Category Archives: Authors and Books

What’s In a [Pen] Name?

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Originally published Dec 4, 2015

“Pseudonym” comes from the Greek pseudonymos, meaning “having a false name, under a false name,” and writers have used pseudonyms or pen names for centuries. Everybody knows that “Mark Twain” was the pen name for Samuel Clemens, and by now most readers have figured out that “Robert Galbraith” (The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) is a pseudonym for Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. But did you know that “J.K. Rowling” is also a pseudonym? Rowling’s real name is Joanne (no middle initial) Rowling! Why would an author choose to write under a different name? And just who are some of these writers who’ve pulled the literary wool over readers’ eyes with alternate identities?

To Conceal Gender

wuthering heights book cover

One of the most common reasons for writing under an assumed name is to conceal the author’s gender. Women writers simply weren’t always taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and some of the most celebrated authors of all times had to use masculine pen names to insure their works were given the same consideration as male writers, or even be published at all. Among the most famous are the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Charlotte published her works, including the classic Jane Eyre, under the male pen name “Currer Bell.” Emily used “Ellis Bell” for her masterpiece Wuthering Heights, while Anne wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as “Acton Bell.”

To Conceal Identity

warlock

Louisa May Alcott published her most famous work, Little Women, under her real name, but she began her career writing as “A.M. Barnard.” Mary Ann Evans began writing as “George Eliot” to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the Victorian era. She revealed her true identity after her novel Adam Bede was well-received, but continued using her pen name for her other works, including Middlemarch. Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, is better known as “Isak Dinesen.” Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin is famous as “George Sand.” Women writers still use male or androgynous pen names. Science fiction novelist Alice Mary Norton wrote as “Andre Norton” to increase her marketability with her primarily male audience. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter publishers urged her to use initials instead of her real name Joanne for fear the target audience of young boys wouldn’t read something written by a woman. Jane Austen hid her identity but not her gender when she published Sense and Sensibility as “A Lady.”

To Switch Genres

mcbain book cover

Sometimes writers known for specific genres just want to try something different, which can be confusing and off-setting to their faithful readers. So they choose to use pen names. Mystery writer Agatha Christie also wrote romance novels as “Mary Westmacott.” Nora Roberts, mainly known for her romance novels, branched out into science fiction as “J.D. Robb.” Anne Rice, famous for her Vampire Chronicles, writes erotic fiction as “A.N. Roquelaure” and “Anne Rampling.” (For the record, her real name is Howard Allen O’Brien, so “Anne Rice” is also a pen name.)

J.K. Rowling wrote her adult mysteries The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm as “Robert Galbraith” to “publish without hype or expectation” and received unbiased reviews from critics without the preconceived notions her name carries. Novelist Evan Hunter (born Salvatore Albert Lombino) saw his most success writing crime fiction as “Ed McBain” (the 87th Precinct series). Hunter’s 2005 New York Times obituary explained that McBain and Hunter bylines were kept very separate “to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter’s ‘serious’ books might feel when exposed to the ‘mayhem, bloodshed, and violence’ that were Ed McBain’s meat and drink.” Isaac Asimov, best known for his popular science and science fiction works, wrote a series of juvenile sci-fi novels as “Paul French.” Poet Cecil Day-Lewis published detective novels as “Nicholas Blake.”

To Avoid Saturating The Market

the regulators book cover

Early in Stephen King’s career, his publishers felt writers should be limited to putting out only one book a year. To get around this restriction, he created “Richard Bachman.” He came up with the name while on the phone with his publisher – he had a Richard Stark novel on his desk and a Bachman Turner Overdrive song was playing. King wrote four novels as Bachman but once his cover was blown, he declared Bachman dead of “cancer of the pseudonym.”

A more extreme example is provided by horror master Dean Koontz. Throughout the 1970s, Koontz published as many as eight books a year, and since his editors told him that writing in different genres under the same name was a bad idea, and risked serious overexposure, he chose some aliases: “Aaron Wolfe,” “Brian Coffey,” “David Axton,” “Deanna Dwyer,” “John Hill,” “K.R. Dwyer,” “Leigh Nichols,” “Anthony North,” “Owen West,” and “Richard Paige.” Koontz is suspected of using other names as well, but only admits to writing under these ten pen names.

To Separate A Writing Career From A “Day Job”5180sUOPy3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Nevil Shute Norway published his novels, including A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, as “Nevil Shute” to protect his aeronautical engineering and business careers. Renowned Egyptologist Dr. Barbara Mertz is better known as “Elizabeth Peters,” writer of the bestselling Amelia Peabody mystery series. Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverly and other novels anonymously to protect his reputation as a poet. “Ann Landers” was a pen name created by the popular advice column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who didn’t want it confused with another column she was writing about child care. Joe Klein, TIME magazine political columnist, wrote the novel Primary Colors, based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, as “Anonymous” and went to great lengths to protect his true identity.

As a Pen Name for a Group of WritersHardy-Boys

It turns out that some well-known writers never existed at all! The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon was written instead by several ghostwriters. Likewise, the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls series were not the work of Carolyn Keene, who didn’t exist, but by different ghostwriters. Laura Lee Hope, credited with The Bobbsey Twins series, was also just a pseudonym for several ghostwriters.

