This morning, with snow swirling and dropping like a thick veil onto ground that is already piled high with snow from last night, I remember a book I used to love when I was a little girl, living in South Africa: The Long Winter, part of the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is set in southeastern Dakota Territory in America during the severe winter of 1880 to 1881. I read the books in the series with not much understanding of log cabins, huge woods, green, waving prairie grasslands, or snow. It all seemed quite exotic. The wagons, oxen and farming I could deal with, since my grandparents were from a long line of farming stock. But where we lived it was semi-arid and hot, and we didn’t have any woodlands, prairies…or snow. Snow was a thing found only in books. Continue reading
Here is the last part in a series of four posts on the subject of fan fiction versus copyright rules. Now it’s the turn of the famous children’s book, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which is still copyrighted but has nevertheless been a frequent subject for fan fiction, adaptations, sequels and parodies. Argentine poet Alejandro Roemmers has written a fan fiction sequel to it, called The Return of the Young Prince, which will be published in English in hard cover later this year. I suggest you think of it as Roemmers’ gift to the world, say thank you kindly, and leave it at that. If you want to know how it compares to the original, read on. Continue reading
This is the Information Age and the Social Age. Whether on a tablet, PC, ipad or smart phone, people wade through masses of information every day. The better you can read, faster and with more comprehension, the better you will cope with the information deluge and the constant social connectedness. So, how do you, as a parent, “grow a reader”? You read, and you read to your children. I still remember the words from some of the books I read as a child. Today there was a man being interviewed on TV, Tony Blinken by name, and into my head popped an old children’s poem, Wynken, Blynken and Nod, by Eugene Field. It was written in 1889 (!!) and my parents gave it to me in a gorgeously illustrated book, Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry (Collins, 1968). I never knew who wrote it, I just knew the words. And like an actor’s lines, they would sneak into my head in the moments before I drifted off to sleep. And of course, I would hear my mother’s voice as she read it to me. Here is the first verse: Continue reading
Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy – coming up – will be the subject of the 100th book review I’ve written in the past 6 years.
I have my mother, Marina le Roux, to thank for a lifetime’s habit of critical reading. She may be 79 but she is still actively reviewing and assessing literature. The differences are that 1) her reviews are published in real media; 2) she writes in Afrikaans and 3) she reviews Afrikaans poetry in the poetry (book)club she started in 1998 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The club still thrives today, with interesting and serious Afrikaans poets under discussion.
As she would say, reviewing books is a thankless task – and why do we persist in doing it? I guess it is because it is an acquired habit and I feel critical readers make a better book market.
Confessions of a book Feinschmecker
And over the years, like a foodie, I’ve become something of a Feinschmecker when it comes to literature. An author needs to have a really original voice, something truly interesting to say, before I will praise their work. I take a writer’s skill at using the tools of their trade for granted. But a good read, for me, depends on what the work makes me think – whether it will transport, inspire and intrigue me. Whether it will make me remember it, like a superb painting. Whether the author has taken gone the extra mile to deepen the work.
The re-reading test
Update on this post:
Here is an excellent analysis in the New Yorker of P.L. Travers’ youth, development as an author, and negotiations with Disney during the making of the film, Mary Poppins. (Read it here…)
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, 1934 & “Saving Mr. Banks”, 2013
Later this month, the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” will premiere in movie theatres, and considering it is about the author of the “Mary Poppins” books, some people may expect it to be a bit like the books – ostensibly sentimental, nostalgic and sweet. I’m hoping it will have some bearing on the truth. The Mary Poppins books were not altogether sweet and cuddly, and neither was P.L. Travers. Both books and author were products of their times.
How P.L. Travers fought with Disney
“Saving Mr. Banks” is directed by John Lee Hancock from a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. It is about the production of the 1964 Walt Disney Studios film version of the first “Mary Poppins” book, by the same name, and stars Emma Thompson (she of “Nanny McPhee”, talk about typecasting!) and Tom Hanks. The film centers on the life of Travers, shifting between 1907 with her childhood in Queensland, Australia, the 1961 negotiations with Walt Disney, and the subsequent making of “Mary Poppins” starring Julie Andrews as the umbrella-wielding Nanny and Dick van Dyke (he of the mock Cockney accent) as the chimney-sweep, Bert. With its romanticised view of a middle-class family in 1910 London, UK, “Mary Poppins” is classic Christmas movie and TV fodder, along with “The Sound of Music“, “Peter Pan”, “The Railway Children” and other children’s favourites. But, there has always been a largely unacknowledged darker side to all these books. They all feature a missing, or withholding, parent or caregiver.
Who is Mary Poppins?
Dear Life, by Alice Munro
(Penguin Books Canada, 2012)
The significant moments in Alice Munro’s latest collection of short stories tend to creep up behind you and hit you in the back of the head with a brick. You read one – you get to the final lines – you think, “I don’t get it” or “oh good grief, is that what I think it is? – you go back and reread it. Then you find the pivotal moment, the line where the storyline changed, where she started the build-up to the climax, or put in the key to the puzzle. Continue reading