This is the dream we carry through the world
that something fantastic will happen
that it has to happen
that time will open by itself
that doors shall open by themselves
that the heart will find itself open
that mountain springs will jump up
that the dream will open by itself
that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known.
My copy of The Dream We Carry (named after a line from “This Is the Dream”) has the original Norwegian on the verso and the English translation on the recto. Rilla, curled up beside me, enjoyed comparing the two versions. She was struck by the lovely image of the mountain springs “jumping up” and reached for Google Translate’s snapshot feature to compare the literal (and much less poetic) translation. That led to a line-by-line unpacking of the language. The Hauge collection Luminous Spaces has an entirely different translation and we got really caught up in discussing the figurative and connotative differences between these variants:
…that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known
that I one early morning will glide
in on a wave I have never known
(Google Translate’s rendering of the original—interesting that it’s in first person singular, when both English translations use we)
Slip into a harbor, glide into a cove, glide in on a wave—such distinct and potent images, each in their own way.
There are buckets more I could say about our Hauge conversations, but the only one I’ll mention now is the Fillyjonk connection. We’re reading Tales From Moominvalley and today we finished the scene in which the anxious, constantly catastrophizing Fillyjonk tries to share her worries with her neighbor, Gaffsie, over tea in her gloomy seaside house:
“…This calm is unnatural. It means something terrible is going to happen. Dear Gaffsie, believe me, we are so very small and insignificant, and so are our tea cakes and carpets and all those things, you know, and still they’re so important, but always they’re threatened by mercilessness…By something one can’t ask anything of, or argue with, or understand, and that never tells one anything. Something that one can see drawing near, through a black windowpane, far away on the road, far away to sea, growing and growing but not really showing itself until too late. Mrs. Gaffsie, have you felt it? Tell me that you know what I’m talking about! Please!”
Gaffsie, a practical and restrained creature, doesn’t get it. She’s uncomfortable with the Fillyjonk’s demonstration of emotion, and she doesn’t have much use for a dramatic recitation of all the terrible things that could happen—because none of them have.
The poor Fillyjonk! Hauge’s dream is utterly closed to her—so far, at least.
Today this chapter sent me leaping (like a mountain spring) to read Hauge’s poem “We Don’t Sail the Same Sea”—
We don’t sail the same sea,
though it looks the same.
Rough timber and iron on deck,
sand and cement in the hold,
I ride low, plunge
headlong through breakers,
wail in fog.
You sail in a paper boat,
your dream fills its blue sail,
so soft is the wind, so gentle the wave.
Hauge struggled with depression and had to endure some very dark periods. Some of his poems acknowledge a sense of bleakness or of brooding menace—Fillyjonk feelings. I think the two of them do sail the same sea. But Hauge has the promise of that dream, the promise that some day the doors will open to a world where mountain springs jump up and and the wind fills a blue sail. I have hopes that the Fillyjonk, too, will encounter that dream—perhaps through an encounter with the Moomintroll family, or with Snufkin, later in the book. Right now she’s wailing in fog—with a kind of raw courage, the kind it takes to “plunge / headlong through the breakers.”
Well. At the end of lessons today I said we’d be moving on from Hauge next week, and such a clamor arose! Scott and the children think not. It seems I’ve been remiss in hoarding Hauge to myself all these years. I’m so happy they find him as compelling as I do.
A somewhat grainy photo of my four oldest children taken at the Point Loma Lighthouse in 2007, not long after we moved to San Diego. The Pacific was still quite new to them. When I coined the term “tidal homeschooling,” we lived in Virginia and the image was entirely figurative—but when I think back to those early tidal-learning days, this pic is the one I see.
I remember writing here long ago about how my favorite category of post was connections. The serendipitous links of thought we encounter when something we’re reading or experiencing echoes or relates to some earlier conversation, book, film, experience.
Today, for example: we read another Hauge poem (“Winter Morning”) and had a really rich discussion of how much is going on in those four simple lines—a discussion that incorporated some of the conversation we had in the comments here about yesterday’s poem. We talked about the way Hauge uses simple, crisp, concrete images (frosted windowpanes, the glow of a good dream, a woodstove “pour[ing] out its warmth/ from a wood block it had enjoyed the whole night”) to describe a moment, and something much bigger than the moment. And from that rather animated discussion we jumped to Linda Gregg’s “Art of Finding” essay:
I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically “see” things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become “old men with snow on their shoulders,” or the lake looks like a “giant eye.” The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck.
