American Bloomsbury

americanbloomsburyIn preparation for our trip to New England, I’ve once again picked up American Bloomsbury, which is about Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, and Margaret Fuller, the writers who shaped American literature. Susan Cheever attempts to portray the real lives of these auspicious men and women. She states in chapter 1: “[T]his is not only a story about ideas and their power to form a national identity; it’s about love triangles and the difficulties of raising children, about grief and inspiration and bad advice and passionate friendships, about the ebb and flow of daily life in the New England seasons of  a small town.” Sounds good, right?

Cheever has done loads of research, and much of the stories are written in narrative form, which gives the book an air of fiction. She also makes bold statements about their lives; sometimes, it’s amusing (see following quote on Emerson) and sometimes, it’s annoying. I started reading this last year, when we initially planned our New England trip, and couldn’t even make it through part 1. I didn’t want my perceptions of Thoreau, Emerson, and the others to be ruined by her opinions. I have since decided to give it another chance.

Some points that Cheever makes:

emerson1. Emerson, with the money left to him by his first wife, who died young of TB, supported all of his fellow thinkers and writers at some time or another. Cheever states:

Emerson wrote some wonderful lines, and some true biographical portraits, but it is as the sugar daddy of American literature that he really takes his place in the pantheon of Concord writers.

Of what I had previously read, this is the statement that I distinctly remembered, one that makes me smile a little every time I think of it. I wonder what Emerson would think of this particular phrasing?

bronson alcott2. I’m not really a fan of Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s father), so this book hasn’t really skewed my perception of him. Still, I found Cheever’s statements about his marriage with Abba Alcott to be interesting:

Bronson Alcott, in his doomed consociate society, believed that marriage shouldn’t limit a man’s ability to be with other women or a woman’s ability to be with other men, a freedom that rang hollow to his wife, who had no desire to be with other men and less and less desire to be with Alcott himself.

Alcott, though beloved by Louisa May, was not a good husband and father. He spent a lot of time away from home, visiting other areas of New England, and even England on occassion, teaching his radical beliefs on education (not all of which are bad, admittedly), and attempting to persuade others to his ideology of communal living. (Granted, I’m all for communal living, but Alcott attempted to live communally, with far too many social freedoms, and a lack of intelligence about farming and gardening. He didn’t believe in milking the cows or using the animals to plow and was, therefore, a terrible agrarian.)

3. Cheever talks way too much about sex in this book. The way she tells it, the Concord Transcendentalists were all having affairs with each other. The married men Emerson and Hawthorne were both in love with Margaret Fuller, young Louisa May Alcott loved both Emerson and Thoreau, and Thoreau was in love with Emerson’s wife, Lidian. She also even speculates on whether Thoreau was gay.

On that note, however, I tend to agree with some of what she says. While Cheever believes the other authors’ sexuality greatly influenced their word (i.e. Hawthorne’s infatuation with Margaret Fuller was the basis of both The Blithedale Romance and The Scarlet Letter), she states about Thoreau:

[I]t isn’t clear that Thoreau’s sexuality affected his life at all. It’s a twenty-first century question directly at an emphatically nineteenth-century personality. What is to be said about a man whose connections to birds and fish and all living things sustained him in a way that his connections to other people could never do?

thoreauThat seems more fitting with the ideas I’ve had about Thoreau–the man who loved Nature and was so in tune with the trees and the animals that he sort of wandered through the rest of his life in a sort of daze.

Cheever’s discussion on Walden might be my favorite parts of the whole book. She writes:

Freed from his daily indebtedness to Emerson, [Thoreau] wrote as if awakening, and the sense of awakening runs through the book. Walden is the first American memoir, the first book in which the days and nights of an autobiographical, confessional narrator are the central plotline. Thoreau invented nature writing and memoir writing in one swift, brilliant stroke.

In regards to the popularity that Walden has in present-day America, Cheever states:

Walden is a masterpiece, but it is generally cited more than it is read. The mention of Walden in polite society inevitably elicits great praise. “My favorite book,” someone says. Or, “I live by that book.” What they mean is that they know about the book and take it to be a hand book for the simpler life they might want to lead, if they ever got tired of making money and going to parties, or if they ever came to believe that the status in their community that makes them comforatable was really not important at all.