 

No matter why a writer chooses to use a pseudonym, whether to mask gender, explore different genres, or maintain professional and personal privacy, key results are the unlocking of creativity, the freedom to write as one pleases, and the opportunity to have one’s work made available to readers. Without the use of pen names, some of literature’s greatest masterpieces (and works of popular fiction) might never have been written or published.

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Self-Published Poets

By Shannon Owens, Reference Department,

Walt Whitman

Using the lens of today’s microscope, hearing the term “self-published author” is pretty commonplace. With technology being what it is, anybody can publish their work online. It’s easy to forget that this designation can be applied to many of the most famous writers, dating back generations. Point of fact: Walt Whitman self-published his masterpiece collection of poetry. “Leaves of Grass” was first published in 1855; a simple volume with a mere twelve poems. Whitman continued to add new poems, change titles, and regroup poems up until his final, “deathbed” ninth volume 1891-1892. This had turned into a daunting collection, comprised of nearly 400 poems. Whitman influenced several famous poets, including Allen Ginsburg, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. He never backed away from controversial (at least for the 1800s) topics and changed the game with his unusual rhyme, meter, and cadence patterns.

Today, poetry has seen an epic resurgence of popularity. This is encouraging, given that we’re so inundated with technology of the instant gratification sort: internet, podcasts, Instagram, Netflix, etc. It’s sometimes shocking that people find the time to simply sit down and read a book. Maybe it stands to reason that poetry is the perfect literary hallmark, given that it lends itself to brevity and creativity. Heck, some of today’s most popular poets have gained major steam using that aforementioned source: Instagram. If you’re a poetry connoisseur or just interested in dipping your toe into the poetry waters, we’ve got some great current poets to check out!

Rupi Kaur reading from her book milk and honey in Vancouver – 2017

Rupi Kaur is one of those poets whose poetry is all over Instagram. She’s already a number one New York Times bestseller, with her first collected work, “Milk and Honey”, selling over a million copies. In fact, it’s been translated into 40 languages and has knocked Homer’s “The Odyssey” out of its position as the bestselling poetry book of all time. In 2017, Kaur released her second volume of poetry entitled “The Sun and Her Flowers.” She tackles tough issues familiar to all: love, loss, and trauma.

Tracy K. Smith is the author of four books of poetry, most recently releasing “Wade in the Water” (2018). Her resume and accolades are staggering. She received her BA from Harvard and a MFA in creative writing from Columbia. “Life on Mars” (2011) went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship and in 2017 she was named U.S. poet laureate. Her memoir, “Ordinary Light”, was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. Academy of American Poets Chancellor, Toi Derricotte, summed Smith’s work up best: “The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes.”

Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on a rice farm. When he was two years old (1990), he immigrated with his family to Connecticut (after spending a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines.) Despite the tender age in which this occurred, one suspects his background influences his work, which seems to explore themes of transformation and traumatic loss. Vuong earned his BA at Brooklyn College and is now works for the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His collection, “Night Sky with Exit Wounds,” was the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2018. He has had works translated into Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, and Hindi.

Mary Oliver is a fitting final mention, given that she has drawn widespread comparisons to Walt Whitman himself. Her poetry focuses primarily on nature, with a particular regard for the quiet aspects and moments it holds. Her fifth book (“American Primitive”) was written in 1983 and won the Pulitzer Prize. “New and Selected Poems” (1992) was the recipient of the National Book Award. She was a prolific writer, producing a new book or collection every one-two years. Her last release (2017) was a greatest hits of sorts entitled “Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver” and can be found at a bookstore or library near you. Oliver passed away at the age of 83 earlier this year.

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Grab Your Library Card, and Glass Slippers and Come On a Cultural Journey!

By Stephanie Wycihowski, Youth Services Manager and Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

It’s Elsa! It’s Moana! It’s Jasmine!  What do they have in common?  They’re Disney Princesses!

Growing up in American culture means that not only are we familiar with the Disney Princesses, we are inundated with them. And it all really started with the famous Cinderella; a mistreated girl forced into servitude by her evil step-family, who eventually finds love (and an escape) with a charming handsome prince.  Cinderella was released after 2 years of production on February 15, 1950, a full 13 years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and after having been “in the works” since 1933.  It was one of the few great commercial hits of that time period for Disney and was also nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound Recording, Best Music Original Song for Bippidi-Bobbidi-Boo, and Best Music Scoring of a Musical Picture.  Unfortunately, the movie lost in all three categories even though the music was innovative in their use of vocal multi-tracks.  And while Snow White may hold the title of the First Princess, it wasn’t until Walt Disney saw the success of and money made from Cinderella that he became more interested in creating more Princess stories (Sleeping Beauty anyone?), partly because if it hadn’t been for Cinderella, Disney might have lost his company due to bankruptcy.

However, this innovative animated musical wasn’t as creative with it’s story since the princess was actually introduced centuries ago in foklore and oral stories, which is a trend continued today for most princesses.  Cinderella was based on the fairy tale Cendrillon by Charles Perrault published in 1697, which was a retelling of the story Cenerentola by Giambattista Basile. Actually, Perrault’s version was unique because of the addition of new story elements, such as the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage, and the glass slippers. These elements, incorporated into the Disney movie, are now ubiquitous to most of the Cinderella modern retellings and the glass slippers are basically synonymous with her name.

