Will Rogers Birthplace - Oologah, OK
Sequoyah's Homesite - Sallisaw, OK
Laura Ingalls Wilder Surveyor-s House - De Smet, SD


Pearl S. Buck House - Perkasie, PA
Zane Grey Museum - Lackawaxen, PA
*Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site - Philadelphia, PA (pictured)

Thomas Hughes' Kingston Lisle - Rugby, TN

Rowland Evans Robinson's Rokeby Museum - Ferrisburg, VT

Edgar Allan Poe Museum - Richmond, VA
Anne Spencer House - Lynchberg, VA

Pearl S. Buck Birthplace - Hillsboro, WV

Friday, June 26, 2009

Disney World Pick Up Lines

So, my sister-in-law sent me an e-mail in which she mentioned how several years ago she was actually able to get into Cinderella's Royal Table at Disney World. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, this is a meal where the characters visit with guests while they eat. What makes it so popular is that it's the princesses and princes who aside from being popular with the kiddies, are "face characters" meaning they don't wear masks and can therefore talk to guests. It's also the restaurant inside the castle. There are complex strategies in guide books to score a table.
Anyway, my sister-in-law remarked that when she went Cinderella's Prince (Prince Charming?) commented to her that she was so pretty he mistook her for Snow White. Some Prince, trying to pick up women while his wife was in the room. Or was he having a fling with Snow behind Cindy's back? It reminded me of the fabulous Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods which interweaves several classic fairy tales. The first act ends with Happily Ever After, and the second act is what comes next, including Cinderella and Rapunzel's princes philandering off to pursue Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
Anyway, I started to think how if these princes were real, they'd likely be using these character meals to cash in on their fame and pick up attractive guests. Which led to my imagining....

The Top 10 Pick Up Lines Heard at Walt Disney World
1. "Is this your shoe? It looks like a perfect fit."
2. "Me Tarzan, you gorgeous!"
3. "You know, I'm part god."
4. "Are you a mermaid? Because you've been swimming through the ocean of my dreams all night."
5. (attempts kiss) "Oh, excuse me! I thought you were asleep because you're so beautiful."
6. "Wow! I just rubbed this lamp, made a wish, and here...you...are!"
7. "...I'm twitterpated...."
8. "I'm actually much better looking than this--let me show you how to break the spell."
9. "Was your daddy a pirate? Because someone stole the second star to the right and put it in your eyes."
10. "I'm the eighth dwarf--Sexy."

Feel free to post your own in the comments (just please keep them relatively clean).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Confessions of a Book Addict

So here it is, nearly halfway through the year, and all I've done is update my 'Latest Books Read,' 'Favorite Photo,' and 'What I'm Currently Listening To' lists, the latter of which is now outdated again. The trouble is I really don't listen to CDs anymore--I listen to individual songs thanks to the advent of the iPod.
I have been spending a lot of time on my photography, in fact I just got back from an impromptu trip to Huntsville, Alabama. A photographer at a photo safari session at the Nashville Zoo last weekend recommended the butterfly garden there. I was rather disappointed that though they had a large exhibit, I only saw three very common species--Monarch, Zebra Longwing, and Julia. It was still a nice getaway. The people there were very friendly, more saying "hello" as we passed than not.
I went to a popular outdoor mall to find dinner, but being a holiday weekend everywhere had a long line, so I ended up having a sandwich at the Starbucks in Barnes & Noble. Of course, I couldn't go to a bookstore and leave empty handed, I I must give myself credit for putting back two of the three books I was going to buy and settling on Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, which I never read in school. I finished it last night, which put me back on track with my 52-book quota.
Last year I had a goal to read 52 books (a book a week) but didn't quite make it because I changed the rules in November to not counting books I didn't finish. This year I'm on target, with twenty books to date. If I counted the books I didn't finish, I'd be at thirty. Partly, I'm doing it because it inspires me to spend more time reading and less time channel surfing. But I also have a more practical issue. I've run out of bookshelf space and space for more bookshelves.
When I moved from New York, I remember the guy who came to give me an estimate. I'd already started packing, and he looked at the neat stacks of small but numerous boxes.
"What's in all those?"
"All of 'em?"
"I like to read." He glanced at the six-foot bookcase with doubled rows, not an inch between the spines.
"I've only had time to pack the mass markets," I commented. He looked over to where a mirrored curio shelf I'd picked up at the antique store down the street had been commandeered to hold history and etiquette books.
"You know, it's going to cost you a fortune to move all these books." He eyed the double glass-doored cabinet from Ikea full of hardcovers and over sized art books that towered above his height.
"A lot of those are signed," I said.
He grunted dubiously.
"But these are all the books," I said confidently, thinking he was overreacting. There weren't that many, and I'd limited them to the living room. The whole apartment was only 500 square feet, so the quantity just seemed a lot relative to the small space. I once stayed at an apartment in the city where you couldn't see the color of the walls for the bookshelves. Every room--the bathroom, the kitchen, above the door frames--was nothing but bookshelves. It was book-lover heaven!
He moved into the kitchen and began to poke around in the cabinets. Food, dishes, glasses, an entire cabinet full of cookbooks over the fridge. I don't cook much, but I always mean to learn. He shook his head.
"Oh, right, forgot those were there," I said, chagrined.
He went into the bedroom. Seven or so books mocked me from the nightstand. Well, those obviously didn't count, those were the books I was in the middle of reading. Those would go in the car with me. He opened the cabinet built into the dresser. Sweaters shelf, sweater shelf, music book shelf, music book shelf. Well, the stereo was in the bedroom, and it's not like I had room for a piano. His critical eyes slid across the line of dictionary, reference, and writing books lined up on the top shelf of my desk above my computer.
"Those are for work," I noted.
He opened the closet. Work clothes, shoes...a plastic crate on its side full of books too tall for the shelves.
He sighed. "You're really going to pay a fortune to move all of these. You need to get rid of at least half of them."
Get rid of half my books? Was he crazy?
"But I already did. I got rid of as many as I could." I had lugged several boxes off a few weeks before to donate to the church fair booksale. Of course, I worked the book sale and ended up bringing some home, but not as many as I gave.
"At least half," he repeated.
As he left, I mentally ran through the shelves. What else could I get rid of? The books I had worked on as an editorial assistant and associate editor, some of which had my name in the acknowledgments? The classics I fell in love with and the museum art books I'd bought as souvenirs and I'd carried home from a summer in Spain, paying for a third suitcase for the purpose. The complete works of Hemingway, Wharton, and Fitzgerald I'd accumulated during an internship at Simon & Schuster, and the collections in progress of other classic authors. The library of mysteries and romances in mass market already culled and boxed that I used to study the genres for work. The cookbooks, and history, reference and biography. Books that were recommended, books that were gifts, books that sparked my interest in a store, at a library sale, on the giveaway shelf at work. There were no more I could part with. I didn't care how much it cost.
Desperate, I called my good friend Kristine, a fellow book lover and the only person I know who can outlast me at a bookstore.
"Why don't we stop for hot chocolate now?" I asked her once, after we'd been browsing for over an hour.
"But we haven't even gotten to history and biography yet," she replied, soldiering on. Kristine is as big a book collector as I am, a lawyer turned high school teacher, she's one of the smartest and most educated people I know with a constant thirst for knowledge. Kristine will browse the bargain section, picking up any book that catches her interest, reading the copy and skimming the first few pages, and issuing a verdict. She inspired me to read more broadly, not just in my favorite genres. She was, of course, completely sympathetic as I explained what the literaphobic moving guy had said.
"There's an underfunded school I know of," she said. "The library doesn't have any money for new books, and the librarians are desperate for donations."
Kristine came over the following weekend with her jeep to help me weed the shelves again. I picked up each book and asked myself three questions.
"Can I visualize myself reading this book in the next two years? Does this copy have sentimental value? Would I be unable to easily find another copy?" If the answer to all three questions was no, it went in the donation pile. Many of the classics went--it's easy to find those and I never get around them--they require time to think, absorb, and savor that I just don't have. A lot of the nonfiction went. A fair amount of literary fiction too by authors I hadn't had a chance to learn to like. It was easier to think that instead of collecting dust on my shelves, these books would be read and loved by others. That a teen might discover a passion for a subject, or author, or just reading in general from one of these copies. Books are meant to be read, they're not decor despite what the magazines might suggest.
We ended up filling Kristine's jeep with boxes of books, and in exchange for her help she had her pick of the litter and set aside a stack of those that interested her, or that she could use for her own class.
It still cost me a relative fortune to move, but when I arrived in Tennessee I had glorious shelf space to fill again--and an apartment twice the size of the old one. Ah, the freedom to accumulate new books! Within two years I had run out of space again. Now I have shelves of children's books for when my nephew visits, and a shelf of memoir and a shelf of travel essays--two of my latest favorite genres.
And so began the goal to read as many as I could, and donate those I read and wouldn't read again to make room for more. I tried making a rule that for every five books I got rid of, I could buy one new book. The next day I bought five without getting rid of one. If books were harmful, there would probably be a support group for people like me. But since they're as good for you as exercise and vegetables, I guess I'll have to suffer in contentment. And get back to reading--I just pulled a new book off the shelf.