So true. I love Walden–for those reasons. Ideally, I’d like to live a simple life, free of clutter and materialism. But all you need to do is walk in my room, where piles of stuff clutter my life and wonder where the simplicity is.

All in all, I’d say this book definitely improves as one keeps reading. Cheever, I think, sometimes takes too much liberty in telling these stories–I think she assumes too much about the details of their lives that we could never actually know. And as much as I like New Historicism, there’s something to be said for limiting the details of the author’s life–I don’t think knowing every detail about Hawthorne’s supposed love affair with Fuller should in any way influence my reading of The Scarlet Letter. His Puritan ancestry…yes, it’s quite important. I don’t think his sexual life is. And with that, I’m finished.

I read this book over the course of the day yesterday, and this morning, I dreamed that I was sitting in some house in Concord having a fantastic discussion with Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Margaret Fuller. I don’t remember what we were discussing, but I know we were all friends. 🙂

#53: Catch a lightning bug.

lightningbugsummerwg1I know, I know. It’s incredibly sad that, at the age of 24, I’ve never caught lightning bugs. As a little girl, bugs of any sort freaked me out. And I guess when I got older, I just never took the time to catch them.

Last night, Ticcoa, Jess, and I headed to Look-Up Lodge, stretched out on the dock, and fed bread to the fish in the lake. Dusk fell, and I spotted a lightning bug. Unfortunately, we’d left the Mason jar at their house, but we did have a Dixie cup, which works in a pinch.

My first few attempts at putting the fireflies into the cup were unsuccessful. I was catching them with both hands so I wouldn’t squish them, but then Coa told me to scoop them out of the air with one hand. That method works much better. I only managed to actually get two into the cup. The fireflies are tricky–they knew I was after them, I think, and they kept flying into the trees or up this steep hill where I couldn’t follow them.

One of the girls whose dad runs the camp was also there, and she managed to capture one as well, so we had three in all. In honor of our upcoming trip to Boston, we decided to name them Louisa May, Henry David, and Ralph Waldo. When I noticed they weren’t lighting up much inside the cup, I tried to be more encouraging. I tapped on the cup and told them that I knew they didn’t like being trapped, unable to experience Nature, as they were, after all, named after Transcendentalists. When I said the word Transcendentalists, one of them actually lit up. I said the word a few more times, but didn’t get a response. I even tried baiting the fireflies by asking them what they thought of Margaret Fuller, but that didn’t get a rise out of them either, unfortunately. Eventually, I let them all out because I couldn’t bear the idea of them being trapped any longer. I’m sure they appreciated my kindness. 🙂

Next time, I’ll have to remember the Mason jar, with holes cut out, maybe? I’m sure lightning bugs need to breathe, too. (Maybe I’ll even take a jar to New England–Walden Pond is open until just after sunset–they surely have fireflies in Massachusetts, right? How much fun would that be to catch fireflies at Walden?!?)

On Being a Groupie.

Civil Twilight played a show at the Handlebar last night, which was incredible, as always.

But during the show, I realized something interesting. Civil Twilight does an excellent cover version of the Massive Attack song “Teardrop.” I’ve heard them play it three times now. I can now tell within the first  few notes from Andrew Mckellar’s guitar that they’re starting to play “Teardrop.”

I’ve seen them enough times to recognize almost immediately when they’re playing a song that isn’t even their own. Yes, I’m that awesome fangirl. 🙂

#85: The Georgia Guidestones

georgia_guidestonesYesterday, Harvin, Ticcoa, Jess, and I took a relatively short trip to Georgia to see the Georgia Guidestones. A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Week about the Guidestones, and we decided to celebrate the 4th of July by learning how to survive the apocalypse. 🙂

A mystery surrounds the identity of the man who commissioned the building of the guidestones. The article in The Week is a very well-written, informative article outlining the history of the monument, so you should read that if you want more background.Essentially, this sixteen-foot-tall monument was erected in order to guide any survivors of the apocalpyse as to how to rebuild society. There are ten (very vague) guidelines etched in granite in 8 modern languages: English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, and Swahili.

The guidelines:

GeorgiaGuidestones-407x699.jpe1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature. (For this to happen, at least 9 out of 10 people would have had to die in the apocalypse.)