But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, “the mirror with nothing reflected in it.” This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.
Okay, here’s the thing. I had planned to read this excerpt of Gregg’s essay, and to introduce a new practice for the four of us—Huck, Rilla, Scott, and me. We have a spiral-bound sketchbook that, at intervals, we use as a shared family journal. In 2020 it was the whole family chiming in with quips, sketches, and interesting tidbits. It went dormant last year, and when the Linda Gregg passage resurfaced in my Readwise review over the holidays, I decided to appropriate the journal for this practice. Maybe not daily, but several times a week, we’ll jot down things we’ve seen or heard.
But weeks have passed since I reread the passage, and I’d forgotten that last line—the “marrying of the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.” That’s exactly what we’d just been talking about with the Hauge poem, and what we talked about yesterday. The way he expresses a single image that speaks vividly both as a literal description (in a way that makes your breath catch) and as a reflection on some aspect of human experience. “Marrying the sacred to the world” is what Hauge does best.
So: part intention, part serendipity. The best kind of high-tide morning.
A postscript added after I made today’s recording—listening to the Linda Gregg passage read aloud, I got to “the art of finding” and went Oh of course! And made a note to let tomorrow’s poem be Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Another connection.
Thought I’d share a few of the books I’ve tossed/will be tossing Beanie’s way during our 20th Century History studies…
Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy’s family, ever supportive of her writerly dreams, sends her on a trip to Europe in 1913. Venice, Germany, England. She’s in London when the Great War begins.
Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. Always and forever one of my favorite books. Life on P.E.I. during WWI, with beloved brothers…and Ken Ford…away at the front.
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. When you hit the Roaring 20s, you gotta read Cheaper by the Dozen. That’s practically a Law of Homeschooling.
A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller. This was one of my favorite reads during the CYBILs 2014 judging: the story of an English girl who gets involuntarily (at first) swept up in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Lost by Jacqueline Davies. Wrenching story (how could it not be?) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time, long before we encountered this book! “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.
Well, I was sure I had posted a video of Huck reading this book last March. He was enchanted by the story from the first—a little step-by-step guide to enjoying a book with your best reading buddy, charmingly illustrated—and one day I caught him reading it out loud to himself, putting in all the voices. ::melt:
Another of the texts Beanie, Rose, and I are using for our 20th-century history studies. We continue to enjoy reading history texts aloud together, which allows us all to stay on the same page (literally) and—even more important—fosters discussion and fruitful rabbit trailing. We try to reserve two 45-minute blocks a week for this, supplementing with other books (including graphic novels, historical fiction, and biographies) and videos.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. Review copy received from publisher. Read to: Huck.
Gorgeous art in this sweetly captivating tale of a boy who, wandering the sterile streets of a bleak city, finds a little outpost of thriving weeds and wildflowers on an abandoned elevated rail track. He begins quietly tending the green and growing things, and his found garden begins to spread, gradually transforming the city—and its people.
We’ve loved every Peter Brown book that has walked through our doors, and this was no exception. It’s the art that makes it magical, the wave of vibrant green creeping across the city. Makes a lovely companion to an older picture book that has long been a favorite here: This Is Your Garden by Maggie Smith (now out of print, alas, but available used).
Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion Books, to be published Sept. 15, 2105. Advanced review copy received from publisher via Netgalley. Read by: me.
Middle-grade horror story about a (formerly) wealthy Connecticut family who moves into an old West Virginia house near a haunted cabin in the woods. Every fifty years an evil, ancient ghost—known locally as Auntie—kidnaps and ensorcels a young girl. The main character is Daniel, a 13-year-0ld boy who doesn’t believe the wild tales he hears from kids at school—until his little sister goes missing. A suitably creepy tale which will appeal to readers of Vivian Vande Velde’s Stolen.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. HarperTrophy. My copy: purchased with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school—with a dream in my heart of one day having children to read it to. Read to: Huck and Rilla (chapters 1-4).
After we finished Winnie-the-Pooh, my youngests picked this for their next read-aloud. Great joy is mine because they are the perfect ages (six and nine), just absolutely perfect.
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. Harcourt Young Classics. My copy purchased when Jane was about eight years old. Read to: Rilla.
