Have Child, Plant a Tree, Write a Book

May 6, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Then it came to me: Zola had said: ‘To have a child, to plant a tree, to write a book.’ That, he said, was a full life!” – Betty Smith

a tree growsWhat I love about being a book reviewer is the constant discovery of new things.  Picking up books I may have never had the opportunity to read, and learning from those books – not how to write better necessarily, but – what kind of writer I want to be.

Book reviewing has also required me to read things more closely, not just the way I would for school, but in a more personal way as well.  It’s not just about finding the literary value, it’s not just about liking or not liking, it becomes more and more important to be able to people and my readers why I loved a book.  What moved me to passion? What is so relevant about this story to my own life? In doing that, it makes me dig deeper into myself, deeper into my library, and deeper into the art of research.

I’ve slacked off the last few weeks about publishing a literary journal post, but I haven’t stopped reading the literary journals.  I meant to write this yesterday, it’s been dancing around in my head the last few weeks as I’ve alternated between picking my way through McSweeney’s issue 18 and researching to see if anything was written about Betty Smith.  I’ve been scouring the internet for evidence of things written about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or perhaps a long buried article or story she may have had published before infamy.  I didn’t know a lot about her, so it’s been an educational endeavor.

I started with what was available in the back of the Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition that I read the book from.  The little extras this edition provides are wonderful, including the first piece Smith ever published: a bit of prose called “Winter” when she was 8 years old and still in grade school, under the name Elizabeth Wehner.

I enjoyed reading the article from This Week that she wrote called “Fall in Love With Life.”  It’s a beautiful glimpse into her mind and life and what led her to know that she had had a full and marvelous life.  It was refreshing to read, after feeling like a failure on most days, knowing I’ve had a child, planted a tree, and written book, changed my outlook on my life at 30.

Of course, the research continued and in my searching I found this: http://web.njit.edu/~cjohnson/tree/context/context.htm

I also found this and am pretty disappointed that I can’t find a copy of “On Discovering Thomas Hardy” anywhere: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/s/Smith,Betty.html

If anyone knows of any publications or articles written on or by Betty Smith, please share.  I’d like to discover them too.



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Literary Journal Monday – Earth Day, Every Day Part Two

April 15, 2014 at 12:18 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Blackwood 1It’s April, it’s spring time, it’s RAINING! To bring May flowers, of course.  So, I jumped head first into an April 1968 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine, more specifically, Roy Neal Williams’ Mushroom Weather.

I’ve never heard of Roy Neal Williams before today, but I definitely can say I’ll remember him.  His memoir about his grandmother and their adventures foraging in the woods for mushrooms with his german shepherd mix, Shep, is right up my alley.  His prose is nice and playful, easy to get right in step with the spring time atmosphere he is describing from his childhood.

Mushroom Weather 2

The time spent in the woods and the property with his grandmother is looked back upon so fondly.  I hope that my daughter remembers her time with me in the woods as well.  And I like his grandmother,

“She stopped and looked at the flowers.  All was quiet.  There was only the sound of the water as it rushed along its way, cutting round stones and making miniature waterfalls from a flat rock or a fallen limb.  An occasional bird would chime in and, in the distance, we could hear Shep yelp now and then.”

He explains how they collected mushrooms, morel mushrooms, and then took them home and soaked them in preparation to eat the next day.  As he slept that night he would dream of the delicious dish that awaited him the following day.

The forager in me couldn’t help but come home and search the web for images of these tasty treats.  Below is a picture of morel mushrooms that serves as a link to the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club.  How exciting – and odd – is that?