2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity. (Goes hand-in-hand with #1? And “improve fitness and diversity”…are we controlling genetic factors now?)

3. Unite humanity with a living new language. (I’ve studied HEL…this will be almost impossible unless the only survivors speak one language. And this seemingly contradicts the 8 modern languages and 4 ancient one etched into the guidestones.)

4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason. (Head vs. heart? Ethan Brand, did you visit the guidestones?)

5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts. (Evidently, the creators of the guidestones believed in some higher power guiding justice and morality.)

6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court. (World court? That’s sort of a scary idea. But I suppose if people manage to survive the apocalypse, anything is possible.)

7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials. (Who exactly decides what is petty and useless?)

8. Balance personal rights with social duties. (Okay. How?)

9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite. (The infinite what precisely? Still, I think this is my favorite of the guidelines.)

10. Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature. (So important, they had to say it twice.)

It was, of course, a fun trip. The Guidestones are only about an hour and a half away, in the middle of freakin’ nowhere Georgia. (Really, south of Hartwell, north of Elberton…lots of long country roads and farmland.) We listened to Muse’s Absolution album (really, is there another soundtrack more perfect? The first song is called “Apocolaypse Please”!). Jess regaled us with conspiracy theories about the impending apocalypse on Dec. 21, 2012, and encouraged us to join her on the floating island that will somehow survive. We got lost, but Harvin with her impressive directional skills managed to find her way back to civilization. And we followed the trip up with lunch at Applebee’s, where we requested to sit in the back corner of the restaurant, next to a big picture of Harry and Ron, and next to the kitchen, where we heard all the waiters talking and laughing; we also watched (and laughed hysterically at) a hot dog eating contest on ESPN while we waited for our food. Happy Independence Day, indeed!

We’re Off to Massachusetts!

In Spring 2008, I took a class at NGU called New England Writers. My roommate/BFF Harvin did, as well, and there we met Ticcoa, who quickly became one of our favorite people. We all took the class in anticipation of discussing great literature with one of our favorite professors (Yay, Dr. Thompson!) and then embarking on a ten-day road trip to visit the Mecca of the literary world, Boston, Massachusetts.

We planned. We researched. We dreamed. We devoured literature from New England. And then the trip was canceled due to a TON of different reasons.

But Ticcoa, Harvin, and I refused to believe that we would never make it to Boston. We kept dreaming and discussing. And we decided we’d go this summer. The trip-planning hasn’t been without it’s nail-biting moments, however. We moved the date back when I was potentially offered the chance to teach a summer school class (which eventually fell through). We’ve saved and searched for the best deals, wondering if it was possible to do this on our limited budgets.

Yesterday, I booked a hotel about 15 miles outside of Boston. We leave four weeks from today. And it finally feels real…my best friends and I will spend ten days on the road, exploring New England, stepping on hallowed ground where such writers as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Edgar Allan Poe lived and breathed, died and were buried, changed the world! For months, I’ve wanted this more than anything else. I’ve spent hours daydreaming about walking around Walden Pond, wearing my Threadless “Poetic Irony” shirt at Poe’s grave, taking photographs of the houses where some of my favorite writers lived.  For an English major, this will be heaven. And I’m going with two of my best friends. 🙂

What exactly will we be doing?, you may be asking yourself. Or, you know, perhaps not. I’ll tell you anyway.

At some point, on the trip up or back, we’ll be stopping off in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Poe Museum, and in Baltimore, Maryland, to visit Poe’s grave. POE’S GRAVE!!!!! One of my very favorite writers and a cemetery? Good grief, it will be spectacular!

On the way back, we’re also swinging through Hartford, Connecticut, to visit the Mark Twain House and the first school for the deaf (Coa’s passionate about the deaf community and American Sign Language).

During the six days we’ll actually be in Massachusetts, we have plans to visit Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Salem, and Amherst:

Boston is, of course, one of the most historic cities in America. We’ll walk the Freedom Trail and see where many of the event’s of our country’s history played out. The site of the Boston Massacre; Boston Common, America’s oldest public park; the site of the Old Corner Bookstore, where The Scarlet Letter and Walden were first published; Paul Revere’s House; the Old North Church, inspiration for Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” And maybe I can sneak a glimpse of Fenway Park? (My fellow travelers HATE sports, so this might be difficult.)

Cambridge is home of the Longfellow National Historic Site, and we’ll probably take a walking tour of the town and spot the homes where famous writers (including Eliot!) at some point lived or visited.

Concord is pretty much the birthplace of American literature, and we’ll spend two days exploring that town. Emerson’s house; Orchard House, home of the Alcotts; the Old Manse, where Emerson, Hawthorne, and others lived at different points in time; the Concord Museum; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts are all buried; and, of course, Walden Pond.

Salem is, of course, most famous for the Salem Witch Trials, so we’ll visit the kitschy Salem Witch Museum. We’ll also tour the House of the Seven Gables, which includes the Hawthorne House and some other historical locations. And perhaps we’ll catch a meal at the Witches Brew Cafe? 🙂

Amherst is a few hours from Boston, but how can we go to Massachusetts without visiting the Emily Dickinson Homestead? The answer is, we can’t, so that will be our last day in Massachusetts before we head to Hartford. There’s also an Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books that we may visit if we have enough time.

That’s at least seven author homes, two cemeteries (and probably more), and one grand adventure. It’ll be an incredibly busy, hectic ten days. But I feel like ten days feeding our passion for literature and history will not be a problem at all.

I will, of course, be blogging as much as possible. And if you follow me on Twitter (or we’re friends on Facebook), expect me to be tweeting from every location. It will probably overwhelm your feed. You’re welcome. 🙂 But don’t worry, that’s still a month away.

This trip will be epic in so many ways–my first time leaving the Southeastern United States, my farthest road trip and longest vacation, and a chance to mark a number of items off my List. Boston is technically #45 on the List, but for months, it’s been the unofficial #1. Massachusetts, here we come!

June Books

I’ve officially finished the Book Challenge! (Not that I plan on stopping–how fast can I make it to 100, do you think?)

Here’s my tally for June:

1. The Sea of Trolls, Nancy Farmer. A fantastic young adult fantasy. Check out my review.

2. Just Listen, Sarah Dessen. Yes, another re-read. She’s my favorite YA author.

3. Anne of Avonlea, L. M. Montgomery. The sequel to Anne of Green Gables. Delightful, as always.

4. The Origins and Development of the English Language, 4th ed, Thomas Pyles & John Algeo. Yes, this is a textbook for my HEL class. But I read everything except the last chapter, which isn’t covered in class. Due to the tremendous amount of effort I put into this class, I’m totally counting this book towards my book challenge. And I seriously learned a lot, which is more important. 🙂

5. The Host, Stephenie Meyer. My favorite Meyer novel. My third time reading it. Also, the first book I actually reviewed on my blog.

6. Along for the Ride, Sarah Dessen. Her newest book–it came out June 16th. I was not disappointed. 🙂

7. Ghosts, Apparitions, and Poltergeists: An Exploration of the Supernatural through History, Brian Righi. If I were going to write a book about the history of ghosts, I’d hope it would look like this. Righi examines ghosts throughout centuries of history, including The Epic of Gilgamesh and Egyptian rites, through such modern-day stories as The Amityville Horror. He examines the differences between ghosts, apparitions, and poltergeists, and even discusses near-death experiences and Ouija boards, among other subjects. Basically, this book is a history of ghost lore, without ever being too scientific or too wordy. He provides needed explanations and lots of stories, and I really enjoyed reading it, actually. But then again, I’m a little morbid, too. 🙂

8. Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rhonda V. Wilcox. A very good critical assessment of the TV show. Wilcox spends the first six chapters discussing overall themes and concepts of the entire series, and she discusses six individual episodes in the last six chapters. One of my favorite chapters? A comparison of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to the season 4 finale, “Restless.” Wilcox is a Buffy scholar, and she very aptly used literary theories and philosophy to examine my favorite TV show. So wonderful.

9. Love, Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli. The sequel to Stargirl. Even better than the first, if that’s possible.

10. V for Vendetta, Alan Moore and David Lloyd. In case you missed it, here are my thoughts.

11. Being Nikki, Meg Cabot. This is my 50th book of the year! Sadly, it wasn’t as great as it could have been. I wish #50 had been a better choice.

Now…on to 100!