This was Rilla’s first read-aloud pick from the Rillabook shelf. She was quite keen to have me read it just to her (no brothers involved). She giggled mightily over the meet-cute of Mr. and Mrs. Pye (with Jane popping in to shriek over the startling fact—which went over her head at age eight—that Mrs. Pye was just seventeen when she married. We began this book the day after Rose’s seventeenth birthday, which put it into stark perspective). Methinks Rilla and I will have fun with this. I’m not sure I’ve read it aloud since that first time (gulp) twelve years ago.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Read to: Huck and Rilla. Rose’s copy, purchased some years ago to replace her first copy, which was read to tatters. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
Monday and Friday are our Greek Myths days. This week’s selections were about Hera and Io, and Hephaestus and Aphrodite.
Tuesday and Thursday are folk and fairy tale days.* This week, they picked “Tortoise Brings Food: A Story from Africa.” A grumble with this otherwise charming book: that nonspecific from Africa. The other stories are “from Greece,” England, Finland, Puerto Rica, Australia, Wales, Japan, and so on. How about “from Kenya” or Ethiopia or Nigeria? Native American stories get a similarly vague treatment: “from North America.” I’d like a word with this book’s editor. But the stories themselves are amiably written and a good size for reading aloud.
*Any day is a great day for a fairy tale or Greek myth. I just assign them days in my head to ensure that I make the time. The kids don’t know about it.
Among the Dolls by William Sleator. Knopf Books for Young Readers. An old copy I brought home from work. Read by: Rilla.
Me: So how do you like it so far?
Rilla, emphatically: I DON’T.
Me: Too scary?
Rilla: It’s terrible! She’s trapped in the dollhouse and they’re being mean to her AND HER MOTHER WALKED RIGHT BY WITHOUT EVEN HEARING HER.
Me: Are you going to keep reading?
Rilla: ::doesn’t hear me, is already immersed again::
This is a digest-sized compilation of several Batman Adventures stories. The Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures comics of the 90s were aimed at kids, unlike most Batman comics. It’s nice to see them a book-sized edition that can survive on a library shelf.
Huck enjoyed this collection too, and it only took him five times through to notice that his daddy was listed as an author.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Books. Copies received from publisher. Read by: me. On deck for Rose this week. Bean has already read them.
Gene is a friend of ours whom we see far too seldom (mainly at SDCC). He is spectacularly talented, but no one on the internet needs me to tell them that. I’d been meaning to read Boxers & Saints, his graphic novel duo about the Boxer Rebellion—told from two different points of view, thus the two books—since the day they were announced. Reaching this time period in my teen’s history studies meant now was the perfect time. Deeply absorbing, unsettling, moving, and educational. I always appreciate Gene’s thoughtful exploration of people’s motivations, and the fearless way he unpacks his characters flaws along with their strengths. Beautiful, beautiful books. Highly recommended.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Audiobook. Listened to by: Rilla and me.
The current pick for our Saturday night sketchbook date. After all the Roald Dahl we enjoyed all summer, this Streatfeild gem got off to a bit of a slow start for Rilla, but she’s well and truly hooked now. Hilary is about to perform her Dulcie-Pulsie dance in the talent competition. Pulses racing. Delicious.
Woolf is one of my gaps, which is odd when I think of it—she’s so right for me. I’m sure we did A Room of One’s Own in women’s lit, but somehow she never appeared on a syllabus after that. I’ve been determined to rectify this glaring omission and this summer I have finally found the time. And OH MY. She’s just…she…I want to quote everything. Her prose—I mean, I knew that about her. But only from the outside. Now I’m inside and I can barely speak. I’ve highlighted so many passages, it’s a bit ridiculous. I’ll pull some quotes into a commonplace book when I can.
Scott is rereading Sandman, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what my older girls are reading these days—I can only keep up with so much. Rose got a bunch of T.A. Barron’s Merlin novels for her birthday, I know that. (Since I wrapped them.) 😉 Beanie pops up with interesting tidbits gleaned from National Geographic (her favorite magazine). Jane was toiling through some Kant in preparation for a philosophy class she’ll take at school this year. I’ve also seen some Maggie Stiefvater in her library pile.
Do you know, I thought this would be a quick and easy post? I’d just dash off a list of things read around the house this past week. Turns out I am delusional. But it was fun!