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Literary Journal Monday – Gatsby Love

March 25, 2014 at 12:00 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

All About Additional Literary Journal Adventures at Good Books in the Woods

I got to peek at some incoming journals today, they were hanging out on the owner’s desk…


P1010434The American Mercury

The American Mercury was an American magazine published from 1924[1] to 1981. It was founded as the brainchild of H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine featured writing by some of the most important writers in the United States through the 1920s and 1930s. After a change in ownership in the 1940s, the magazine attracted conservative writers. The magazine went out of print in 1981, having spent the last 25 years of its existence in decline and controversy. – from Wikipedia

So that’s cool, but the real juice is this, here in the June 1924 edition…


For those who don’t know, “Absolution” is important to fans of The Great Gatsby.  Why?  Well, you see, the writing of The Great Gatsby has a rich history.  It may have been published by Scribner in 1925, but Fitzgerald had several previous versions of the literary classic.

In 1923, he had written 18k words for the book that was destined to become The Great Gatsby but scrapped most of what he had written and began again.  These scraps can be found peppered throughout literature under different headings and titles – titles like “Absolution.”

“I’m glad you liked Absolution.  As you know it was to have been the prologue of the novel but it interfered with the neatness of the plan,” Fitzgerald wrote his editor.  The novel in question was none other than The Great Gatsby.


The above letter is a page from Dear Scott/ Dear Max: The Fitzgerald – Perkins Correspondence.

So many neat things can be found inside the pages of literary journals and I’m enjoying discovering the treasures.

Somewhat unrelated, but definitely something for the Fitzgerald collector that I found while researching this post, are some wonderful embellished journals.  The creators have taken the first handwritten page of The Great Gatsby and imprinted it on the cover of leatherbound journals.  So beautiful:  http://blog.paperblanks.com/2012/09/f-scott-fitzgerald/

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Literary Journal Monday – The Black Cat

March 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1010396It may have been a whole week since my last post, but the discovery I made today has made the whole week of dry reading worth it.  In fact, what I discovered today at Good Books in the Woods made this entire series of Literary Journal Mondays worth it.

Today I found The Black Cat.

Tucked away, just two hardbound volumes (collections of the actual magazine), hidden in the Literary Journal room.

It was a beautiful, thrilling moment, opening the jacket to a random page and finding this:


“The Black Cat” is a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1843 – it was a horror piece about a murderer similar to The Tell-Tale Heart.  It’s no wonder that in 1895, a literary journal called The Black Cat was born, dedicating itself to short stories of an “unusual nature.”  Of course, I don’t know for sure that the founders of The Black Cat were referencing Poe, but I can’t help but jump to that conclusion.  It’s something I would do.

The original mThe Black Cat coveragazine covers varied from month to month, like most magazine covers do, but they all have a spunky contemporary Gothic look that I imagine was hard for people to pass up.  The publication ran until 1922 and featured some surprising contributors.  Rupert Hughes, Susan Glaspell, Ellis Parker Butler, Alice Hegan Rice, Holman Day, Rex Stout, O. Henry, Charles Edward Barns, and Octavus Roy Cohen all made appearances in the journal. For Jack London collectors it has become a bit of marvelous legend, as London attributed his “A Thousand Deaths” story being printed there to saving his life.  They paid him when no one else would, and when he really needed the cash.  London is quoted having said, “literally and literarily I was saved.”


It is so coveted by collectors that the original edition featuring London sells at auction for more than the above hardbound books go for in antiquities stores.

Jack London The Black Cat

Were I a millionaire, I would not hesitate to buy them all up.  Standing in the store today I remembered Nicholas Basbaines’ A Gentle Madness as I salivated over the two collectibles on the shelf.  This is true beauty, I thought, this in my hand.

I read Jack London’s contribution, it is only a few pages, then continued to snap photos as I carefully turned the pages, my eyes thirsty for old fonts and typesetting.




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Literary Journal Monday – Mapping My Mind

March 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am not ADD, but my mind is often many places at once. It goes and goes… it races… it is unstoppable.

hungerI’ve been reading Hunger by Michael Grant.  It’s one of my niece’s books – the second in a series she introduced me to.  No, that’s not how I want to start this post – is it?

I was craving a little bit of dystopian society literature after reading Herodotus.  My brain spinning in a circular momentum about democracies, oligarchies, and dictatorships.  Darius and then Xerxes tyrading around ancient lands building the Persian Empire.  A thousand utopian and dystopian variations of all societies throughout history – a million possible outcomes for our modern world – twisting about in my mind.  Conveniently, it was at this moment that a trailer for the movie Divergent came on and I thought, “It’s about time I read Veronica Roth.”

Cue discussion of autism I’ve been having on and off with people since reading Not Even Wrong written by Paul Collins. Collins is an amazing author and obscure historian. Still suffering from story hangovers from Divergent and the movie Tonight You’re Mine (all about instantaneous human connections) – I found myself thinking about my niece’s Gone series.

Set in a town in California, all the kids fifteen and under have been left in a supernatural bubble – all adults over puberty have vanished, leaving kids and babies to fend for themselves and create a new government. Not unlike Lord of the Flies, different factions have formed. One is under the leadership of Sam Temple, another under his half brother Caine (the biblical implications of Caine and Abel not to be lost on readers, of course). Sam and his new girlfriend, Astrid, are two of the oldest left behind. They have formed a parental union for the younger kids, caring for all the helpless, including Astrid’s autistic brother.

Like bumper pool – or pinball, if you missed out on the bumper pool phenomena – the synapses in my brain spark and twitch and leap bringing me back to Paul Collins/Not Even Wrong/ McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Then, I find myself thinking, “Goodness, it’s Literary Journal Monday.

tonight you're mineTonight You’re Mine still echoing in my gut (I’m pretty sure I love that movie far more than what is considered healthy or normal), I veer toward the London Magazine when selecting my Literary Journal Monday feature. (Tonight You’re Mine is set in Scotland – not England, but for an American like me, it is the closest I can get in Literary Journals once I mentally cross the pond.)

London Magazine February/March 1981 Vol. 20 Nos. 11 &12

The Private Letters of Tennessee Williams and a piece on Gore Vidal catch my eye. I flip through the first few ads, the table of contents, then stop dead on a heading: FINAL REMINDER.

“If we are to survive the next issue we need 1,000 new subscribers or their equivalent, and we need them immediately […]”

P1010303My reading screeches to a halt and I turn to the shelf. Were there more? Did they have to cancel the magazine? Did they get their 1,000 readers? Ah, sigh, they survived. At least until 1989 where the collection at the bookstore stops. So clearly, they got their 1,000. I wonder who these 1,000 were and if this final reminder is what provoked them to officially subscribe. Or were they friends and family of existing subscribers, terrified their favorite magazine would cease to exist if they didn’t recruit others to love what they loved?

My thoughts have veered so far off track that I forget what I was reading altogether. I flip through the journal in my hand trying to grasp the reason I had sat down to look at this in the first place.

It’s March. St. Patty’s Day is coming up. Irish authors keep popping in and out of my mind. Ireland… Scotland… Tonight You’re Mine… music… poetry… Derek Mahon, an Irish poet’s name blinks at me from the page of the literary journal in my hand. Literary Journal Monday, of course. I read the poem “The Elephants” first. I love elephants. Then my eyes skip over to “April in Moscow” and I read “Spring burst into our houses…” It does, doesn’t it? Just bursts right in and none too soon. At the end of the poems there is an ad for the Poetry Society Bookshop at 21 Earls Court Square in London. I wonder if it is still there.

If they do still exist, I bet they have a copy of Lang Leav’s Love & Misadventure. I’m dying for a copy. Leav has been speaking to my soul lately. Misadventures stuck in the cogs of the mind of a woman turned 30.

A line from Grant’s book swings into full view of my mind’s eye:

“He buried his face in her hair. She could feel his breath on her neck, tickling her ear. She enjoyed the feel of his body against hers. Enjoyed the fact that he needed to hold her. But there was nothing romantic about this embrace.” – pg. 21

There rarely is when a hug is really needed. It’s that moment Leav writes about…

When words run dry,
he does not try,
nor do I.

We are on par.

He just is,
I just am
and we just are.

– Lang Leav

The lack of selfishness between the characters at this point is refreshing in fiction and real life.

In a 2014 American Society of infantile adults who never learned to fend for themselves and work hard without constant praise, we are fascinated by literature and movies where children and teens are forced to grow up overnight and be adults.

It’s sad when the idea of fifteen-year-olds co-leading a community and making wise, unselfish decisions for themselves and each other sounds absurd and fictional. My associative mind leaps back to all the ancient history I’ve been studying, back to the likes of King Tut – pharaoh at age nine – dead by nineteen, married somewhere in between.

We believe in responsible marriages like the Romans, but we chase telepathic connections like the Greeks. What a very convoluted and contradictory way to live – the reality of a dystopian society is that every society is a dystopia – even a society of one. Our minds are everywhere and nowhere. Of course we are in conflict.

I suppose you Literary Journal Monday followers got a little more than you wanted. I bit off more than I could chew today. I attempted to map my own mind and identify all the associations and patterns, leaving myself somewhat exhausted from chasing whimsies.

At least I got to spend a few stolen moments in this room…


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Literary Journal Monday…

March 4, 2014 at 6:06 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

…became “figure out how to make my car run by book club tonight” Monday.  Sort of.

This involved coercing my husband into taking the battery out – because I hate dealing with the stupid under-the-hood-cover they throw on new cars these days.  I am one of those truly-85-in-every-aspect-not-just-books-and-my-FLIP-phone people.  In that I was more than happy to work on my car myself… alternators, spark plugs, shocks, struts, the whole shebang… as long as it was from 1987 or older.  This business I’ve driving now… well, it might be all nice and cushy and have air conditioning and defrosters that work; and maybe when it rains my feet don’t get wet because there’s an actual floor board, not just a carpet… but I HATE IT.  I hate it because as soon as I pop the hood it looks like a Russian space station from a disaster movie set in the future to me, not a car.

So, yes, despite women’s lib and all that – I coerced my husband into unhooking the dead battery for me.  I still took it to AutoZone, carried it in myself,  and had it replaced (for FREE! It was under warranty, thank goodness).  But I still came home, handed my husband the keys to his truck and told him the new battery was where he’d left the old one.  Pretty sure he wasn’t too keen on hooking the new one up, but neither was I.  I married a mechanic for a reason! I CAN work on my car, but I’d rather read a book.

Or, in this case a literary journal off my personal shelf.

McSweeney’s Autumn 1998

My copy is a 3rd printing from 2006, “Created in darkness by troubled Americans. Printed in Iceland.”

I always like their little subtitles and witticisms.  Reminds me of Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail and the majestic moose biting their sister.

quarterly01I’ve read McSweeney’s before, issues one through three in their entirety to be exact; the rest of the issues I’ve just peeked through.  I collect them and have a whole shelf of them all my own to be perused at my leisure and today I picked up issue one again.  How can I not when it’s filled with goodies like this:

“Come close […] because I’m going to tell you a secret.  Ready? Here it is: Each and every one of us, and I mean everyone, has a tiny little troll who lives in our heads and controls our thoughts.” – pg. 12

The letter section just kills me.  It’s too wonderful.

Neal Pollock’s bits are always fun, too.  Like this one from issue one:

“My  life is not private any longer, but neither is it really public.  Rather, it’s a kind of quasi-private-psuedo-public life that could only exist in the netherworld of the Internet.  I have given myself up to the web, and like a beast in a cage that eats meat all the time, the web insatiably demands more.” – The Burden of Internet Celebrity, pg. 22 of “Gegenshein”

quarterly02And the Paris letter in issue two (“Pollyanna’s Bootless Errand”) that I just can’t bring myself to try to sum up; you simply must go read it yourself.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day spent, despite the hiccups.  I got to re-read an old essay involving Man-Bats on the Moon by Paul Collins (featured in issue two as well), whom I love, and that is never time badly spent.  And yes, I said Man-Bats.  On. The. Moon.  If I haven’t imparted some sort of desire in you to go discover the glory that is Paul Collins’ knack for discovery weird history, then I have seriously failed as a book blogger over the last few years.

The kiddo and I also ate through nearly an entire crock pot of corn chowder, half a block of Swiss cheese, and a container of cayenne pepper.  (Also there was a vat of coffee and a jug of V8 Fusion involved, so you KNOW it was a day well spent.)

Oh, and then, I went to book club.  Because we got my car running just fine and in plenty of time.  I spent a little under two hours discussing Herodotus with book clubbers.  And now, moments after midnight (moments in Tuesday!), my brain kind of hurts a little.


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Literary Journal Monday

February 25, 2014 at 1:42 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

P1010137Today, I picked up The Arizona Quarterly.  It was Volume 37 from the Winter of 1981, Number 4.  The ISBN is 004-1610.  I chose this one for the first essay listed on the cover – one on Montaigne, Melville, and The Cannibals.  It’s by one Gorman Beauchamp (what a name) and spells out what I now realize it is that keeps me coming back to Melville time and time again, even though I’m always slightly dissatisfied with his work.

“[…] being a work of intrinsic interest and inventiveness as fiction-autobiography-anthropology-travelogue […]”

Beauchamp identifies all my favorite subjects and genres, then attributes them to Melville.  Ah, I see now.

This entire installment is dedicated to Melville – every essay.  A poem by a Housman piqued my interest, briefly, but it wasn’t A.E., it was another Housman.

If I were to purchase this (roughly $5), I’d house it next to The Secret of Lost Things so the Melville cronies can bond… so it can be near something else that reminds me to tackle Melville with more zeal. After all, it is something to revisit once I have tackled Melville more thoroughly.

Until then, I’ve tucked it back on the shelf at Good Books in the Woods – with the rest of the A’s in the Literary Journal area in the back of the Gallery – to be revisited as long as it remains there while my child frolics in the rock garden out back.


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Literary Journal Mondays

February 17, 2014 at 7:39 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Remember the zine movement? (No? Visit Snapdragon Zine Fair) Ah, the 90’s and early 2000’s.  Except that’s not where it started.  No, it began long ago, and still goes on, in Literary Journals.

McSweeneys9McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern comes to mind.

But do you remember Granta? (or Paris Review, or Soho Square, or The Quarterly, or countless others?)

My eyes tend to rest on Granta when I’m in a bookstore.  Such colorful spines… printed by Penguin.

Today, #24 Inside Intelligence pops out at me… “Her Majesty’s Government does not want you to know about the life of Anthony Cavendish,” the cover reads.  There’s a huge circular stamp in the bottom right corner: BANNED IN BRITAIN.  How do you pass that up?

What follows is a spirited and creative journalistic effort to share news in the form of intelligent literature.  Photographs and interviews you wouldn’t get in a newspaper, writing worthy of Pulitzers (and sometimes even written by Pulitzer winners).  Just in Granta #24 alone, Philip Roth, Peter Carey, Tobias Wolff, Bruce Chatwin, and E.L. Doctorow all grace us with their presence.

The world of literary journals is a fascinating and amazing one that goes back centuries.

Notes and QueriesPaul Collins wrote an essay called “121 Years of Solitude” for Bookmark Now about his own journeys through a literary journal called Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men – a weekly magazine from the Victorian era.  Collins’ memoir-like essay of his time spent in the Portland, Oregon library is one I dive into regularly, envious of his access and ability to take time to develop a daily library routine.  Bus rides downtown, coffee, grand staircases, Notes and Queries, the entire endeavor sounds heavenly to me.

I don’t have time in my life – or the ability, as a mom of a three year old – to replicate a similar endeavor right now.   But, the idea of taking an extra 30 minutes to an hour each Monday to peruse a literary journal that graces the shelves of my existing Monday routine (Good Books in the Woods) sounds plausible.

So here’s to Literary Journal Mondays – may they be more consistent than my Weekly Low Down of Kids Books (which happens sporadically throughout most months instead).

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