After a run of disappointing reads, it was a delight to discover A House Among The Trees by Julia Glass. The book centers on the recently deceased children’s book author and artist, Mort Lear, and the various characters who are left to pick up the pieces after he dies, including his long-time assistant, an actor who will be playing Mort in an upcoming bio-pic, the man who unwittingly inspired the character that made Mort famous, and the museum curator who is desperate to secure Mort’s papers and drawings for her museum. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this book, particularly themes of honoring the people we lose, (their stories and their legacies), of how and why people distance themselves from each other and how easy it is to get trapped – even by things that originally seemed positive. But what I really loved the most about A House Among The Trees was the author’s skill at creating her central character. Glass used the real-life children’s author, Maurice Sendak as the foundation for Mort, grafting layers of fiction onto elements lifted directly from Sendak’s life and using Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, as inspiration for the fictional story book that rocketed Mort to fame and fortune. In the hands of a lesser author, this could have backfired badly, but Glass manages to use just enough of the real author to make Mort feel like a real (and beloved) part of her readers’ childhood and to infuse Mort’s book with the same sort of menace and wonder that was often found in Sendak’s work. This works well to draw the reader into the story, giving them a real emotional connection to Mort and making them feel invested in his story and legacy.
I hate to admit it but I am a bit of a purist when it comes to books. It’s rare that I find a modern take on a classic that is both faithful enough to the original text to avoid annoying me but that still brings something new and interesting enough to the story that makes it worth reading. To my surprise, Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester – a re-telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre – manages to achieve both. Since the original book was from Jane’s perspective, readers only learned what Mr. Rochester chose to share about his past and motivations. But Shoemaker takes advantage of that fact and provides a rich backstory that builds upon Bronte’s foundation. In the first part of the book, we learn about Rochester’s youth and education and I got both a slight Dickens vibe at times and subtle parallels to Jane’s early years.
Later on, Shoemaker turns her attention to life at Thornfield Hall after Rochester meets Jane Eyre. During this part of the book, the author turns the original dynamic on its head so that now it’s Jane that comes across as inscrutable and out of reach, while Rochester becomes increasingly desperate to force some acknowledgement of her feelings from her. Since the odds are that anyone reading this book will have read the original story and know how it ends, Shoemaker focuses on exploring the motivation behind some of the Bronte’s most baffling plot points – specifically why Rochester behaves the way he does when he is trying to win Jane’s love and why his father and brother trick him into marrying Bertha in the first place even though they knew she was mad. If at times the author works a little too hard to justify some of Rochester’s odder moments, including dressing up as an old gypsy woman or pretending to be in love with Blanche when he really wants to marry Jane, it’s totally forgivable since she, (and Charlotte Bronte), have done such a good job at making Rochester into a character that readers want to love. The extra plot elements she added to explore the history between the Rochester and Mason families was interesting and well done and I have to admit, after all the ups and downs of the story, I broke into a huge grin at the line, “Reader, she married me.”
All in all, I definitely recommend Mr. Rochester for all my fellow Charlotte Bronte fans who are looking to revisit this classic story.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. And so to celebrate the day that the world met Harry Potter and the 20 years of magic that has followed, here is a fun outfit for Harry Potter fans inspired by the “Boy Who Lived.” I wanted to create a magical, but stylish tribute to one of my favorite fandoms, so I started with a bold, Gryffindor red and gold color scheme and added a bunch of fun Harry Potter accessories, including a lightning bolt necklace, a golden snitch bracelet, and a gorgeous Harry Potter book purse from the Novel Creations Etsy shop that was inspired by the book that started it all! Enjoy!
What do you think, book lovers? Can you believe that Harry Potter came out 20 years ago?!! I sure can’t! But I do want to wish a very happy anniversary to Harry Potter and send a very big thank you to J.K. Rowling for 20 years of magic!
The ultimate “staycation read” for when you are longing to run away from your everyday existence, The Enchanted April is every bit as enchanting as the title suggests. The story tells of four English women, each struggling with various disappointments and loneliness, who decide to pool their resources and rent a romantic Italian villa for the month of April. Although the woman are very different in background and temperament – which leads to the occasional, (and rather funny), butting of heads – each experiences a sort of renewal during their stay at San Salvatore.
My only complaint about this light but highly enjoyable book is that the resolution of all the character’s problems seemed to come together rather quickly and easily without much more effort than a simple (and much needed attitude change). I guess the moral of the story is that it’s easier to evaluate your life and make changes in a villa on the Mediterranean than back home in your everyday life, and if that’s the case, I am more than willing to try it. I would have also loved an epilogue (or a sequel) that explored how all of these vacation epiphanies and romances continued (or didn’t) once everyone got back home. But other than that, I really enjoyed this fun little novel and highly recommend that you add it to your summer reading list.
Your Fourth of July fashion meets the “great American novel” with this fun summer outfit featuring a Great Gatsby ring from the C. S. Literary Jewelry Etsy shop. Perfect for a Fourth of July BBQ or enjoying some extra reading time over the holiday weekend, this fun Fourth of July outfit is a great way to celebrate our nation’s independence AND your love of books and literature.
