One of My Best Friends: Happy Birthday, The Raven

raven
I have been on quite the mystery kick lately, so more posts will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, today is the 170th anniversary of the publication of Poe’s The Raven. Earlier this month I wrote a piece for the Review Direct newsletter listing some lesser known facts about Edgar Allan Poe in honor of his birthday. To celebrate both, I am going to share eighteen of those facts.

  1. He was born Edgar Poe in Boston. After his father abandoned the family and his mother died, he was unofficially adopted by John Allan of Richmond, VA.

 

  1. He usually went by E.A. Poe or Edgar A. Poe after his estrangement from his adopted father as a young man.

 

  1. His often scathing book reviews in Southern Literary Messenger increased readership in the publication by almost seven fold- and got him fired twice!

 

  1. He coined the term ‘short story’. There is reportedly no record of its definition before Poe used it in 1840.

 

  1. Poe is considered one of the first Americans authors to make his living solely through his writing (which caused many financial problems in his life).

 

  1. Charles Dickens and Poe were pen pals and even met once.

 

  1. He loved cats and often wrote with his cat on his shoulder.

 

  1. The mustachioed Poe most people think of really only represented the last couple years of his life. For most of his forty years he was clean shaven.

 

  1. In 1837, Poe published Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the story of shipwrecked men who were forced to select one of their crew to be eaten. The unlucky sailor in Poe’s story was Richard Parker. The books was largely panned as sensational, though Poe tried to claim it was based on a real story (it wasn’t). Later, a real shipwreck in 1884 eerily mirrored Poe’s story right down to the unfortunate victim, the cabin boy, Richard Parker.

 

  1. Poe originally wanted to write about a parrot in his classic, The Raven.

 

  1. After the success of the The Raven there were stories of kids following him down the street flapping at him. It is reported he would respond good naturedly by turning suddenly to face them uttering, “Nevermore”.

 

  1. Poe was a fan of cryptography and tried to make it mainstream by incorporating ciphers into some of his short stories.

 

  1. Before his death, he left Virginia for Philadelphia and disappeared for days, until he reappeared a week later in a Baltimore tavern ill and wearing clothes that did not belong to him.

 

  1. His cause of death is unknown. At the time newspapers reported different illnesses and all records pertaining to his death, including death certificate, have been lost. Speculation often concludes he died of complications from alcoholism, but theories as far ranging as rabies to cooping (the practice of using booze and force to make someone vote for a particular candidate) have been put forth. The later theory has been given more credence recently as he disappeared on election day in an area of Baltimore known for this practice.

 

  1. His travel trunks were not located for weeks when one was found in Baltimore and another in Richmond.

 

  1. After his death, alleged friend Joseph Snodgrass, a teetotaler, exacerbated claims of Poe’s alcoholism to serve as a morality tale to be shared on the lecture circuit. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who had a vendetta against Poe after a bad review, also helped to spread the rumor Poe was a terrible drunk- including writing a fake biography of his rival.

 

  1. Though his credibility has been questioned, Poe’s physician John Moran claimed that Poe was not a heavy drinker and it was unlikely to have been the cause of his death.

 

  1. The NFL Baltimore Ravens were named in tribute to him, which might not be as odd as it seems as Poe was actually an athletic man and even held a swimming record as a young man.

Some of My Best Friends: Reading Festive

Christmas to me is listening to classic Christmas tunes, decorating a tree from my favorite lot, and rereading a few books that always put me in a festive mood. Two are novels I still treasure from my childhood, while one is a more recent tradition.

darkrising
The Dark is Rising
by Susan Cooper
Before there was Harry Potter, there was Will Stanton. Just before Will’s Midwinter eleventh birthday, he notices strange things happening around him- family pets avoid him, electronic devices go on the fritz, and neighbors are behaving oddly. On his birthday, Will discovers he is the last of the Old Ones, a group of immortals who exist to fight the Dark, an evil that threatens the world. As a Sign-Seeker, he is tasked with collecting the Six Signs of the Light . This quest takes him through time and space as the story races to a thrilling ending. Fantasy fans will have no trouble believing Cooper was an actual student of J.R.R. Tolkien when reading this tale.

This books speaks to me at this time of year since I have long been fascinated by the co-opting of pagan traditions by Christianity (and now the secular world as well). The action in The Dark is Rising takes place around the holidays, but it begins with the Winter Solstice for a reason. The mythology underpinning this book and series is very much rooted in Celtic myths and Arthurian legend. The heavy winter snow that builds throughout the story always makes it festive for me, but the nods to ancient customs definitely brings to mind the old celebrations like Yule and Saturnalia. Recommend reading with some nog-or maybe even some wassail- by a fire and a real tree if you have them. It is really a good read anytime though!

This was the cover of my copy from childhood.

This was the cover of my copy from childhood.


The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
I can still remember being truly amazed when my mom first read this to my brother and me. Sure, I had watched fantasy based cartoons before and heard fairy tales, but this was my first true fantasy novel. Imagine! Kids just playing in a house and discovering a door to a whole new world filled with “imaginary” creatures. It filled me with such a sense of wonder and curiosity. When I started reading full chapter books on my own, it was one of the first I read- followed shortly by the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia. This is a pretty standard classic, so I will not go into plot.