Who would have guessed French author Charles Perrault and Walt Disney would have created a vast and enduring love for Cinderella? Since 1950, an abundance of authors from around the world have been inspired over the generations to create their own retellings that share similarities to the original story, and culturally significant differences unique to their corners of the world. According to Mary Northrup, “most of the stories include an evil stepmother and stepsister(s), a dead mother, a dead or ineffective father, some sort of gathering such as a ball or festival, mutual attraction with a person of high status, a lost article, and a search that ends with success”.

Williamson County Public Library offers your families the opportunity to explore many of these unique Cinderella stories from around the world right here within our Youth Services Collection. Let’s us explore a sampling of some of these retellings from around the world.

Souci, San Robert.  Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story. Illus. by Daniel San Souci. This tale features a girl who is overworked by her sisters and who wishes to meet the invisible warrior. Because of her goodness and inner vision she sees him and becomes his bride.

Adapted by Jewell Reinhart Coburn. Illus. by Connie McLennan. Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition The emphasis in this story is on Domitila’s accomplishments as a cook and leather artist, skills enhanced by the love her mother taught her to include in every task she undertook. It is her dead mother’s spirit and the legacy of her training on which Domitila depends, not a fairy godmother. The rich young man who searches for her is at first enamored of Domitila’s cooking, but learns to appreciate and love her deeper qualities.

Louie, Ai-Ling. Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China. Illus. by Ed Young. Here the hardworking and lovely girl befriends a fish, which is killed by her stepmother. Yeh-Shen saves the bones, which are magic, and they help her dress appropriately for a festival. When she loses her slipper after a fast exit, the king finds her and falls in love with her. This sad and beautiful story, with gentle illustrations, is retold from one of the oldest Cinderella stories.

Climo, Shirley. The Egyptian Cinderella. Illus. by Ruth Heller. In this version of Cinderella set in Egypt in the sixth century B.C., Rhodopes, a slave girl, eventually comes to be chosen by the Pharaoh to be his queen.

Climo, Shirley. The Korean Cinderella In this version of Cinderella set in ancient Korea, Pear Blossom, a stepchild, eventually comes to be chosen by the magistrate to be his wife.

Climo, Shirley. The Irish Cinderlad this version retells an age-old Irish tale that is an unusual twist on the popular Cinderella story. Just like his female counterpart, Becan has a mean stepmother and stepsisters. Unlike Cinderella, Becan has large feet and a magical bull for a fairy godmother. He defeats a sword-swinging giant, slays a fire-breathing dragon, and rescues a princess.

Steptoe, John. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters Nyasha must put up with a nagging, bad-tempered sister. But when both girls are tested, Nyasha’s kindness wins her the prince. Breathtaking illustrations crown this intriguing story with a twist at the end.

Hickox, Rebecca. The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story. Illus. by Will Hillenbrand. Maha, who works hard for her stepmother and stepsister, receives a gown of silk and golden sandals from a magic fish to wear to a wedding. This lively story will have listeners enthralled. Illustrations give a real flavor of the Middle East, with a touch of humor. An author’s note includes comments on derivations of the Cinderella story and references to Middle Eastern versions of the tale

You may think you know the Cinderella story in America but, I encourage you to take this opportunity to use your library card and visit the Williamson County Public Library.  Your Library card is your passport guide to a unique and culturally diverse journey through the eyes of these special characters on their own personal quests for love, acceptance, and happiness, within their own countries!


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John Grisham Read-a-Likes

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

We all know the feeling.  You just finished a book you really liked and now you want to read a book just like it or at least comparable.  I know from experience that I am always so happy when there is another book in the series, and I can read something that feels the same.  But what do you do when the book is not part of a series??  How do you find something new to read??

Books Are Magic

Nancy Pearl (Big Library Guru)’s says that we like read-a-likes because we want a book just like the one we finished reading.  We want to recreate the pleasure and thrill of reading, the page-turning, the headlong rush to the end.  Perhaps it was the setting or what we learned.  Sometimes we can’t put a finger on it, but we know we want that feeling again.

Pearl goes on to say that most fiction is made up of four parts: story, character, setting and language.  She refers to these parts as doorways, and these doorways are larger or smaller, depending on the book and author.  So, when the story is the biggest part, readers call these page-turners, because they can’t put the book down.  When character is the biggest doorway, readers connect with the characters so much, they often feel like they’ve lost a good friend when they finish the book.  When the setting is the largest doorway, readers comment on how they felt as if they were there.  And most readers talk about how they savored the words when language is the largest doorway. Whatever it is, we want that experience again.

But let’s say you want to read more books similar to what John Grisham writes.  What’s the next step?  Libraries have many tricks when it comes to finding read-a-likes for our patrons.  We do have in-house bookmarks for broad categories, like mystery, romance and science fiction for additional suggestions of authors. We also have a database called Books & Authors, which gives you similar titles and authors based on what book you have just finished.

Book Browse, a for profit book review site, has people who actually read the books and suggest what books are similar to what author’s works.  Amazon may have an algorithm; Good Reads seems to rely on reviews and reviewers, but since they were acquired by Amazon, they might use the same algorithm.  But when you search Google for Grisham read-a-likes there are many possibilities.  Here are a few.

