Category Archives: Memories of the Greats

Happy National Popcorn Day

Clearly, I know what snack I’m making tonight.

My love of popcorn goes back to my childhood. Popcorn was a treat I’d get sometimes (most often served with orange juice) while watching The Muppet Show. We didn’t get the popcorn maker out all that often, so it was special when we did.

popcorn-bookI also read Tomie dePaola’s “The Popcorn Book” (a 1978 classic) many times over as a kid. When I was home for the holidays, I was sorting through some of my things left in the attic and I found my copy. It’s beat up from the multiple readings and the 20 years (at least) boxed up and hidden away in the attic, suffering through the heat/cold changes of that space.

As I flipped through the book, I was amazed at how much of it I remembered.

The book also taught (re-taught) me that I’m storing my popcorn kernels all wrong, as I don’t have them in an airtight container. My solution for that, currently, is just to eat up what I’ve got.

P.S. Tomorrow is National Cheese Day. I’ll celebrate that one too.


New readers

My best friend texted me the other day:

I couldn’t find I– this morning, he wasn’t eating breakfast with everyone. I figured he was sleeping in, cause he was really tired yesterday. But when I checked on him, he was in his bed reading “The Castle of Llyr.”
I perked up at this quite a bit.
prydainI– hasn’t been the most voracious reader yet so him choosing this is heartening. AND, he picked Lloyd Alexander’s great Prydain Chronicles.
For me, this series helped open up a whole world of reading. I bought the second book, The Black Cauldron, through one of those Scholastic book sale flier things the school would send home. I was in third-grade. I started reading it, realized I was lost and learned about series where the books are connected, not like Baby-Sitters Club where I could read out of order.
Lloyd Alexander’s books led me to lots of other things. It was a pretty short jump from there to Madeleine L’Engle. The Hobbit wasn’t far behind. I re-read the Prydain books multiple times. For some school project where we had to write a letter to an author, I sent one to Mr. Alexander. He sent back a helpful pronunciation guide to all the Welsh names.
My best friend had the similar thing happen for her with the Alexander books. We’re both pretty excited for I–, that this will help unlock a world of reading for him the way it did for us.


gat coeditor last edited



 July 11, 2004 (adoption date; age unknown) – September 13, 2013

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Tropes and expectations

Yesterday was Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday. Thank goodness because without him there’d be no Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes.446benedict_cumberbatch

Last year, I read the “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,”  the first collection of short stories to compare them to the BBC adaptations. Last week, I went back to the beginning for “A Study in Scarlet.” I read part I and then life waylaid me for days before I could get to part II, more than just glancing that instead of being in London, the reader was suddenly in Utah with Mormons.

In an email to a friend, something came up about the switch in setting to which I replied, “Well, skimming told me they were related,” and my friend expressed surprise. So I looked again, and saw the first few grafs didn’t tell me that at all. (Grafs. Sheesh. Sorry, recovering journalist here — paragraphs.)

What I realized was that I’d stumbled into was the beginning of the modern mystery: Two seemingly disparate sets of events and characters that are inextricably linked in the solving of the crime. I don’t know if Conan Doyle invented that technique. But, as a reader of modern crime novels, I took the trope I knew and put it on top of an older work. The two stories had to be related (which they were) because that’s how it works now.

For a reader in 1886, maybe that technique was stunning.

There are literature types, I’m sure, who have written dissertations on how the modern crime novel detective has evolved from Sherlock Holmes and his investigative methods. I don’t need to cover that ground.

It’s just a good reminder as a reader (an aspiring writer) that we all bring things to the books we read. Tropes, yes, but maybe more accurately, it’s about expectations. My writers group harangued a fellow writer in her mystery book because nobody died until chapter five or six. We were expecting a body in the first chapter, if not on the first page.

Setting readers expectations up to be unmet can be good, or could be a disaster. Yes, surprise can be good. It’s also a place for emotion, for example, when a character I was certain would live through Andrew Grant’s “Even” didn’t make it, I was shocked. My expectations were unmet and I had to adapt to that. But imagine a chick lit book where the heroine didn’t break up, didn’t drink too much some night with the  best friend, didn’t get into some goofy costume or something to meet the new man, (we would suddenly call it literary fiction!) our expectations for what we were reading would be horribly unmet.

In 1886, I can imagine a reader thinking the shift in Conan Doyle’s story was jarring and unwelcoming. Until they saw how it fit together and might have developed a new set of expectations for this new kind of crime fiction.

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Musical stories

In addition to growing up in a household that valued reading, I also got a healthy dose of classical music appreciation too. My grandmother was a retired music teacher/band director and my father had an impressive collection of classical records.

I remember I had a cassette tape that my grandmother gave me of Leonard Bernstein’s children’s classics — The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Carnival of the Animals, and of course, Peter and the Wolf. I’m pretty sure I wore that tape out, I played it so often!

All these pieces told great stories. From there, I grew up into works like Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition that tell stories just the way the pieces for “kids” do.

Still, Peter and the Wolf and its familiar themes is one of my favorites.

In case you’ve never heard this great piece, or just want a refresher, here’s a fantastic version narrated by David Bowie! Sit in a comfortable chair and enjoy Peter’s adventure. It’s all on YouTube in several segments… each is linked here.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV (There’s 2 minutes of Britten at the end of this, so here’s the real thing! )


Loss of another great

The NY Times is reporting that beloved children’s book author Maurice Sendak died yesterday.

A moment of silence, please, for the loss of this bright imagination that sparked so much creativity and inspired so many kids.