Author Archives: Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch

About Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch

Avid reader; published writer; itinerant walker; experimental cook...

Can You Pass the Test?

To work in New York City’s iconic bookstore, The Strand, you have to pass the test – literally. Annie Correal includes samples of the literary matching test from The Strand’s job application in her article for a The New York Times – There Will Be a Quiz.

    Isn’t it rewarding to know The Strand requires its employees to read? From checking the list, I found myself lacking and need to catch up with The Strand standards – more potential reads for my library list.

    Here’s a sample if you’d like to try your book smarts. (Note: one pair is incorrect – The Strand’s “trick question.”)

    Match Authors:

    1. Tool
    2. Ibsen
    3. Ellison
    4. Swift
    5. Gogol
    6. McCullers
    7. Woolf
    8. Kundera
    9. Orwell
    10. Naipaul

    To Literary Work:

    • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
    • Animal Farm
    • To the Lighthouse
    • A House for Mr. Biswas
    • Invisible Man
    • A Confederacy of Dunces
    • Dead Souls
    • Waiting for Godot
    • Gulliver’s Travels
    • The Unbearable Likeness of Being

    Pretending and Believing

    Unknown   The Muppets and Sesame Street saved me as a young mother.  If I nodded off from exhaustion with a toddler in my grasp, I knew friendly Grover would always be there to demand and get her undivided attention.   Although their creator, Jim Henson, died suddenly in 1990, he seems to be still around.  Miss Piggy still shakes her curls, the Count still guffaws,  Cookie Monster still devours – even Kermit, who was voiced and operated by Henson himself, still philosphizes.  In his biography – Jim Henson –  Brian Jay Jones reintroduces Jim Henson with all his quirks and weaknesses, as well as his extraordinary talent and playful way of looking at life that changed the world for many of us.

    Being a little preoccupied with death lately, I started with the last chapter titled “Just One Person, 1990,” addressing Henson’s short illness, and including a memorial service he had outlined in a letter to his children four years earlier.  His trademark whimsy permeated the grief.

    Backtracking to  Chapter One, I followed Jones’s easy conversational writing about Henson’s childhood and the beginning of his career in his college days at the University of Maryland, the Muppets’ big break on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show,  and the first Muppet commercial – for coffee.  Henson’s “ridiculous optimism” was catching; it was impossible not to like him.

    Henson was more than Sesame Street, yet educational television eventually defined his art, as he eschewed commercials  to focus on the show that would make his Muppets household names.  Jones follows the family brood – Henson had five children – as they moved into bigger houses and followed the patriarch’s dream, but he follows the Muppet family more closely, outlining in detail how each puppet was created and evolved.  Each success and failure is carefully documented, from Fraggle Rock to Labyrinth.   Only the two sets of pictures inserted in the narrative give some relief from the exhausting details, but the few personal glimpses behind Henson’s calm demeanor were worthwhile.  When his success allowed him to wear bespoke suits so his pants would be long enough to hide his calves when he crossed his legs in a television interview, he became even more endearing.

    Jones focuses on Henson’s creative life more than his personal; his separation from his wife has only a paragraph in the book, and his later relationship with Mary Ann Cleary was given scant attention.  Jones affirms his view of Henson as a family man – with five children and dogs, even after his marriage fell apart – and his family of Muppets.

    Kermit’s words from The Muppet Movie reflected Jim Henson’s life:

    “…I’ve got a dream, too.  But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy.  That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well…I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream.  And it kind of makes us like a family.”

    A wonderful testament to the Kermit inside the man, Jones’ biography includes a picture of Henson as he manipulates Ernie.  Even then, it’s hard to believe Ernie is only an extension of Henson’s arm.  The muppets always seem so real.

    Unknown-3   Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.

    Keep believing, keep pretending.

    100 Years: Wisdom from Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life

    9780393285703_p0_v1_s192x300    The title is almost as long as the book – 100 Years, Wisdom  from Famous Writers on Every Year of Your Life with Visualizations by Milton Glaser, Selections by Joshua Prager.

    Each page has a quote; pick the age you want to check (past, present, future), or just browse through – doesn’t take long.

    I could not find this book in my library, and was reluctant to add another book to my shelf, so I read it in electronic format.  But now, I am thinking it might be good to have on a coffee table.

    A few excerpts with reviews from the source:

    “I’m forty-two years old – which is a lot more like middle age than forty or even forty-one.  Neither old nor young”…Clare Messud,  The Woman Upstairs 

    “He was only forty-seven. Too early to contemplate life insurance”…Dave Eggers, Zeitoun 

    “At fifty-four he thinks a lot of things, he believes a few, but also what can he really claim to know?”…Julian Barnes,  Arthur and George 

    “I was curious, a sensation I hadn’t felt in some time.  There is not much left to be curious when one is ninety-eight years old”…Kate Morton,  The House at Riverton 


    What Children Read

    If children do not see diversity in the books they read, how can they connect to other cultures?  A good friend,  who also happens to be a published author of children’s books, recently sent me Katrina Schwartz’s article with 20 Books Featuring Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy.  Schwartz suggests books can “… provide both mirrors and windows so they {children} subconsciously build an image of who and what they could be, while building empathy and understanding for the lives of others.”

    Not just for children, children’s books can send a strong message.  Here are two from the list I plan to read soon:

    • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena – the 2016 Newbery Award Winner
    • Listen Slowly by Thanhhà Lai

    book-market-street-small        book-listen-slowly-small

    Related Review:  Inside Out and Back Again


    Have You Checked the Children

    9781250045379_p0_v3_s192x300    Using a phrase from a macabre mystery movie, Ann Leary lulls the reader into a suspenseful family drama in The Children.  The tale of the blended Whitman family follows a seemingly routine path, as Leary introduces the quirks of each character, but like all her stories, Leary always has hidden and surprising twists.

    Charlotte Maynard, the reclusive narrator, writes a blog about life as a harried housewife with problem children; she does so well she has acquired sponsors who pay her to post everyday.  Charlotte is a fraud.  She is not married, has no children, and successfully  plays on the anonymity and possibilities of the internet and vulnerable users.

    Although Charlotte’s mendaciousness sets the tone for all the other characters, Leary carefully keeps their facades in tact until almost the end of the book. All have secrets: Laurel, the too perfect girlfriend; Sally, the talented but disturbed sister; Spin, the likable step-brother and heir to the estate; Everett, boyfriend and dog whisperer.

    The story revolves around familiar themes – old money, New England family, and greed.  After Whit Whitman dies, his second wife and her daughters live on in the lakefront estate; however, his sons own the estate, with a provision in the family trust that allows their step-mother to stay. When Spin, the youngest brings his fiancé home, cracks start to appear in the family relationships, with resentments and old wounds threatening to bring down the house with humor and intrigue.

    If you enjoyed Leary’s The Good House (soon to be a film with Meryl Streep), you will like The Children – an easy and enjoyable read with some well-appreciated subliminal thoughts on real estate lust and computer hacking.

    Related Review:   The Good House