According to BookBub.com, here are some read-a-like authors:

  • Scott Turow
  • Lisa Scottoline
  • Michael Connelly
  • William Diehl
  • William Landay
  • Robert Dugoni
  • Robert Bailey
  • Adam Mitzner
  • Greg, Iles
  • John Lescroat,
  • Phillip Margolin
  • James Grippando

BookBrowse has these authors that they think write like John Grisham:

  • David Baldacci
  • Carnes
  • John Berendt
  • Robert Harris
  • Mary Higgins Clark
  • Phillip Margolin
  • Steve Martini
  • Kyle Mills
  • Michael Palmer

In this list from Williamsburg Public Library (in Virginia), women writers are also listed:

  • Scott Turow
  • Lisa Scottoline
  • Richard North Patterson
  • Phillip Margolin
  • Steve Martini
  • Greg Iles
  • Robert K. Tanenbaum
  • Dudley W. Buffa
  • John S. Martel
  • Jay Brandon
  • Kate Wilhelm
  • Peri O’Shaugnessy
  • Andrew Pyper
  • William Diehl
  • John T. Lescroart
  • William Coughlin
  • William Bernhardt

In case you are new to reading Grisham, here is a brief bio.  He was born in Arkansas in 1955, and like so many boys growing up, he wanted to be a baseball player.  He majored in accounting at Mississippi State and then went on to law school at Ole Miss.  After graduating in 1981, he practiced law until he was elected to the state House of Representatives.  He developed an interest in writing, taking three years to write his first novel – A Time to Kill, which was published in 1988. The Firm was his next book, which stayed on the “NYT Bestseller List” for over 40 weeks.  He sold the film rights, his career took off and he’s never looked back.  He generally writes a book a year but since he has written over 60 books, perhaps he published more often than once a year.  He also has a teen series featuring Theodore Boone, kid lawyer.

In an informative article from New York Times, here is his list of do’s and don’ts for writing fiction.

  1. DO WRITE A PAGE EVERY DAY

That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough.

Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.

  1. DON’T WRITE THE FIRST SCENE UNTIL YOU KNOW THE LAST

This necessitates the use of a dreaded device commonly called an outline. Virtually all writers hate that word. I have yet to meet one
who admits to using an outline.

Plotting takes careful planning. Writers waste years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.

  1. DO WRITE YOUR ONE PAGE EACH DAY AT THE SAME PLACE AND TIME

Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door.

No exceptions, no excuses.

  1. DON’T WRITE A PROLOGUE

Prologues are usually gimmicks to hook the reader. Avoid them. Plan your story (see No. 2) and start with Chapter 1.

  1. DO USE QUOTATION MARKS WITH DIALOGUE

Please do this. It’s rather basic.

  1. DON’T — KEEP A THESAURUS WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE

There are three types of words: (1) words we know; (2) words we should know; (3) words nobody knows. Forget those in the third category
and use restraint with those in the second.

A common mistake by fledgling authors is using jaw-breaking vocabulary. It’s frustrating and phony.

  1. DO READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT

Most writers use too many words, and why not? We have unlimited space and few constraints.

  1. DON’T — INTRODUCE 20 CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST CHAPTER

Another rookie mistake. Your readers are eager to get started. Don’t bombard them with a barrage of names from four generations of the same family. Five names are enough to get started.


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WCPLtn Celebrates National Winnie the Pooh Day!

By Stephanie Wycihowski, Youth Services Manager and Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

Do we ever need an excuse to recognize an author birthday or seize a chance to share with our reading friends all about one of our favorite, beloved book characters? So, gather up some balloons, grab your party hat, and blow out the candles on a birthday cake as we celebrate National Winnie the Pooh Day! This day is dedicated to the celebration of author A.A. Milne, who brought to life the endearing honey-loving bear in his beloved stories, which also featured his son Christopher Robin. It’s annually observed on January 18th and commemorates Milne’s 1882 birth.

Milne’s adorable Pooh Bear was inspired by Christopher Robin’s little teddy bear, initially named Edward the Bear. The name Winnie-the-Pooh was inspired by a black bear named Winnie and a swan named Pooh. Christopher Robin would visit the bear at the London Zoo during World War I, and the bear was so gentle that the zoo allowed children to enter the bear pit and feed Winnie from their hands.  Eventually, Christopher Robin renamed his teddy after the bear. As for Pooh, Milne explained in the intro to his book of poetry, When We Were Very Young,

“Christopher Robin, who feeds this swan in the mornings, has given him the name of ‘Pooh’. This is a very fine name for a swan, because, if you call him and he doesn’t come (which is a thing swans are good at), then you can pretend that you were just saying ‘Pooh!’ to show how little you wanted him.”

The friendship between a boy and his teddy bear (as well as his other stuffed animals) inspired a collection of books, illustrated by E.H. Shepard, starting with Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926. Here are a few example titles that come to my mind  and can be found at WCPLtn, along with many other adventures both in print, and audio-book format.