MEMRISE. Free for computer, iOS, Android. Excellent for building vocabulary, not so much a grammar tool. (But read on.) You pick any of a multitude of courses in your target language. In small batches, words appear on your screen along with “mems,” mnemonic devices created by other users to help you remember the word. The best mems create some kind of visual image that helps fix the word in your mind, the way I was taught as a kid in the 80s to remember that Caspar Weinberger was Secretary of Defense by picturing Caspar the Unfriendly Ghost defending a bottle of wine and a hamburger. I don’t remember which teacher planted that image, but the picture is still vivid. That’s what the Memrise folks call a mem.
You can scroll through all the existing user-created mems for each word or phrase, and if you don’t like any of the choices you can create one of your own. The interface makes it easy to select a public-domain image, and then you add whatever text you want. Here’s a mem I made to help me identify Chad on a map of the Countries of Africa:
It’s corny but it works. Not all mems have an image attached; a good word-picture can help just as readily. I remember Ceuta on the map (a place I’d never heard of until taking this course; an autonomous Spanish city on the North African coast across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain) by thinking of the Spanish pronunciation —thay-uta—and using the mem “they oota be in Europe but they’re in Africa instead.” Again, not exactly the height of cleverness but it was the hook I needed to remember how to spell the name of the city.
Rose, whose favorite pastime, I kid you not, is learning the first chunk of a new language, has absorbed beginner vocab in Dutch, Welsh, Russian, Hungarian, Italian, and who knows what else, in between her longer-term progress through a 1000 Spanish Words course. I’m taking several different German courses simultaneously—you can move as quickly or as slowly as you want. I too have a “1000 Words” course I use as my primary focus to add vocabulary, but there’s a “German Conversation” course as well that has lots of useful longer phrases like “I couldn’t care less,” “I completely agree with you,” and “he’s so reliable you could build houses on him.” Then there’s the short course on prepositions I whisked through as a review, and a challenging one on verb conjugations. And then—slowly, oh so slowly! probably only a hundred words over the course of a year!—I’m using the vast and comprehensive 5000 German words course which is packed with upper-level vocabulary.
But then, I thrive on variety. Other users might prefer to move steadily through one course at a time. There’s a fair amount of overlap in my assortment of courses, which helps cement things in my mind, but I can see that it might feel redundant or confusing to others.
Regarding mems for language, I’ve found that the best kind are those that help me work from the English to the German. I can usually remember the English meaning of a German word after a couple of repetitions, but it’s much harder for me to look at English and grope for its German counterpart. The majority of user-created mems seem to work the opposite direction—they’ll start with the German and use English puns to link the word to the English. For example, here’s a text-only mem I made for aufhören, German for “to stop doing something”:
It didn’t really work for me, not after some weeks away from the program. I couldn’t look at the English definition and get to the German word. What I really needed was something that starts with “stop doing something” and gets to “aufhören.” In this case, I tried to enhance the mental picture that goes with the above mem: I picture a Stop sign with Alf the TV alien perched on top holding a phone—the phone because the “hören” part reminds me of Auf Wiederhören, “until I talk to you again,” which you say when getting off the phone. Now, this revised image is working pretty well for me—but it requires me to remember to use the “stop” in “stop doing something” as my jumping-off point for memory. Will I remember that if I come across the word in another context a year from now? I don’t know. I do know that a vivid and specific mental image makes a tremendous difference in my ability to connect words in two different languages, and that after some repetition, the word is transferred to my permanent memory and I don’t need to rely on the mnemonic device anymore.
This repetition is part of what makes Memrise so successful: the program works by giving you the words at ever-increasing intervals as you demonstrate mastery. First you “plant” the words, a few at a time, and they give you a lot of interactions with it in different ways—English to German, German to English, multiple choice, type it in. This process only takes a few minutes for each new batch of words.
Here’s one example:
Now the words are planted in your short-term memory. Memrise locks them for a few hours (sort of—you can override the lock by clicking “overwater” for extra practice). After that, they are ready for “watering”—you come back and review them again. If you get a word right on the first attempt, next time there will be a longer interval before it’s ready for watering. Eventually, as the words move from short-term to long-term memory, the intervals may be many days long.
As you can see, most of the words in this lesson are in my long-term memory and don’t need “watering” (reviewing) for several days or even weeks. A phrase I missed yesterday, “auf diese Weise,” is ready for watering now. “Auf,” a common preposition I learned decades ago, is (obviously) in my long-term memory and only comes around every few weeks. If I wanted, I could tell Memrise to ignore it altogether—there’s a setting you can click that means I’ve got this one down and never need to review it again. I certainly don’t need “auch,” a word I learned on day one of German, popping up in my word list. I don’t always bother to mark words “ignore,” though, since it’s an extra step.