As to why it is a Christmas favorite, I yield to a description of Narnia from the book, “Always winter but never Christmas.” Later, I would read it in school through a more academic lens, but that was lost on me. The basic story- kids fighting an evil witch in a magical land to break up an endless winter (did I mention I live in a place where it tends to snow a lot?)- is all I need. When the snow begins to melt and Father Christmas shows up with gifts, I recapture some of the joy I experienced while reading this as a child. How often can any of us say that about anything in life as adults?

poirotchristmas
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
by Agatha Christie
There are few characters whose deaths I have wanted more than Simeon Lee. In this patriarch Christie gives us quite a villain- so much so I hesitate to call him a victim. His death is early in the book, so no spoilers here. And what a death it is! A locked room mystery of the finest order! Add to that a bevy of suspects by way of the family all stuck under the same roof and you have all the ingredients for a classic Christie mystery.

This is not a cheap holiday gimmick of a book though. The characters in this one are some of the most well developed in any of Christie’s works. A proper English family handling the pressure of a murder investigation as well as trying to keep up with all the traditional trappings of the holidays creates the perfect dynamic for it. As he does though, little by little Poirot chips away at the seemingly baffling case to solve it in a brilliant fashion.

When I was home from college my senior year (quite a few years ago), I happened to pick this one up for the first time in ages and found a whole new appreciation for it. Since then I like to reread it every couple years. If you want to read this one for the holidays, it is great for travel or a lazy day of reading- it is just a great puzzler.

So, that is what I have been/will be reading. Do you have any holiday reads you enjoy? Or reading traditions tied to the holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years,etc)?

Casting American Gods

The Russian cover because I think it is pretty cool.

The Russian cover because I think it is pretty cool.


Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE American Gods. For years I have cast and re-cast a film/tv version of, what I believe, is a very adaptable book. My hopes were dashed a bit when HBO’s option on the book expired in January of this year, but raised all over again when FremantleMedia picked it up in February (on my birthday of all days!).

At the time several industry sources claimed HBO had pushed American Gods to the back-burner when it picked up Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers. Last week HBO’s Michael Lombardo claims the network tired three different writers, but could not get a satisfactory script. The timing of his comments, over four months after HBO’s option expired, sounded a lot more like poisoning the well for future attempts than coming clean to me.

I still have hope one day we will see Shadow, Mr. Wednesday, and the assorted gods and outcasts of American Gods on the small screen (series or mini-series would be fine by me). Here is my ideal cast using realistically available actors because… why not?

Shadow: Michael Ealy or Jason Momoa- they both would be good choices given the description of Shadow’s stature and ambiguous ethnicity.
Wednesday: Charles Dance- I actually pictured him in my mind while reading it years ago, long before Game of Thrones.
Laura: Alexis Bledel, mostly because of her eyes, but I think it would be interesting to see her play loving wife with Shadow, then take care of business as needed.
Loki: Stephen McHattie- I pictured Loki a bit older given his history with Wednesday. Mackenzie Astin, if younger.
Mad Sweeney: Chris Rankin- he played straight-laced Percy in the Harry Potter films, I would like to see him in almost the opposite role. Plus, ginger.
Czernobog: Tom Waits. Think about it.
Mr. Nancy: Morgan Freeman- he has the personality and would totally rock those suits.
Ibis: Giancarlo Esposito, also one I pictured while reading the book.
Jacquel: Lance Reddick- he has the right gravitas to be lord of the dead
Kali: Sarita Choudhury- she seems like a good representation of Mama-Ji
Hinzelmann: John Mahoney or Len Cariou- both men have the kind, grandfatherly vibe but could pull off the twist
Buffalo Head: James Earl Jones (voice)- because how could it not be his voice?

So AG fans, who would you choose? Any characters I missed that you would cast? Or are you waiting on another optioned book to finally be adapted?

One of My Best Friends: Pride and Prejudice

P&P

The name of my blog is Some of My Best Friends… As in, some of my best friends are books. Well, one of my best friends had a birthday last month. As a friend I did not make as big a deal about another year passing- especially since it was the big 2-0-0. Sure, the UK commemorated it on a stamp and people are throwing big parties, even festivals, but I thought we could celebrate in a more low-key way.

So, that was the plan… until people started bad-mouthing my friend. Evey classic author has his/her naysayers, it can only be expected. What surprised me were the attackers and their reasoning. Women who are considered feminist and well-read behaving as though they were hipsters and this classic was some indie band gone mainstream. One writer even asked whether Pride and Prejudice was really just an old fashioned version of Twilight. Twilight??

I realized there was a theme. The writers seemed to confuse Pride and Prejudice with the spin-offs. Unfortunately, there is a reason for that:

firth

Well, not exactly Colin Firth or even the (most wonderful) 1996 BBC miniseries. Rather the cult following it cultivated with the prequels and sequels of questionable merit, any number of advice books with quotes or characters’ traits as their basis, or retellings of the novel’s events. The romanticizing of a character and glorifying him more than one imagines Austen would have ever believed possible has created a trap. Of course, Darcy has always been a romantic character, but then you had Bridget Jones’ Diary and others take it to the next level of pop culture. When literature becomes pop culture it becomes a whole new creature which can detract from the original story.

Another issue some seem to have with Pride and Prejudice is the lack of tortured men like Rochester saddled with his crazy attic wife in Jane Eyre or the brooding Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. It is true Austen’s men are more stoic and hide their emotions, but does that make them less romantic or worthy? Both kinds of storytelling speak to the era they were written in and to say one is right and one is wrong seems to limit literature in a way I find surprising.

The only reason I can seem to find for blurring Pride and Prejudice with all the spin-offs is perhaps these critics have not read it for many years. If that is the case, I implore these people spend time with my friend and give the story a read with an open mind and try to enjoy Austen’s sharp wit and satirical eye.