  • Winnie-the-Pooh By A.A. Milne in (J F MIL)
  • The House At Pooh Corner By A.A. Milne (J F MIL)
  • Now We Are Six By A.A. Milne (J F MIL)
  • The Original Pooh Treasury Series By A.A. Milne (J E MIL)
  • When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne  (J F MIL)

©The New York Public Library

This is the perfect opportunity to celebrate by visiting us at WCPLtn or your own local library to gather up and check out a collection of Winnie the Pooh stories. Our librarian’s here at WCPLtn have been busy pulling together a special display of many of the classic books ready to check out in celebration of Winnie the Pooh Day ! So gather up the family and snuggle up in your favorite cozy reading spot to share for the first time (or re-read) these beloved classic adventures of Winnie the Pooh and all his friends Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet, Kanga and baby Roo, Rabbit and Owl too from the One Hundred Acre Woods.

If you cannot make it in to your local library and still want to share together a Winnie the Pooh adventure check out a e-book story or listen to a e-audio book from home by downloading our NEW streaming app service called Hoopla. You can set up an account remotely using your WCPLtn library card and an email address.  We would love to be a part of your family reading celebration. Feel free to tag us with @wcpltn on social media and use #WinnieThePoohDay to spread the joy! Happy National Winnie the Pooh Day!

 


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Jack London: The Traveling Outdoorsman

By Allan Cross, Reference Department

Jack London

It now seems intuitive that Jack London would dream of living in a rustic setting. As a journalist, writer, and public speaker, London knew both renown and controversy. His output established him as a man of adventure, who expressed his beliefs with drive and vehemence. On January 12, 1876, London was born John Griffith Chaney in San Francisco, California. His mother bore him out of wedlock and later changed his last name to that of his stepfather, John London, but from his earliest years, they referred to the boy as “Jack.”

The adolescent Jack London thrived on curiosity, which transcended the bounds of his blue-collar upbringing. Hours spent at libraries developed the young London’s mind, while instilling in him another desire: to travel. By the age of 17, he had gone on a sealing voyage in the Pacific. The trip was a professional catastrophe, but London and his shipmates returned home alive. The budding scribe jotted down his maritime story and used it to win a local writing contest. So began Jack London’s method of drawing themes from Mother Nature.

As he matured, London’s exploration only increased. After spending some time on the East Coast, he returned to California and attended UC Berkeley. London did not graduate, instead heading to the Yukon at the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. This period in Canada supplied material for his novel, The Call of the Wild.

Jack London’s cabin in the Yukon

After the success of Call of the Wild, London was in demand and had made a fair amount of money. His innate ruggedness led him to avoid urban life. Like Thoreau before him, London sought out a countryside retreat, finding one of his own in Sonoma County, California. Here he purchased a ranch and lived in a small cottage, while conceiving plans to build an estate, Wolf House, on the property.

Though he no longer stood destitute, London still identified with the problems of working people. He didn’t hide his leftist views. London gave many lectures critical of capitalism. He also penned combative works that took on the upper class. London stayed always a fighter for the underdog. He never lost interest in travel, going as a newspaperman to cover the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

London married twice. He and his second wife, Charmian, once made a grand escape across the Pacific. Their destinations included Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, and Australia. Unfortunately, London’s heavy drinking and extreme pursuits took their toll, forcing him to back off from seafaring. London returned to Sonoma County, where he resumed construction of Wolf House.

In the year 1913, an accidental fire destroyed the still incomplete Wolf House. London was aging fast and construction of the estate never restarted. The end of that dream disappointed him, but London’s intrepid fervor remained. He continued to explore, in spite of his doctors’ advice. Nature kept providing London with a foundation for stories, though at a growing personal cost.

Jack London’s gravesite

On November 22, 1916, Jack London passed away of kidney disease at the age of 40. His ranch has since become part of the Jack London State Historic Park. London’s cottage, a quantity of his belongings, and the shell of Wolf House remain preserved there. By reviewing London’s life, one might better understand the task of all writers: to hit upon the balance of careful refinement and unfettered inspiration.


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(All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

When Ronny Met Jacksie: Narnia and Middle Earth

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

I’m definitely a fantasy genre lover. I always have been, going all the way back to when my dad first read The Hobbit to me when I was little. While I have broadened my reading horizons considerably, I still love to pick up a fantasy novel and slide into a world of warriors and dragons. As such, I have a special soft spot for the patron saints of fantasy literature; Tolkien, Lewis, Pratchett, Jordan, Le Guin, White, and Rowling. These men and women carry on a tradition of storytelling that goes back to a time of oral history and fireside stories of fantastic heroes and the even more outlandish creatures that either aid them or seek to destroy them. It was very surprising to me, many years ago, to learn that two of these men, Lewis and Tolkien, not only knew one another, but were friends.

C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis, known to his family as Jack, was born in northern Ireland. His nickname actually belonged to the family dog, Jacksie, which was killed when Lewis was four. He lost his mother to cancer at age nine, and was sent to boarding school after boarding school by his father. He abandoned the Christianity of his youth and escaped into stories of fantasy. He started with anthropomorphic animals like Peter Rabbit, and then developed a fascination with Scandinavian mythology and stories followed by the same for Greece and Ireland. When he first went to Oxford, he joined the officer cadet corps and quickly found himself a second lieutenant in the Somme. In early 1918 he was wounded by a British shell that fell well short of its target, and he spent the rest of the war in England.