I mentioned above that what Memrise excels at is teaching you vocabulary, but it’s not as strong at conveying grammar. You won’t necessarily learn word order or grammatical cases from this program—for that we use other resources like Duolingo (about which, more in a future post). But what my kids and I have found is that Memrise is invaluable for building our vocabulary, and grammar is so much easier to nail down when you have a big word list to draw from. And when I was really struggling to keep straight which prepositions take which cases for object nouns, Memrise came to my rescue. I found a German course that focuses on that very thing—you have to enter +A or +D after each verb-preposition combo to indicate whether the noun will take accusative or dative. That’s the kind of drill I need to take me to the next level of fluency. I’ve been stuck in the middle of Level B1 (going by the Goethe Institut’s fluency scale) ever since college. My periodic reimmersions in German have prevented me from losing what skill I’d gained, but to move forward toward real fluency I need some more intensive drill. This course is helping shift my recall from groping to automatic.
How much time does Memrise take? It can be as little as five minutes a day, if you want—plant a couple of new words, maybe water some of your older ones. I tend to go in intense bursts of activity with long lulls between them—sometimes many weeks will pass without my checking in, and that’s fine. The whole point of the program is to plant the words in long-term memory. If I’ve forgotten them—the app can tell by how I answer—they get pushed back into a more active, frequent rotation in the list.
During my intense bursts, I add new words, level by level. Then, when my focus inevitably shifts elsewhere, I stop accruing new vocabulary but the program is there to help me maintain the vocab I’ve got. “Watering” your words can be really relaxing and addictive. Some people play Candy Crush; I water my German verbs.
The iPhone app is pretty sharp. I like to check in last thing before I go to sleep and see if any of my words need watering. It’s a good waiting-room activity, too, since the courses I’m taking work fine with the sound turned off.
Okay, I’ve talked a lot about how I use Memrise for my own learning. What about the kids?
My younger kids are very interested in it; Rilla begs to use it for French, but it’s a skitch above her level. Her spelling isn’t strong enough yet for her to be able to easily enter answers in English, let alone French. Also, and significantly, Memrise is designed for adults, and the mems are created by adult users, which means that occasionally you come across one that’s a bit off-color. For these reasons, I think it’s better saved for kids 13 and up, depending on your parental comfort level. For us, 12 or 13 is a good threshold.
Before heading off to college, Jane used Memrise to learn Japanese kanji. Rose, as I said, likes it best as a way to experience a wide variety of languages. She’s very interested in language and linguistics, and Memrise has allowed her easily to explore the rudiments of more tongues than I can keep track of. Meanwhile, she’s making steady progress through her Memrise Spanish course, which we supplement with a grammar workbook. (She’s not keen on Duolingo. Beanie and I love it.)
Also, Rose doesn’t bother with mems. She says she remembers better without them. What clicks for her is Memrise’s repetition cycle, the way the words you’re weakest on will appear more frequently in your practice sessions.
Beanie, like me, is into German. She does about 15 minutes of Memrise a day, 4-5 days a week. Her vocabulary is growing steadily and the program has the advantage of building excellent spelling skills as well.
There are also Memrise courses for the SAT and other college admissions tests, including SAT vocab builders. You can create brand new courses, too, and make them private or public as you choose. (Choose: wählen, she CHOOSES to wear a VEIL IN church. That’s someone else’s mem but it worked like a charm for me.) If I hadn’t found a course with the verb-preposition-case info I wanted, I was thinking about creating my own. I’m always happy, though, when someone else does the leg work. 🙂
The girls and I are having a good time with Chaucer. We’re making our way through the Prologue—slowly; this is a slow reading—using the Norton Anthology of Poetry because it’s conveniently marked up with my notes from college, as well as having decent footnotes to help us along with the Middle English. I was delighted to discover I could still quote the opening lines, thanks to my wonderful Medieval Lit prof, Dr. John Krause. Now Rose and Beanie are learning them, which makes me six kinds of happy.
