Monday, June 25, 2012

The Bookgiver by e. l. kaufman

Maybe it happens to all writers eventually—suddenly you realize that you’re the “book giver.” I think it happened to me once I started going to birthday parties in elementary school—I remember wrapping lots of Baby-Sitters Club books. And I still gift books more often than not. Birthdays? A book. Probably not a BSC book anymore. Hanukkah? A book. Possibly eight. I can’t help it—I love books and I want everyone to read my favorites. If I could buy Rainer Maria Rilke’s Stories of God in bulk, I would.

I have a one-year-old niece, Maya, and I’m starting her out young towards a life of bookshelves. Here’s one shelf that I’ve stocked with some of my childhood favorites:

1.   Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw. I remember reading this book with my sister, before I could even read. I’d help her turn the pages and chime in on the repeating refrain, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always…” Of particular entertainment to my child self was the little boy on the cover, gleefully flushing a watch down the toilet. Actually, it’s still funny now—some things never get old, I guess.

2.   Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola. I’ll confess that as a little kid, I didn’t really understand this book. Apparently my mother did not use it as a tool to “introduce children to the concept of death” but rather read it with me because of the wonderful illustrations and beautiful text. I loved Tommy and his grandmother being strapped to their chairs when they ate. Reading it as an adult, it strikes me as much sadder than I ever picked up on—when I give this book to children, I warn their parents to read it first. Nothing worse than realizing, in mid-sentence while reading aloud, that you’ve just killed off Nana.

3.   The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. This is a classic that everyone loves. And now a major motion picture! As a child, I liked the “everyone, everyone, everyone, needs!” The cotton-candy colored tufted truffula trees also held a sugary, silky, sparkly fascination for me. I loved the little Lorax too—so angry! so passionate! I thought this book would be a particularly good choice for Maya, who, growing up as my sister’s child, is bound to be concerned about animals and the environment.

4.   The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson. Is there anything more enchanting than being able to truly believe that someday your beloved toys will come to life and be real? No. (There’s a reason that Toy Story is so successful.) I was the type of child who talked to all of her stuffed animals, who cried when seams ripped or fur rubbed off. The book comforted me. Recently, I had the privilege of reading an excerpt from this book in my best friend’s wedding, and even as adults, many of the guests described the book as “magical” and “moving.” And I still like to think that DD—my beloved doll—is real.

As Maya gets older I plan on continuing to fill her bookshelves with the books that I loved as a kid—Shel Silverstein’s poetry, Noel Streatfeild’s art-centered adventures, Natalie Babbitt’s comic short stories, Beatrice Potter’s whimsical collection—and still love today. 

e. l. kaufman earned her BFA from Emerson College and is currently working towards her MFA at Lesley University. She writes subversive, experimental stories featuring vivid characters exploring feelings of outsiderness, the loss of home, and living on the verge.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pappa's House by Paul Peppers

To describe my bookshelf I have to write a little about my grandparent's place. When I was a kid I spent many weekends at their two-story house. It was a comparatively modern place and a carbon copy of the houses to either side of it, but through the eye of my imagination the nights were crowded with monsterssuch as "the great old ones” from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, vampires from Bram Stokers Dracula, and pirates from Treasure Island. My small bed became the only safe haven on Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau. In that upstairs room I discovered the first book I can remember reading just because I wanted toThe Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The cover art was done by Roy Krenkel, Jr, and the picture captured my imagination. After reading it, the small plot of grass behind my grandparents house became a prehistoric land peopled with savage animals and savage men—a land where I battled the half-man Tsa to free my princess from his bestial clutches.

I suppose my mom and dad sent me to stay at my grandparents to get a break from me and my teenage attitude. But then again maybe it was to look after poppa. The old man was beginning to get a little forgetful and had a tendency to wander off, if left alone. There were many years of living between me and my granddaddy, but we still enjoyed each other’s company. We had an unspoken agreement—he talked and I listened. I can still picture the old man in his liberty coveralls, felt hat, and shiny black shoes. In my mind’s eye I see him frozen in time, sitting on the front porch swing with a flyswatter in one hand, and a glass of ice tea in the other—alone in my memory, until I place my own form in the swing beside him, or see my thin legs racing across the yard to show off my new sneakers. I remember glowing with pride when he praised my efforts—calling me ‘hoss’ and ‘stout.’

Poppa was in the National Guard when the race riots were going on. He told me enough about what happened back then to make me want to read more on the subject. That old man wore many different hats in his life. He built bridges for the county, worked at a saw mill, roofed houses, and made moonshine. I guess he was my bookshelf. The stories he told allowed me a glimpse of a wider world beyond my own cares and problems; an exciting world where anything was possible and anything might happen. Hell, I even learned how to make moonshine.
Paul Peppers is a diesel mechanic working in Cartersville Georgia. He holds an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Coosa Valley Technical College. He is fifty-three years old. His work has appeared in The Western, Larks Fiction Magazine, and Drunk Monkeys.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Simple Shelf by Gary Hewitt

Imagining a world without books is like living in a world of no colour and sound. Where would we be without the joys of Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Lovecraft, and goodness me I could go on. Put simply, life without books is no life at all. This makes me ponder what books I would gladly have on my bookshelf.

For me, books have to excite, entertain, captivate and leave you gasping for more. There is nothing better than having the feeling of oh, just let me turn one more page. My favourite book of all time would have to be Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. The language has been accused of being over-indulgent and publishers today would probably balk at the thought of a 1500 page behemoth flowing through their hands.

I would agree there are moments that are annoying, (Tom Bombadil for one), yet the imagination and storytelling for me are what makes it truly magical. I first read LOTRs when I was about seventeen or eighteen, and it was pretty much the first time I had a book I could not put down, considering it was so damn big. Anyway, after a couple of weeks or so I had finished it, and also experienced one of the best-ever endings. (spoiler) The hobbits return home to find the shire at the mercy of old Sharkey. (Why, oh why, they strayed from this in the Peter Jackson films I’ll never know—it was one of the stand-out moments of the book for goodness sake!)
Another series of books that makes my list of all-time favorites would be the wonderful Henry II Trilogy by Sharon Penman. Her attention to detail is fantastic and I found myself totally absorbed in the world of Simon De Montfort in his pious battle with these troublesome kings. The first novel sees the emergence of Edward from a feisty youth into one of England’s mightiest kings. The second focuses mainly on the Welsh insurgency until Edward’s patience finally snaps with disastrous consequences for Wales. I would certainly recommend reading her novels.
The next book I offer is the bizarre brilliance of Bulgakov in The Master and Margarita. This is a story featuring some of the most surreal images I’ve ever come across. What makes it special is that it was written at a time of supreme suppression in the USSR; it’s a satirical assault on the regime of the times. The world Bulgakov creates is populated by Pontius Pilate, gun-toting human-sized cats, a talking severed head, the devil and of course, Margarita. If that hasn’t tempted you to read this brilliant piece of insanity, then nothing will.
The time has come to sum up. I love reading. I also love writing. If I never learned the art of reading, and being taken away to distant far away places, I sure as hell could never write. To me though, reading books is simply dreaming with words.
UK writer, Gary Hewitt lives in a small village in Kent. He has had several stories published including editions of M-Brane and Morpheus Tales. His style does tend to be dark and is rather unique. He is a member of the Hazlitt Arts Writers’ Group.