Browsing Archives for Books & Letters

The Once Upon a Time Business

November 25th, 2007

The title of this post is from the web site for author Phillip Pullman. I love this quote. What he actually said is this…

As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don’t think it’s the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means. The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and the thoughts in the reader’s mind. So when people ask me what I meant by this story, or what was the message I was trying to convey in that one, I have to explain that I’m not going to explain. Anyway, I’m not in the message business; I’m in the “Once upon a time” business.

Can I just repeat that last part…

He’s in the Once Upon a Time Business and not the Message Business.

There’s been a lot of stuff floating around cyberspace about this man and his work. I have read all three of the “His Dark Materials” books. They are very good. The first one The Golden Compass is a work of art. The second one The Subtle Knife is a great story. The third one, The Amber Spyglass is very dense and complicated and tricky but also a fascinating read.

We live in a culture of emptiness. We give our kids plastic and Disney and Cartoon Network and McDonald’s happy meals and it is the same as giving them nothing. Because that is what all that stuff is. There is no depth, no merit, and no knowledge to be gained. We put their young minds in tepid water and expect them to grow. Even when we give our kids books!

As a former children’s librarian I can vividly attest to the amount of crappy children’s books that flood our market place EVERY DAY. I know because part of my job was to peruse every single new children’s book that came into our library. I both loved this job and hated it. I hated it because there was so much crap being published that I wondered how on earth it ever reached the market. I loved it because every once in a great while, a volume would come from the “new book cart” to settle in my lap that would shimmer like the stars.

From the first page of these rare books, I would recognize a brilliance, a skill, and an ability – to weave a story together, to hold a child (and an adult) spellbound, to captivate an audience.

I worked at the Manhattan Public Library in Manhattan Kansas for only one year, but during that short time I compiled a mental list of must reads for kids based on the new books that came through as well as a few classics that were new to me. Phillip Pullman was one of those authors.

He does not treat kids like morons – he respects their minds and their imaginations. He is not writing to create a marketable product, he is writing to create a riveting story. A story that I have no doubt, will become a classic.

Due to some of the hype from the upcoming release of the movie, The Golden Compass, there seem to be many people living in paralyzed fear of this brilliant author – I hope you at least read the first book before you make your judgement. It is ridiculous to forward those silly panic stricken e-mails without first reading these books.

I do realize that Phillip Pullman is a self proclaimed atheist. He admits to this on his web site. I myself am not an atheist – but I occasionally have doubts about the existence of a benevolent God. What thinking person does not? It might be easy to believe in a caring God in our nice warm homes with our loaded refrigerators. But perhaps not so easy if you are an Iraqi citizen or a family in India living on the streets, relying on your three year old to generate enough pity for a loaf of bread.

Maybe Phillip Pullman just has a harder time shutting down the part of his mind that us church going Americans so easily turn off. Not that we don’t care and give and try to help, but do we really let it in???

I refuse to demonize a brilliant, creative man for his personal beliefs when they are founded in hard thinking, but I do pray for him. And as a fan of great children’s literature, I celebrate his books. They are worth a read. And they may even deepen your own faith as you gotta think about things a bit after you read them. Which is why I love his books to start with. The thinking part. It is especially good for kids to have to use their brains once in a while.

Oh dear – this was a bit of a heavy handed post for me. But it has been on my mind for a long time. Tomorrow something much lighter – I promise!

Penny Annie's

October 26th, 2007

Many, many moons ago…

Before I pledged my troth to the country doctor…

Before my uterus was shattered four times in a row by the exact same model of bald, blue-eyed, baby boy…

Before I had the wisdom of motherhood and could force children to eat their sweet potatoes, and film them while doing so…

Before I understood the dementia that accompanies each birth, as the holes in your head, where the babies come out, never completely heal…

Before I fell in love with the steady, rhythmic, calming sounds of a ceiling fan on medium speed…

Before I blogged…

There was Penny Annie’s

Back then, I worked as an administrative assistant at the Lawrence Arts Center in Lawrence Kansas, which was located in the Old Carnegie Library directly behind Penny Annie’s.

I would skip the light fantastic in my cute office girl outfits of corduroy skirts and second hand plaid jackets…or fabulous thrift store cardigans with pearl buttons and sweet pleated wool skirts. I would flit over to Penny Annie’s on my lunch break, order a tuna fish sandwich or a chicken taco salad and sit down to eat by a sunny window overlooking busy Massachusetts street.

As I ate, I watched the world pass by. Executive types in dark suits and sunglasses driving by in their SUV’s. Young moms pushing strollers loaded down with babies, shopping bags and sippy cups. Under-employed secretaries with master degrees in economics or anthropology, buzzing by breathlessly on an errand for their blustery bosses. College students ambling along aimlessly, the light of youth and fun still dancing on their unworried faces. Middle aged housewives with expensive hair cuts and manicures flocking from shop to shop, the sun glinting off their streaky blond highlights. Business men and women in crisp white shirts, walking briskly down the street as if in a tunnel, focused on a distant horizon.

I watched them all and wondered…

What would become of me.

Then I shrugged, wiped my mouth on a paper napkin, bought a half pound of sour watermelon candy, and went back to work.

My Daemon is a Blog

October 10th, 2007

I just finished the second book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman. “The Subtle Knife” a highly entertaining and interesting story. I am insisting the my two oldest boys read the first book before we see the movie this Fall.

After reading the first two books, I came to realize that my “daemon” is this blog. I can tell…because of the searing knife-like pain I feel whenever I get too far away from my blog. If I go too long without seeing my blog, or messing with my blog, or adjusting my blog, I feel like I am going to die. It is also clear that I am not a grown up as my blog keeps changing forms, shapes and colors. I don’t know when it is ever going to decide what kind of creature it is.

When I must be away from my blog, to do ridiculous chores like care for my children, go to the bathroom, or water the new grass, I nurse the ragged wound – by thinking about my blog. And whenever I have to do a task that involves other people, like attending a committee meeting or getting coffee with girlfriends or helping out in my son’s classroom, I just talk about my blog…non-stop to whomever I am with. Blah blah blah my blog. My blog blah blah blah. Blah blah blah my blog my blog my blog blah blah. I can see their eyes glaze over as I talk about my blog. I can tell they slowly lapsing into a catatonic state as I go on and on and on about my blog. But I don’t care. My blog is all that matters.

I went to see April on Sunday. We left the kids with Clay, and headed to downtown Lawrence. As we ordered some appetizers from a new restaraunt that I think was called the Trying Too Hard Trattoria, all I wanted to do was talk about my blog. April could also talk about her blog if she wanted, but mostly I wanted to talk about my blog. But April didn’t want to talk about her blog…or my blog…or anyone else’s blog. She was clearly irritated with me. She was clearly sick and tired of the whole blogging thing. She was clearly thinking that I have lost my mind and need to start doing something sane like homeschooling my kids or raising a flock of chickens.

So it was with great relief and rejoicing when I finally got home that evening and could rush downstairs to my dismal office and sit for a few hours cuddling my daemon blog. We were together again. Reunited and very happy to be with each other again.