I’m reading aloud relevant bits of Marshall’s English Literature for Boys and Girls for background and color, some of which gives us a good laugh, since Marshall feels compelled to reassure her young readers that she isn’t going to scandalize them with the unsavory stuff, but perhaps they will appreciate it in context when they are older. Today this led to a discussion of Victorian* sensibilities and occasional outbursts of “Your ankle is showing!” (Perhaps you had to be there. We were crying laughing.)
(*English Literature for Boys and Girls was published in 1909, so isn’t itself Victorian, but Marshall’s tone very often is, and amusingly so. “Some of these stories you will like to read, but others are too coarse and rude to give you any pleasure. Even the roughness of these tales, however, helps us to picture the England of those far-off days. We see from them how hard and rough the life must have been when people found humor and fun in jokes in which we can feel only disgust.” Er, no, Henrietta, I think a casual meandering through YouTube will make a strong case for the enduring appeal of “coarse and rude” content.)
This morning’s passage was some more of the prologue—we haven’t met all the travelers yet; we’re doing a slow reading—and then “The Complaynt of Chaucer to His Purse,” which my daughters, the offspring of two freelance writers, understood all too well. 😉 After we finish the prologue, we’ll read two Tales together. Chanticleer, I think, because the girls know it from the Barbara Cooney book and I expect they’ll enjoy hearing the original, and one other I haven’t decided upon yet. And then they can read the rest on their own, if they like.
My favorite part of our discussion today was in regard to Chaucer’s apologia for the Miller’s Tale:
What should I more say but this miller He would his words for no man forbear, But told his churls tale in his manner. Me thinketh that I shall rehearse it here; And therefore every gently wight I pray, For Goddes love deem not that I say Of evil intent, but for I might rehearse Their tales all, be they better or worse, Or else falsen some of my matter…
(To borrow Marshall’s translation, since I had the tab open already)
We talked about how every writer of fiction (and biography, memoir, many other forms) has to grapple with this same challenge, and how gratifying it is to me to see Chaucer dealing with it way back in the 14th century. Sometimes our characters must say and do things we, personally, find distressing or even offensive. This has been the hardest part of writing my current novel, actually. It’s historical fiction and though I wish my characters were more enlightened on several points, I must be true to the time, must let these people tell their stories authentically “or else falsen some of my matter.” One of the chief parts of my job is climbing inside these unfamiliar skins and attempting to walk some miles in them. I inch my way in and find Chaucer has already been there.
This year, “Urgent Request” from The Eternal Smile (written by Gene; illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim) won the Eisner for best short story, which is very exciting. To my amusement, at the very moment I was paging through Eternal Smile, I looked up and there was Gene with his family at the First Second booth. He and his wife had their three small children in tow—Gene was wearing the baby in a front-carrier, a heartwarming sight. We chatted briefly; it was a delight to meet them.
• Back to First Second Books. Other titles that caught my eye:
—Cat Burglar Black
—Adventures in Cartooning—we’ve checked this out from the library, big hit with my kids, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before
—Foiled (Jane Yolen)—has been on my TBR list, even more appealing in person, wonderful art
—The Color of Water
• Hill & Wang, an imprint of Macmillan. Boy was I impressed with these folks! They’re publishing nonfiction graphic novels on a somewhat stunning range of topics. Author Jonathan Hennessy gave me a copy of The United States Constitution—that’s right, it’s the Constitution in graphic novel form—and when I brought it home to Jane, she devoured it the next day. She’s raving about it; I’ll write more when I’ve had a chance to review it myself.
—The Cartoon Guide to Economics. I went back to the booth on Sunday to buy this—I usually save my purchases for the last day so I don’t have to lug stuff around for too long—and dadgummit, it was sold out. But it’s on my list of must-haves for Jane. And I hear there’s a Cartoon Guide to Statistics on the way…
—The 9/11 Report. Scott bought a copy of this. He’s excited.
—The Stuff of Life, “a graphic guide to genetics and DNA” with art by one of my favorite Comic-Con pals, Zander Cannon. There’s a sequel on evolution forthcoming soon.
—Biographies of Isadora Duncan, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover, Che Guevara. We came home with the Duncan bio; Jane enjoyed it; more on that one later too.
—Anne Frank: The Authorized Graphic Biography. Arresting art. I’m eager to take a closer look at this one.
—The Beats, a graphic history of the beat poets with text by Harvey Pekar.
OK, that’s a lot for one post. More to come in a follow-up.
More on SDCC 2010: