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  • Dell Villa 3:00 pm on 2014/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: a christmas memory, , , , , , , holidays on ice, the great gatsby,   

    The 5 Greatest Christmas Moments in Literature 

    HolidaysonIce_hiresWhile Christmas in literature is nearly synonymous with A Christmas Carol and Little Women—and, to be fair, I’m an avid rereader of each mot holiday seasons—to neglect the equally powerful holiday scenes sprinkled elsewhere throughout literature is to miss myriad wryly observed, bittersweet, and often piercing visions of this emotionally turbulent season. Below, I’ve included five of my favorite holiday moments from classic and contemporary writers. From Sedaris’s sadistic SantaLand and Capote’s “brave, handsome brute” of a Christmas tree, to Fitzgerald’s “chatty frozen breath” in a St. Paul train terminal on a dark December eve, there’s something here for readers of many genres.

    From Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris
    Lately I am feeling trollish and have changed my elf name from Crumpet to Blisters. Blisters—I think it’s cute.

    Today a child told Santa Ken that he wanted his dead father back and a complete set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everyone wants those Turtles.

    Last year a woman decided she wanted a picture of her cat sitting on Santa’s lap, so she smuggled it into Macy’s in a duffel bag. The cat sat on Santa’s lap for five seconds before it shot out the door, and it took six elves forty-five minutes before they found it in the kitchen of the employee cafeteria.

    From A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote
    Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. “It should be,” muses my friend, “twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can’t steal the star.” The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry.

    From Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story, by Wally Lamb
    Madame handed Bridget’s baby doll to Zhenya. That was when the big fight started. Because Rosalie, who was still wearing her Wise Man costume, went kinda cuckoo and started screaming at Madame. “It’s not fair! I work harder than anyone in this whole class and you never appreciate it! And why her of all people? She’s an atheist, and a Communist, and she’s only been in our class since November! And you’re just a stupid substitute so I don’t care what you say! I’m Mary!” And with that, Turdski made a grab for Baby Jesus.

    But Zhenya, who’d told me she was “Russian Ortudox” not “no beleef in Gud,” was not about to relinquish the Christ Child to her chief critic. She held fast to the doll’s feet as Rosalie pulled it by its head. The rest of us, Madame included, stood there stunned. Something had to give, I figured, and then something did.

    As the doll’s head ripped away from its torso, Rosalie fell backward and let go. In horror, I watched the head bounce bumpity bump bump bump down the backstage stairs. Now, like Lonny a few minutes earlier, it was me who was wincing and doubling over. Joseph Cotton, Jesus: I would probably never, ever get to sleep again. And when I finally was able to look up at something other than the floor, I found myself looking into the wild eyes of Madame Frechette.

    “Monsieur Dondi!” she said. “Remove your hat, chemise, and pantalons.”

    I began to shake. “My what?”

    “Your shirt! Your pants! Depechez-vous! There is very little time!”

    “I can’t,” I said. “I’m the little drummer boy!”

    She shook her head furiously. “No more! Now you have a much more important part. You are our Baby Jesus! Hurry!”

    From “Christmas on the Roof of the World,” an essay for the Toronto Star, by Ernest Hemingway
    Chink had spent every Christmas since 1914 in the army. He was our best friend. For the first time in years it seemed like Christmas to all of us.

    We ate breakfast in the old, untasting, gulping, early morning Christmas way, unpacking the stockings, down to the candy mouse in the toe, each made a pile of our things for future gloating.

    From breakfast we rushed into our clothes and tore down the icy road in the glory of the blue-white glistening alpine morning.

    Later in the essay, he describes the aching beauty of Paris at Christmas:

    Paris with the snow falling. Paris with the big charcoal braziers outside the cafés, glowing red. At the café tables, men huddled, their coat collars turned up, while they finger glasses of grog Americain and the newsboys shout the evening papers.

    The buses rumble like green juggernauts through the snow that sifts down in the dusk. White house walls rise through the dusky snow. Snow is never more beautiful than in the city. It is wonderful in Paris to stand on a bridge across the Seine looking up through the softly curtaining snow past the grey bulk of the Louvre, up the river spanned by many bridges and bordered by the grey houses of old Paris to where Notre Dame squats in the dusk.

    It is very beautiful in Paris and very lonely at Christmas time.

    From The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-that’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

    What are some of your most cherished stories to pull off the shelf this time of year?

  • Sabrina Rojas Weiss 7:30 pm on 2014/11/10 Permalink
    Tags: Bethany Griffin, , , Elizabeth Eulberg, , , , , , the crucible, , the great gatsby, ,   

    The Fall Dares To Out-Haunt Poe, And Three Other YA Retellings of Classics 

    Katherine Howe's ConversionAs long as there are English classes and mandatory curricula, our teen years will be spent reading more classic literature than we will at any other point in our lives. It makes sense, then, that young adult novelists have found a way to entertain readers with new riffs on the stories they’ve studied, loved, and analyzed to death. Even if you haven’t read the classic works on which these new books are based, you’ll be able to appreciate their timeless plots, themes, and characters, proven ground upon which fresh stories can flourish. Here are some recent releases with classic pedigrees—just don’t try reading them in lieu of the real thing if you’ve got a test coming up!

    The Fall, by Bethany Griffin (Based on “The Fall of the House of Usher,” by Edgar Allan Poe
    The original story: A man goes to stay at the haunted home of his ailing former school friend, Roderick. While there, Roderick’s sister Madeline apparently dies of a mysterious illness, and they bury her…only to find a wicked surprise a few days later.
    Griffin’s take: The same characters and setting, only told by Madeline, jumping back and forth in time through her and Roderick’s childhood, as she communicates with the cursed house, Roderick gets sent away to school, and she gets buried alive in the family tomb. Nobody can out-spook Poe, but The Fall is still skin-crawlingly scary. And if you like Griffin’s style, pick up her two-book Mask of the Red Death series, which places another Poe story into a postapocalyptic modern setting. (Then again, these days, maybe we shouldn’t be reading any fictional accounts of plagues.)

    Great, by Sara Benincasa (Based on The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    The original: (Like we have to tell you.) In a nutshell, young stockbroker Nick rents a house on Long Island, next to notorious party-thrower and self-made man Gatsby, who is still pining for his now-married love, Daisy, coincidentally Nick’s cousin. Tragedy ensues.
    Benincasa’s take: While summering in the Hamptons with her mom, Naomi befriends her Internet-fashion wunderkind neighbor Jacinta, who is really interested in Naomi’s friend Delilah. The gender switching and modern setting provide an entertaining twist and a fresh story without displacing the original in our hearts.

    Conversion, by Katherine Howe (Based on The Crucible, by Arthur Miller)
    The original: After Puritan girls from Salem, Massachusetts, are caught dancing in a forest with a slave girl, one falls into a coma. Accusations of communing with the devil and practicing witchcraft fly, and though a man who had an affair with one of the girls knows they’re frauds, he acts too late to set things right.
    Howe’s take: Modern-day high school senior Colleen starts doing research on the Salem witch trials and The Crucible after girls in her class begin having seizures and other odd symptoms. In between chapters from Colleen’s perspective are interludes from 1706, when a girl named Ann has a confession to make. With both stories moving along parallel to each other, the novel avoids readers predicting whether it will end like the original.

    Prom and Prejudice, by Elizabeth Eulberg (Based on Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
    The original: Lizzie Bennet is one of five daughters whose parents are desperate to marry them off to a rich young gentlemen who is staying in town. Lizzie clashes with his friend, the standoffish Mr. Darcy, but it’s all just a prelude to true love.
    Eulberg’s take: It’s brave to reimagine this favorite, especially after Bridget Jones’ Diary, but a private high school seems like the perfect place for a modern-day Darcy and Lizzie to butt heads. And who needs marriage when you have prom to contend with?

    What’s your favorite reimagined classic?

  • Carrie Wittmer 5:30 pm on 2014/10/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , nicknames, , , , the great gatsby, ,   

    What’s Your Favorite Fictional Character’s Game of Thrones Name? 

    A Song of Ice and Fire at BNDo you ever wish it took more than a full minute to announce your entire name, which not only included your first and last, but all of your nicknames, all of your accomplishments, and where you came from? Whether you’d find it a hassle or a delight, it’s a pleasure to wonder how some of the best characters in literature would fit into a fictional universe where long, moniker-rich names are king—specifically, that of George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. From Hogwarts to West Egg to Baker Street, here’s our list of the titles our favorite characters in fiction would probably have if they lived in the great and dangerous Seven Kingdoms:

    Ser Dorian Gray, The Painted

    Ser James Gatz of West Egg, The Innocent, Master of Bubbly, Believer in the Green Light

