I’m reading Middlemarch and there…

I’m reading Middlemarch and there are too many good passages to just dog ear in my book. So I begin posting them here with this bit on Mr Casaubon’s soul:

“Mr Casaubon had never had a strong bodily frame, and his soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic: it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its wings and never flying.” p 266

The lives of kids in old books

Awhile ago I read Tom Sawyer in large part because I wanted a window into how kids, and boys in particular, used to live. I know it’s a work of fiction, but I figured it would still provide insight into what was expected of kids more then a century ago, and what they were capable of. I loved it, and now don’t feel so badly about giving my kids a bath only once a week, if we’re lucky. Now as Ollie and I read together, I’m struck by the world children used to inhabit.

In 1962’s The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Peter wakes up to a snowy morning and goes outside to explore, all by himself.

The Snowy Day

At the end he goes home and tells his mother about his adventures outside, but the key thing is that he’s had them unaccompanied, all by himself. And he’s pretty young, because he’s not able to join the big boys in a snowball fight. Maybe the whole thing’s supposed to be a fantasy. Maybe when it was written young boys didn’t go outside alone for snowy adventures, but I don’t think so.

In the 1972 book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day clearly things are different. There are obvious technology differences, like going to school in a car with no booster seats (and the mom’s not wearing a seat belt and there’s a child in the front seat, no air bags!!), but also Alexander and his brothers are left all alone, out on the street.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

By the looks of the picture, they’re even in in the street. I don’t need to tell you the plot point is not that their mom is irresponsible and the children should be taken away. At school, Alexander’s friends have sweets and candy (“a Hershey bar with almonds”!! NUTS!!) for dessert. Do you see what kids climb on during recess?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

And have you read The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Their mother leaves all the children alone to go off to the baker, even though the very farmer who killed her husband and baked him in a pie is close by! While the daughters eat blackberries, Peter gets in all kinds of trouble by himself and is almost captured by the very same farmer.

I don’t read many contemporary children’s books, so I can’t tell you if they’re filled with helicopter parents shuttling kids to music lessons and soccer practice, or if they tell the story of kids trapped inside watching videos instead of dragging sticks through snow. But the more stories I hear of kids living without the opportunity to explore and play and be kids, the sadder I get. Every time I read one of these books to my kids, I want them to experience more than just a Very Bad Day, or a snow day, or a garden adventure. I want them to see what kids used to do and to know they still can.

All the Caldecott Medal Winners on Amazon

Time_of_wonder I love giving books as presents and lately I’ve been really into older children’s books (more on this in another post) so I figured someone had a list on Amazon of all the Caldecott Medal Winners, right? Easy ordering for all your gift-giving needs! But I only found a Caldecott Winners Gallery 2010 to 1971. So I created a list of the rest: Caldecott Medal Winners 1938-1970.

Looking back at the covers was especially fun, as I had many of the winners from the seventies and had forgotten all about them! And the illustration/design time-travel scrolling through the covers is fascinating too.

The oyster and New York

The Big Oyster: History on the Half ShellOne of the books I'm reading on my honeymoon is The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky. It was a gift from my parents to both of us, but since I'm the bigger oyster fan, I'm reading it first. It's a history of the oyster and New York. Apparently New York City used to be known for its oysters. And when the Dutch first arrived, there were so many oysters in the waters around the city that it was possible to find oysters as large as eight inches! Of course with all the pollution now, there aren't any oysters anymore. But I shall hold out hope that one day we'll clean things up to the point that oysters will return. Then when I go out to eat, the waiter will say, "Tonight we have two different oysters: a nice plump Hudson River and slightly smaller tasty East River. Both are $1 a piece." Because you know, in my fantasy, the oysters will also be cheaper because they're so local.

The tyranny of TV in public

PBS's MediaShift blog has a post wondering Do We Need TV in Public Spaces?

I spent the past week on a work vacation of sorts in Austin, Texas, which is a good thing. But one annoying thing was when I was stuck in an airport, and couldn’t tune out the ubiquitous TV monitors blaring the CNN Airport Network .

As a longtime news junkie, I used to consider this TV broadcast in airports to be a service, a way to get updated on top news while on the go. But now it feels like overkill, with so many other ways to get news.

This is a question I've been pondering lately because my bank has a TV mounted over the teller line. As I've been doing more banking at the counter, I've been subjected to CNN (bank version?) as I wait my turn. I find TV pretty insufferable in general, and when it's politics, it's even worse. The other day when I was in there they were doing a live broadcast of some talk President Bush was giving, and it was nearly impossible to tune him out. It was like some strange 1984 moment where I wasn't allowed to have my own thoughts anymore, and had "more important" thoughts hoisted upon me.

Can't we have some unmediated time to ourselves anymore? What's wrong with standing in the line at the bank, just spacing out or day-dreaming about stuff? Some times it's nice to just stand there and be.

The source of our literacy woes

I keep reading articles saying things about college graduates possessing poor reading skills (see the Guardian's 12m workers have reading age of children, apparently the UK has a similar problem.) Well today I think I stumbled upon the cause! It's TV! I was at the gym on the treadmill when I looked up at the TVs. One was tuned to MSNBC, and they displayed one of those static banners across the bottom of the screen as they cycled through clips of various people talking. It said, "World Reax to Hamas Victory." I must have looked at it five times, making sure there was no sweat in my eyes. But every time, it was still there. Reax. It was enough to make an English major cry on the spot.

A great present for a foodie

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and CuringBefore I left for Asia, I had a chance to look over a review copy of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Many readers may recall that Michael Ruhlman is author of some of my favorite books on cooking, especially The Soul of a Chef, and so I was excited to have the chance to check out Charcuterie.

I'm a big charcuterie fan but haven't yet ventured to prepare my own. My original hope had been to make some of the items from the book as part of my review, but I never managed to have the time, ingredients, and equipment in the same place at once to do so. But I can say that the book is filled with wonderful history and detailed instructions about how to prepare all the yumminess that salting, smoking, and curing can bring to your table and your tummy. I expect to be cooking several things from this when I return and will let you know how they turn out. But please, if you're a charcuterie fan, don't wait for my experiments. Buy it and learn how to make your own sausage and pâtés, and just in time for the holidays too!