J.R.R. Tolkein

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien had a similar childhood. His parents had moved to South Africa not long before his birth, but this quintessentially British author returned to England at age three on what was supposed to have been an extended family visit. It proved permanent when his father died in South Africa before he could join the family. Ronald, as his family referred to him, grew up in a series of homes in and around Birmingham. After his mother’s conversion to Catholicism and then death, he was raised by Father Francis Xavier Morton. After getting married and finishing his education, Tolkien found himself a second lieutenant and posted to France. By 1916 he had contracted Trench Fever, and split most of his time between infirmaries and light duty.

The Eagle and Child pub (commonly known as the Bird and Baby or simply just the Bird) in Oxford where the Inklings met informally on Tuesday mornings during term.

So we end up with two men, in the same department of a university, who experienced some of the worst the Great War had to offer, both of whom lost a parent while very young. So when these two men found themselves in Tolkien’s Coalbiters Club for people who enjoyed reading the Old Icelandic sagas, it was natural for them to gravitate towards each other, which led Tolkien to spend time with Lewis’s group, The Inklings. Opinions on how the dynamic between the two men worked varies between scholars. You find Lewis dominating The Inklings in some and Tolkien listening quietly and issuing sharp criticism in others. However, the one common theme is the interplay. These men helped each other grow as writers and world crafters. Their works went on to profoundly influence one another, to the point where Tolkien’s Numenor and a Saruman cognate ended up in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.

This is not to say the two men never disagreed. Tolkien’s first proposal to Oxford was rejected and one of the votes that turned it away was Lewis’s.  According to Humphrey Carter in his book, The Inklings, Lewis’s thoughts on Tolkien were, “No Harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” Lewis also felt that Tolkien was too mired in the ancient and neglected the renaissance authors and later writers. Tolkien had his own problems with Lewis, as well. Tolkien was an inveterate opponent of allegory and felt Lewis’ Narnia books were vastly too allegorical and that they were contrived and inconsistent. It was at this time that their friendship began to cool.

Without this meeting of two eventual literary giants, we would not have those same literary giants. It was Lewis who suggested that Tolkien turn his children’s story about diminutive people fighting a dragon into what we now know as The Hobbit. Conversely, Tolkien was among the people who convinced Lewis to return to the fold of Christianity. How lucky the world is that the happy accident of their meeting came to pass and we have some of the greatest works of modern English Literature.


Sources and Suggested Reading:

  • R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Legendary Friendship
  • Tolkien’s ‘No’ to Narnia
  • The Inklings by Humphrey Carter (823.9CAR)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Beyond the Wardrobe by E. J. Kirk (823.912 KIR)
  • R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons (823.912 PAR)
  • Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth (828.91209 GAR)
  • Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown

Edgar Allan Poe’s Strange Death

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Edgar Allan Poe, famous American author and the first American writer of mysteries, was a mystery himself.  His death is still a mystery.  Not that he died, of course, but exactly how and why.

Poe had never been wealthy from his writings.  From time to time he did well, but the money was gone sooner or later.  One of the problems was the lack of copyright laws.  Anyone could publish his works, poems and short stories, and that person would reap the benefits, not Poe.  And this happened quite often.  His “detective” stories were very popular—everyone wanted to make money from them.  He was, after all, the father of the mystery genre.  There would be no Sherlock Holmes without Poe.

He had to drop out of the University of Virginia for lack of funds (his step-father didn’t give him enough money to complete the year).  He was so poor that he had to burn his dorm furniture to stay warm!! He was engaged to marry Elmira Royster, but when he went to visit her after his first and last year of college, she had become engaged to someone else.  He went back to Baltimore to throw himself upon the mercy of his relatives.  His aunt, Maria Clemm, took him in; she also had a daughter, Virginia, whom Poe developed a passion for.  A job took him to Richmond, VA; there he became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.  He became known for his criticisms of authors and their works. He was usually correct, but in this time where for a bribe critics wrote good criticism, he stood out as honest, but also made enemies.  He made one in the Reverend Rufus Griswold.

Virginia Clemm

We have to set the scene a little:  Poe had been living in Richmond, VA, with his Aunt Maria, and his wife, Virginia, who died from Tuberculosis at age 24.  (He had married her when she was 15.)  He was devastated when she died, and didn’t write anything for months.  He was in demand as a speaker and was trying to set up a new literary magazine which he would be editor of.  He returned to Richmond to visit Elmira Royster, the fiancée who had jilted him.  He learned that she was a widow and asked for her hand in marriage (again.)

Poe was on his way to Philadelphia from Richmond to edit some poems for a Mrs. St. Leon Loud.  Then he was to go to New York and bring his aunt down to be with him for his wedding.  His fiancée told him he looked ill, and he did go see a doctor.  Dr. Carter suggested he delay his trip a few days, but he went anyway.  He never made it to either city.  Somehow he ended up in Baltimore, delirious and ill, in dirty ragged clothing, obviously not his own, without any luggage.