    Sherlock Holmes the Huge-Headed, The Bloodhound of Baker Street

    Lord Harry of House Potter of 4 Privet Drive, First of His Name, The Chosen One, The Boy Who Lived, the Lightning Scarred, Keeper of 12 Grimmauld Place

    Ramona “The Pest,” Puller of Hair and Maker of Mischief, Child of the Klickitat Street Quimbies

    Lisbeth Salander, Girl Who Played With Fire, The Black Snake of Stockholm

    Lady Daisy of House Buchanan of West Egg, The Unaffected, The Frivolous, The Green Light Maiden

    Tyler “Mayhem” Durden the Ephemeral, Defiler of Faces

    Lady Elizabeth “Lizzy” of House Bennett of Hertfordshire, Lady of the Fine Eyes, Salvager of Man

    Josephine “Jo” of House March, Wearer of Writing Cap, Mother of Words

    What would your favorite character’s Westeros name be?

  • Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick 5:00 pm on 2014/09/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , heroines, the awakening, the golden compass, the great gatsby, , ,   

    Our Favorite Heroines of Banned Books 

    Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also RisesBeing a character in a banned book is no joke—you’re dealing with enough sex, drugs, and violence to find yourself kicked off of library shelves around the world. We hear about the male rebels, the Holden Caulfields and the Jay Gatsbys of the literary world. But what about their equally badass female counterparts? We’re tired of seeing our favorite banned heroines left out of the spotlight. So, to celebrate Banned Book Week, we’re showcasing nine of the most badass ladies in all of banned literature. These women have the spunk, courage, and strength to keep up with any male character, patriarchy be damned. 

    Jordan Baker, The Great Gatsby
    The ladies of The Great Gatsby get a bad reputation, mostly because both Daisy and Myrtle are a little bit crazy. In fact, their antics tend to make readers forget about the most badass woman in the entire novel. In the 2013 film adaptation of the novel, Nick describes Jordan as “the most terrifying woman I had ever seen,” and her literary counterpart is no less terrifying and fantastic. A golfer with a scandalous background and no time for Nick’s nonsense, it’s a shame to see her thrown over at the end of the novel. She could have whipped our incredibly neurotic narrator into shape. Can we have more Jordan and less Daisy, please?

    Sethe, Beloved
    Sethe’s unbelievable strength in the face of evil makes her deserving of some major recognition. Her actions against the young Beloved don’t stem from a place of violence, but rather one of desperation and, ultimately, love. How many would have the courage to do what she did to keep her daughter from a life of slavery?

    Lady Brett Ashley, The Sun Also Rises
    Has anyone who had to read The Sun Also Rises in high school not felt the need to bow down to queen bitch Lady Brett Ashley? With her short hair and free-spirited sexuality, it’s no wonder Jake can’t help loving and losing this thoroughly modern woman. Plus, she says one of the most badass lines in all of Hemingway: “You know, it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.” Doesn’t it though, Brett?

    Dewey Dell, As I Lay Dying
    It’s not easy being seventeen and pregnant, especially when you’re a main character in a Faulkner novel. But Dewey Dell doesn’t just sit around and accept her bad luck, instead attempting to take ownership of her body and her destiny. The fact that she’s beaten down by male interference only shows how tough she is to be fighting against a patriarchy much stronger than she is.

    Edna Pontellier, The Awakening
    Edna has always been a pretty polarizing character, but whether you love or hate her, you can’t deny her a place on a list of female badasses. Edna not only embraces her sexuality, but spurns the female stereotypes held by her community, moving into her own home and abandoning a maternal role that never fit her. She shows readers that there is no “normal” woman, no mold one has to fit in to claim that title.

    Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale
    We all agree that The Handmaid’s Tale is a terrifying book, right? So any lady that manages to live through that dystopia has to be one tough cookie. Offred is forced to face the probable murder of her husband and the loss of her daughter, and still finds the strength to fight against an oppressive regime that attempts to take away the rights of all women. Offred, you go, girl.

    Sam, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Sam, the girl with the past. What might be most refreshing about her is her honesty and her strength. She doesn’t deny the things she’s done, but tries to grow from them. Her acceptance of her flaws make her an incredibly vulnerable, and therefore entirely relatable, character. Plus, how relatable was this quote, when she called Charlie out on his crap? “It’s just that I don’t want to be somebody’s crush. If somebody likes me, I want them to like the real me, not what they think I am. And I don’t want them to carry it around inside. I want them to show me, so I can feel it too.” Preach, girl.

    Lyra, The Golden Compass
    She may be the youngest on this list, but she probably has more spunk than the rest of these ladies combined. She has a blatant disregard for authority, she risks her life to save her friends, and she becomes partners with a bloodthirsty polar bear. EVEN AN ARMOURED BEAR LISTENS TO HER. What could be more badass than all that?

    Did your favorite badass make the cut?

  • Nicole Hill 7:00 pm on 2014/07/29 Permalink
    Tags: , carolyn keen, , , , , , , , , , , the great gatsby, , ,   

    8 Female Characters Who Need a Relationship Intervention 

    Nancy Drew

    Clearly, not every fictional relationship is straight out of the lusty pages of a bodice-ripper. Similarly, many of literature’s most storied unions lack the progressivism one might wish for. To spell it out: sometimes your favorite heroine brings home a real clunker. And you sit there, page after page, shouting at her to wake up and realize her romantic worth. But she doesn’t listen, for the plot must trod on despite your totally sensible objections to the inferior object of her affections.

    It ends today. It’s intervention time. Today we tell our favorite women of the printed word that “there is something rotten in Denmark, and it’s his terrible attitude.

    Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte)
    Girl, sit down. Look, I know, Mr. Rochester is le dreamy, as your young chanteuse Adele might say. But honey, he kept his deranged wife holed up in his attic while he made big puppy dog eyes at you. I hear you saying, “Everyone has skeletons in their closet.” But not everyone’s skeletons set their beds on fire in the dark of the night. If you insist on going through with this relationship, I’m going to need you to go over every nook and cranny of Rochester’s House of Secrets, because you certainly can’t count on the wickedly complicit or insanely oblivious help to help.

    Nancy Drew (The Nancy Drew series, by Carolyn Keene)
    Let me put this quite simply: dream a little bigger, darling. There are more exotic, intriguing men out there than some cookie-cutter, insurance-selling frat boy. Ned’s probably not even the most interesting man in Mapleton. Not to mention, this exchange from The Double Jinx Mystery:

    Nancy: “How would you like to spend a few days at my house and help me do some sleuthing?”

    Ned: “Great! I’m tired of cooking my own meals. I’ll come right away.”

    Nancy, you’re just a meal ticket to him! He doesn’t deserve you or the wares from your fine family’s table!

    Bella Swan (The Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyer)
    Come on, come on out of that fetal position. True, Edward is one hot cold piece of man vamp meat. It’s naturally you’d go all swoony. Pretty understandable to have a little puppy love with Jacob while we’re at it. But girl, you need to find yourself first. You can’t love them truly, until you love yourself. Go eat your way through Europe or something and then see how you feel about long-term commitment.

    Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    See above, only maybe instead of Europe, you should try a convent for a few years. Just get as far away from your Scrooge McDuck vault of a life as possible before finding a nice simple farm boy somewhere.

    Cersei Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin)
    When they say keep it all in the family, they didn’t mean it like that, homegirl. I get it. Jaime’s a stud. Cousin Lancel? Well…that was a choice. With a loveless marriage to the lecherous ogre formerly known as Robert Baratheon, it’s perfectly reasonable to look for other creatures who understand you. Understand you, yes, but not look like you. Try Tinder, for the Seven’s sake.

    Elizabeth Lavenza (Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley)
    Yo, I don’t know what Victor Frankenstein put under Hobbies on his dating profile, but it might be prudent to check for some subtext. Not only is this entanglement dangerous, but Toying With the Laws of Nature leaves precious little time for Meeting Elizabeth’s Emotional Needs and Nurturing Her Towards a Positive, Fulfilling Existence.

    Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne)
    Hester, I’m never taking you to the track, because you couldn’t hit a winner with the broad side of a Puritan barn. A+ match with Roger Chillingworth, and twitchy, righteously guilty old Dimmesdale isn’t the one I’d fall over myself to be publicly shamed for. Really, though, what’s more important for you is this bit of solid real estate advice: location, location location. Get new neighbors. Get new clothes. Get out.

    Penelope (The Odyssey, by Homer)
    Twenty years, a gosh-darned war, vengeful gods, sirens, cyclopses, insane-in-the-membrane natural disasters, errant bags of wind, the Underworld, girls tryna’ steal your man, all them piggish suitors. Maybe it’s a sign…

    What fictional characters do you think need a relationship intervention?

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