Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How Much Are We Influenced By Childhood Reading?

I have been treating, and will continue to treat, you to my Peter Pan obsession. Unfortunately for you, I also fixated Little Men and to a lesser extent Little Women when I was young. I've even read Jo's Boys. This has has also led to an up-and-down interest in Louisa May Alcott and Transcendentalists. All of which led me to read Susan Cheever's American Bloomsbury.

Which leads me to this: Susan Cheever says Little Women is a significant book because in it "Louisa May Alcott invented a new way to write about the ordinary lives of women, and to tell stories that are usually heard in kitchens or bedrooms." She says that in Little Women she learned "that domestic details can be the subject of art, that small things in a woman's life--cooking, the trimming of a dress or hat, quiet talk--can be just as important a subject as a great whale or a scarlet letter."

Next week I'll be giving a talk in which I will address my interest in what I (and others) call situational humor and what situations interest me. I don't write about divorce, death, abuse, or any combinations thereof and not just because those situations are not traditionally funny. I am interested in what has been called "the poetry of the everyday"--mundane events that can have a huge impact on our lives.

And now I'm wondering how much Louisa May had to do with that.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Talk About A Change Of Pace

I've been reading a great deal of fantasy the last couple of months, particularly kids' fantasy.And though I've enjoyed a lot of it, I've been looking for a diversion. On Monday while I was at the library, I stumbled upon American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever. The book was on that list of things to read that's buried in my mind because I'd read a review. So I snatched it up.

I've been interested in the Transcendentalists since my college days when I took a course on the history of women in the United States and wrote a paper on Louisa May Alcott. That is not to say I've ever actually understood what Transcendentalism is. Or pursued the interest very rigorously. (I have many interests I don't pursue very rigorously.) But I have been to Orchard House and Fruitlands, which is sort of like pursuing a Transcendental interest. But not very.

Anyway, on the second page of the book Cheever claims that our Louisa was in love with Thoreau and Emerson. (But not at the same time.) Cheever also says that Henry James gave one of Louisa's books a bad review but then "appropriated the adorable, defiant character of Jo a model for his headstrong and independent American woman, Isabel Archer, in Portrait of a Lady."

Wow. I couldn't get through Portrait of a Lady, but, still. Wow.

I've never been so excited on page two of a nonfiction book. I really, really love historical gossip.

And I'm hoping I'll understand Transcendentalism by the time I'm finished. Because everyone should understand that, right?

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