He was found outside of a polling place and bar – it was an election day, and this bar was a pop-up station.  You went to vote (correction – the men got to vote) and then have a drink or two.  The man who found Poe recognized him, and sent a letter to a friend of Poe’s, Joseph Snodgrass, who, luckily, had had some medical training. A letter was sent asking him to come at once.  His own person doctor, Dr. Moran, also cared for him as he lay dying.  He spent four days in and out of fever, never able to explain what happened to him.  He did say one word, “Reynolds!!” but no one ever found out who he meant to call for.  He was said to have said out loud, “Lord, help my poor soul,” and died.  As to what cause his death? There are many theories, but no true cause of death was ever found.

As to what might have killed him?  Here is a list of possibilities

  • He could have been mugged, and died from his injuries (there is such a thing called cooping, a form of ballot-box stuffing which involved kidnapping and taking the person to vote at many polling places—many have dismissed this because Poe would have been too well recognized)
  • He could have ingested some kind of poison, either by his own hand of by someone else’s (In 2006, doctors test a sample of his hair and found no evidence of lead or metal poisoning)
  • He could have died from alcoholism – even though he was known to drink moderately.  Like many authors, coffee was his drug for writing late into the night
  • He could have been murdered – this seems to be a bit farfetched since he was in the hospital for four days, but it could have happened
  • He could have died from suicide complications (but why, he was getting married in ten days?)
  • He could have died of rabies or epilepsy
  • He could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning – no one was aware of this issue, and he was known to have burned anything to keep warm
  • He could have had a heart attack, diabetes or even cholera
  • He could even have died from rabies

No autopsy was performed—he was buried two days after he died, and evidently there was a great frenzy to have a lock of his hair as he was taken to the cemetery.  No one has ever found a death certificate—it could have been lost or stolen by Dr. Moran or anyone seeking to have a piece of the great man Poe.  He was buried in an unmarked grave; a headstone was later added, but was destroyed in a wreck.  He was reburied in 1875, with the remains of his wife, Virginia and Aunt Maria.

One final insult to Poe’s memory was the obituary published anonymously, later known to have been written by Reverend Griswold.  Griswold was still very mad at Poe, and in his obituary described Poe as a drunk, a womanizer and a man with no morals.  Unfortunately, this was considered Poe’s real character for over a century, until people began to learn more about what kind of person he really had been.  Unfortunately for Griswold, he never became as famous as Poe, which was all he wanted. Read the rest of this entry

Cozy Up To A Good Mystery – Agatha Christie Style

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and the rest of your family is parked in front of the large screen watching a football game. You, however, are nestled into your favorite comfy chair in front of a glowing fireplace, steaming cup of tea in hand, a soft throw over your knees. You sigh happily as you open another installment of your favorite “Miss Marple” mystery series. This singular pleasure was brought to you courtesy of Agatha Christie, one of the creators and the chief purveyor of the mystery genre known as the “Cozy.” Forty-one years after her death in 1976, Agatha Christie is still one of the top-selling authors of all time, with novel sales in the billions. This September marks the 127th anniversary of Agatha’s birth. So in Agatha’s honor, we’ll look at this traditional mystery genre closely associated with her novels, and explore ways to find works by other authors that will appeal to Cozy fans.

The heroine of Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden series is a librarian.

Mystery fiction is divided into several major categories. Hard and Soft Boiled Mysteries generally feature a seasoned professional detective who often must contend with personal demons while investigating a crime. Procedurals offer blow-by-blow analysis of how a crime is solved, either by detailed detective legwork or scientific investigation. Thrillers and Suspense novels don’t always hinge on solving a crime or murder that occurs at the start of a novel, but instead focus on some ever-intensifying threat to the protagonist and feature lots of plot twists. There are also countless mystery sub-genres – Capers, Domestic, Historic, Noir, Romantic Suspense and True Crime, to name a few.

And then there are the Cozies. Sometimes called Traditional Mysteries, the Cozies are distinguished from the darker, grittier mystery genres by several crucial characteristics:

  • Instead of a hard-boiled detective, the Cozy crime solver is an amateur sleuth who is almost always a woman. Agatha’s Miss Marple is a prime example. The amateur sleuth usually has some other vocation – caterer, chef, cat fancier, bed and breakfast owner, or librarian.
  • In a Cozy, the setting is key!

    The setting of a Cozy mystery is critical and helps provide the novel its “cozy” character. It is often set in a small rural town or charming village, or in some cases a closed environment such as an isolated estate or even a train. The intimate nature of the setting allows most of the suspects to know each other. Bishop’s Lacey, the quintessential English village featured in Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce series, and Cabot Cove, the location of Donald Bain’s “Murder, She Wrote” novels, both illustrate the perfect Cozy setting.

  • Cozies are lighter in tone than other mystery genres. They are considered “gentle” mysteries with little or no graphic violence or explicit sex. The murder almost always happens “off stage” and the victim is sometimes a less-than-sterling character who may have had it coming. Any sex occurs strictly “behind closed doors.” [Quick note: some current Cozies tend to be edgier than earlier examples of the genre.]
  • The amateur sleuth is not a police officer or forensics expert, but almost always has a friend or significant other who is one. Through this friend, our sleuth gains access to information, such as an autopsy report, not usually available to your average person.
  • The local law enforcement tends to underestimate and dismiss the amateur sleuth, allowing her to “casually overhear” key details at a crime scene.
  • Many Cozy Mysteries are parts of series.