What book lover wouldn’t love to find a cozy reading spot inside the Secret Garden? I know I would and if I ever discover the key to an enchanting, hidden garden, this is the outfit I would want to be wearing. Inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s book, this outfit combines lots of flirty, floral details and a handmade Secret Garden Key Necklace from the C. S. Literary Jewelry Etsy shop for a look that’s as sweet and fresh as a morning inside the Secret Garden.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears as I share my thoughts on the uproar surrounding the Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
For those of you who aren’t aware, the production in question features a Julius Caesar who bears a striking (and intentional) resemblance to Donald Trump and includes a scene that depicts said Caesar being brutally stabbed to death by Brutus, Cassius, and their fellow conspirators. Despite the fact that William Shakespeare and Julius Caesar both pre-date Donald Trump by a few centuries, and that this play has been produced over the years with many different political leaders cast as Caesar, some have taken this scene as advocating the assassination of our current president. And to be honest, I find this ridiculous for a number of reasons. I’ve spent the past few days thinking about the situation and I even took the time to reread the play before I commented. And I just have to say that I believe it does a HUGE disservice to the play, to Shakespeare, to Trump, to the Arts, and to political discourse in this country to reduce this play, and especially this production of it, to one scene taken out-of-context. Regardless of what you think of the president, and in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I am not a fan, we need to be able to look at issues in their entirety, rather than focus on the specifics that feed into partisan agendas and social media rants. And we definitely need to re-develop the lost skill of considering context, nuance, and sub-text in our cultural and political discussions.
First of all, can we all agree that, as one of the greatest writers in the English language, Shakespeare can be read on many different levels. Just because Caesar, himself, was literally stabbed in the back, that doesn’t mean that the Public Theatre was advocating or predicting a similar fate for Trump. There are a lot of metaphoric ways to stab someone in the back. In fact – partially due to this play – the phrase, “stabbed in the back” is a common way in our culture to refer to any sort of betrayal, not just those that involve actual knives. So perhaps we can give Shakespeare and the Public Theatre some benefit of the doubt and assume that they are employing a metaphor to make a larger point.
So, if the Public Theatre wasn’t trying to advocate for the assassination of Donald Trump, why cast him as their Caesar in the first place? Frankly, it isn’t uncommon for productions of Shakespeare plays to be set in different times and different places to make the universal themes feel more relevant and current to modern audiences and, as I mentioned before, this play has been performed with Caesar cast as many different political leaders, including a 2012 production that portrayed Barack Obama as Caesar. But, even if that wasn’t the case, there are just too many parallels between the play and the current situation that it’s almost impossible (if not artistically and culturally irresponsible) to avoid the comparison. Let’s be honest, until the Ides of March comes along, Caesar is a character right out of the Trumpian narrative and fits in beautifully with the way Trump likes to think of himself – a larger-than-life leader who comes to power on a swell of popular support from the common man and who is beset by enemies from the political establishment who are waiting for their opportunity to betray him. If Caesar had survived the play, and if Trump was the sort of guy who read / saw Shakespeare plays, he would most likely be the one making the comparison between himself and Julius Caesar. (There’s even a Shakespearean version of “fake news” as Cassius and his co-conspirators forge letters and interpret signs to support their agenda and manipulate Brutus into turning on Caesar). Still, Caesar, whoever he looks like, isn’t the most important part of this play and he isn’t the reason it’s so relevant to this time and this country.
The New York Times has a great article about this topic, Why Julius Caesar Speaks to Politics Today, but here are some of my thoughts on the matter. The play, if you look at it in its entirety, is actually a fairly balanced, cautionary tale to BOTH SIDES of our political divide. To the Right, Julius Caesar is a warning to avoid political hubris. In the play, Caesar is warned multiple times about the danger but is goaded into ignoring the warning. He fails to listen to his advisors and those who have his interests at heart and falls victim to his tragic flaw, hubris. As a result, he walks right into the trap, despite every opportunity to avoid it. In real life, Trump’s overconfidence (and constant tweeting) gives ammunition to his enemies – again, we are talking about metaphoric ammunition, not actual bullets – who are working to bring him down.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has many relevant things to teach the Left. The conspirators were successful in taking out Caesar, the man, but in doing so, they lost the country and their lives. Some of them were in it for their own self-interest and desire for power. Brutus was motivated by a pure desire to save Rome from what he believed was a would-be tyrant. But regardless of motive, the conspirators lost everything, did not achieve any of their goals, and paid a heavy price for the life of Caesar. The point is, as Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theatre, puts it:
“Our production of ‘Julius Caesar’ in no way advocates violence toward anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: Those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save.”
Lastly, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has one more important lesson to teach both Liberals and Conservatives. After Caesar was gone, betrayed by his enemies, praised and immortalized by those who loved him, his ghost lingered and haunted his foes. I firmly believe that, whatever happens over the next four years, whether Trump completes his term in office and runs for re-election or if the many scandals, investigations, political intrigues, marches and demonstrations succeed in removing him from office, his presence will continue to be felt for years to come. And we as a country need to consider all of the many factors that lead to the rise (and possible) fall of Caesar and how we can move past the hyper – partisan and incredibly toxic state that our current political climate has become. At the end of the day, the purpose of theatre, of any art, is to start a dialogue, to provoke thought and portray life as the artist sees it, and this play, for better or for worse, does exactly that. As Eustis puts it,
“We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically engaged theater, this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. ”
And for this reason, rather than condemn Caesar, both sides of the political divide should praise this production and the Public Theatre for opening a much-needed dialogue.