Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

“You are hosting a dinner party for three writers?  Who’s on the invite list?”

When Kristin Cashore, author of young adult novels, was asked this question in the New York Times book review interview By the Book,  she answered:

“Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, and Hildegard von Bingen…hopefully one of them can cook and wouldn’t mind coming early to take care of that.”

When reluctantly participating in a get-to-know-you exercise and asked for one author, my response – Steve Martin – was met with disdain (they were all academics.)  Having dinner with the prolific wild and crazy guy who’s written novels (Shop Girl), plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile), can talk about art (has a private collection), and can play a mean banjo – not to mention his sense of humor – has the potential for good dinner conversation.  Calvin Trillin could add a little spice, and if I were to add one more, of course, Julia Child (to cook).

Do you have authors you would like to meet?  maybe share a meal?

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Travel Through Children’s Books

Tours that follow an author can be inviting. Literature tours in England follow Austen and Bronte;  New England in the United States attracts followers of Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  A friend gave me an article from the Wall Street Journal – Going By the Children’s Book – with Liam Callahan’s suggestions for touring Paris through children’s book authors.   Although I have often dreamed of following Julia Child through France, his itinerary also has appeal:

  • Bemelmans’ Madeleine captures Paris from Sacre Coeur to the Jardin des Tuileries;
  • Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (a film before it became a book) floats through Montmartre;
  • Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret looks back at the famous train station and local streets.

Callahan provides a map with tangential adventures, the possibility of buying a book store, and additional books to inspire your literary trip:

  • Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Yolleck and Prideman

My favorite is Rupert Kingfisher’s  Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles – “selling all kinds of rare and exotic delicacies” – a culinary adventure – but Julia Child would wonder over the cobra brains in black butter.

Thanksgiving in the Good Old Days

Thanksgiving has been fictionalized as fulfilling and filling family fun.  Sustaining the fiction in reality doesn’t always work, but Louisa  May Alcott does just that in her short story, An Old Fashioned  Thanksgiving. Read it online…

And Happy Thanksgiving!

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Kelly O’Connor McNees imagines an alternative life for Louisa May Alcott in her historical novel – The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott.      Imitating recent speculation about other famous women writers – Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte – that they wrote convincingly about love because of some secret episode in their lives, McNees creates one for LMA.

Just as Alcott used her own family for the inspiration of Little Women and mirrored herself in her feisty character Jo, McNees follows the same storyline in recreating the four Alcott sisters’ lives – with Louisa May reliving many of the familiar adventures of Josephine March.    In McNees’s version, however, the  brilliant yet misunderstood “philosopher” father, Bronson Alcott, whose high-minded ideals often failed to provide for his own family, is closer to the real person than Father March.

Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thoreau all make cameo appearances in the book, reflecting their real influence on Alcott’s thinking and writing. And McNees neatly ties in hints of Alcott’s future involvement in reform movements as well as her determination to make her own way – what could be classified as feminist in those days.

Most readers will know that Louisa May Alcott never married, but she comes close in this version, and the summer romance makes for good reading, especially for fans of Little Women.  You’ll be cheering for Joseph Singer to convince Louisa May to run away with him and test the possibility of being married, but still free and independent.   No wonder this book became an Oprah pick.

The ending is a little stale in McNees’ attempt to add credibility to the fiction, but her imagination leads you into the consequences of choice, and a good summer read.