    A Cozy usually features a “red herring” – a clue that steers the reader away from the actual criminal or suggests an inaccurate conclusion.

  • The victim and possibly some of the suspects are often known to the amateur sleuth. They could be old college friends or coworkers.
  • Cozies usually boast a cast of colorful, likeable, eccentric secondary characters who are often as important to the reader as the amateur sleuth.
  • Cozy mysteries are often written as parts of a series. Readers become emotionally involved with the amateur sleuth and other recurring characters and feel they’re “coming home” to a familiar place and old friends when they begin their next Cozy. There are MANY series to choose from, but a few notable ones include Agatha’s Miss Marple series, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series, Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, and the previously mentioned Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (my personal favorite).

    Two intrepid Siamese, Koko and Yum Yum, help their human solve crimes in the “Cat Who” series.

  • Cozies sometimes center around a hobby or theme – everything from cats and the culinary arts to knitting and holidays to tea shops and libraries. A link to a great list of Cozy mysteries arranged by theme is included in “Further Reading” at the end of this article.
  • The good guys usually win and the evil-doers get their comeuppance.

Once you’ve devoured all of Agatha’s Miss Marple mysteries, what’s next?  The list of possibilities is literally endless. To help narrow the field, check out three of Agatha’s contemporaries who helped establish and refine the Traditional Mystery formula and, along with Agatha, comprised the four great “Queens of Crime”:  Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey series, Margery Allingham (1904-1966), known for her Albert Campion series and Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982), creator of the Inspector Roderick Alleyn series. WCPL has a good selection of works by each of these writers.

For contemporary Cozy novels, there’s no better place to look than the list of winners and finalists of the annual Agatha Awards. Since 1988, Malice Domestic, an organization celebrating the Traditional Mystery, has honored mysteries that best typify Agatha Christie’s works, defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, no excessive gore or gratuitous violence, and can’t be classified as “Hard-Boiled.” The 2015 and 2016 Agatha Awards winners and finalists are listed below with titles available at WCPL noted in bold. A link to the complete list of winners and finalists since the Awards’ inception in 1988 is included below under “Further Reading.”

2016

2015

If you’re already a fan of Cozies or just ready to try them, one thing is certain — you won’t run out of reading material any time soon. See below for lists of works that will keep you reading for years to come. Enjoy…and stay Cozy!

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Mo Books, Mo Fun! The Wonderful World of Mo Willems

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

I often say that having the great fortune to be employed in a library—yes, Darling Reader, paid to be here—is a wondrous thing, but it really cuts into one’s reading time.  Library Mythbuster Numero Uno:  we don’t get paid to sit around and read.  What, you think the books get back on the shelves all on their own? And that all library patrons are as smart and savvy as you and don’t need my assistance and expertise?  I’m so sorry to be the one to burst your bubble if you were operating under that premise, and were making career plans accordingly.  We are, however, expected to possess an extensive breadth and depth of knowledge of the materials that are available to patrons, especially in the departments in which we spend our days (and evenings. And weekends.  Library Mythbuster Numero Dos:  this is not a 9-to-5 weekday gig.)  Some of us amass this knowledge through advanced degrees in Library Science and/or work experience in libraries, and others of us learn about the abundance of wonderful children’s books from the hours we spent reading to our own offspring.  (Some of us also have a deep-seated loathing for certain children’s books, usually through no fault of the author but because of the stultifying number of times we have read certain books that our kids loved but that we did NOT.  That’s a topic for a future blog, but I have two words for you in the meantime:  Johnny Tremain.)  It saddens me a little that I missed out on the joy of reading Mo Willems’ books with my children, but I have immensely enjoyed perusing them since signing on to the Children’s Department at WCPL and recommending them to patrons.

If you have children, or have ever spent any time with children, you surely know that they have these acute, finely-tuned internal sensors that enable them to see right through any awkward attempts by adult humans to try to be funny or whimsical or relatable when they just aren’t.  One thing that differentiates Mo Willems’ books from the paper-and-cardboard sea of kiddie lit is that they are very, very funny.  I mean . . . a picture book about a naked mole rat who just wants to express himself through creative sartorial choices?  Come on, people, that’s freaking hilarious, I don’t care who you are.  Willems’ formula works due to the culmination of several factors:  excellent timing, precise word choices, and just-right repetitions of words and phrases.

 

Mo Willems was born in February 1968 in suburban Chicago and grew up in New Orleans.  He graduated cum laude from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  After graduation, Willems spent a year traveling around the world, and he commemorated this journey by drawing a cartoon each day.  These cartoons were subsequently published in the book You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons.  When he returned to New York after his adventure, Willems began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, where he was awarded six Emmy awards for writing during his tenure from 1993 to 2002.  Since 2003, Willems has authored dozens of books for children, many of which have earned him critical acclaim and numerous literary awards.  (A bibliography of Willems’ books appears at the end of this article.)  My personal favorites include, in no certain order:  the previously mentioned  Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed; Edwina The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was ExtinctKnuffle Bunny:  A Cautionary Tale; and Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late! Check ‘em out, Darling Reader.  (See what I did there?  Y’all know I couldn’t make it through a blog without a pun.)  Happy reading–

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