An Authors’ Christmas Party

Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell host a Christmas party at their Bloomsbury home.

Emily Dickinson RSVPs “no—” but sends a loaf of her famous gingerbread and a poem so cleverly hyphenated that they forgive her.

e.e. cummings regrets that Dickinson does not attend; he wanted to discuss the relativistic nature of grammar rules. He plays Scrabble with Shakespeare instead.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald crank the gramophone and Charleston near the eggnog bowl.

Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen commandeer the settee near the Christmas tree and exchange witty banter about social mores and marital prospects. Wilde does not remove his fur coat.

Walt Whitman arrives fashionably late. People smile and nod politely, then gossip amongst themselves. Whitman is delighted; he started the latest rumor himself.

Wordsworth sips his eggnog and reminisces about Christmases from his childhood. Tennyson strokes his beard and nods affirmingly, responding with symbolic remarks about friendship and mythic figures. They toast to the queen.

Shakespeare asks Woolf where her dictionary is; he needs to settle a spelling disagreement with e.e. cummings.

Charles Dickens dramatically performs his latest short story, complete with facial expressions so realistic and garish that Charlotte Brontë swoons.

Elizabeth Gaskell revives Brontë, and the friends sit in the corner while Gaskell vents in a passionate but ladylike whisper about how insufferable and controlling Dickens is.

Robert Browning pauses with wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning beneath the mistletoe.

Everyone gathers their wraps, hats, and umbrellas and thank Woolf and Hogarth for a scintillating evening. Bounding down the front steps, Dickens can’t resist quoting himself.

God bless us, everyone.”

Come to Literary Inn

The other night, I re-watched Holiday Inn, one of my favorite Christmas movies. I cheat with the colorized version, but I like how the sweet tinting—sea foam green, powder pink, and winter blue—adds to the nostalgia of the Irving Berlin musical.

If I had the money and the business sense (plus the modern day equivalents of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire), I’d love to open a venue like that. Who wouldn’t want to visit a renovated historic home on special occasions for food and entertainment? Rather than holidays, though, I think a literary theme might be novel. (Pun!)

At this combination bookstore/restaurant, all events and foods would be inspired by favorite worlds and characters:

July 31st—Harry Potter’s Birthday. At midnight, we’ll clink foamy mugs of Butterbeer in celebration. After sorting into our respective Houses, we can trade Chocolate Frog cards and complete Quibbler quizzes and play Wizard’s Chess. (No deaths, I promise.) Weasley-style fireworks cap off the evening.

November 1st—Scorpio Races Day. We’ll eat honeyed November Cakes and exchange capaill uisce escapades, placing racing bets and painting tea pots and swooning over Sean Kendrick. (Again, no one will have to die. YA literature is surprisingly violent.)

December 24th—Christmas in Narnia. We’ll consume Turkish Delight and hot chocolate in honor of Aslan and Christmas’ arrival. (This is especially meaningful in Minnesota, where winter is 100 years long). Sardines and toast will be offered as well. Perhaps we’ll even learn the dance of the fauns and the dryads, which I imagine is akin to a jig.

Literary Inn (working title) will also host Alice in Wonderland-inspired Unbirthday Parties, complete with mismatched tea cups and plenty of cupcakes. Dress: extravagant hat, over-sized cravat.

Of course sandwiches made from Peeta’s bread, chocolate cake from Dauntless, and Raspberry Cordial bottled in Avonlea will always be available.

Postscript: If such an establishment were to exist, what other events/characters/details should be included? :)

Literary Black Friday Shopping

Ahh, Black Friday. The infamous day that overshadows dear, old-fashioned Thanksgiving, whose simple refrain of “Give thanks” is drowned out by a chorus of honking horns and screaming couponers.

However, I have some literary friends who might benefit from all the sales. Let me know if you see any of them at these locations:

Alfred Prufrock (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”) at Joseph A. Banks, so he can get six pairs of white flannel trousers for the price of one. But then he’ll have to decide which pair he dares to wear, and that’s just too daunting of a task, so he’ll probably remain in his ever-reliable Chinos.

Jay Gastby (The Great Gatsby) at Party City, so he can stock up on plastic champagne flutes and multicolored Mardi Gras beads. Though given the enormity and frequency of his parties, the supplies will probably dwindle before New Year’s Eve.

Matthew Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables) at Costco, so he can get 20lbs of brown sugar at a much better price. Passive-aggressively bribing Marilla gets expensive, but anything for his Anne.

Rubeus Hagrid (Harry Potter series) at PetCo, so he can buy out their stock of ferrets. Not as pets, mind you; Buckbeak has quite an appetite.

The Cullen Family (Twilight series) at Best Buy, so they can purchase the Samsung UN85S9 85-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV and watch Animal Planet (their version of Food Network) for all eternity.

Thanksgiving

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” For years I’ve read this and repeated the words like a mantra, a chant, a call to arms. But only recently did I see the equal weight of these three commands. Rejoice, pray, thank. Always, continually, all the time. They’re parallel terms, synonyms.

I can rejoice—rejoice in God’s thick brushstrokes on the ombré evening sky, rejoice in the soft words He speaks through a friend, rejoice in His down-to-the-penny provision. But I can’t rejoice without thanking Him, and I can’t thank Him without praying to Him. Each action depends on the other.

Dear Lord, thank you.

I’m glad we have a day set aside for giving thanks. It’s a standing reminder that we need to reflect and to appreciate. To snuggle on the couch with little ones who smile at the Macy’s parade; to taste the textures of pecan pies and the bite of cider; to hear the range of voices around the table, nobody saying anything profound but everybody wonderfully present.

And during all of the surrounding days, I must rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstance, because this is the will of God. He desires us to be amazed, honest, and open, and in this unending cycle of praise, we can’t help but see how He saturates every day with color and light. He is with us always, and I’m so, so thankful.

Veterans Day Reading

One year for the school Veterans Day program, a group of lovely community women sang a peppy arrangement of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in true Andrews Sister fashion. I loved that homage to such a challenging but refining time in our nation’s history. On this blustery Veterans Day, here is some literature that depicts the struggles and strengths of our brave veterans and those on the home front.

Wings of the Nightingale series by Sarah Sundin

With Every Letter, On Distant Shores, and In Perfect Time intertwine the stories of three World War II flight nurses. These books are textured with historic details, raw emotions, and lovely characters. I wish I could sing “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” with these ladies.

Wings of Glory series by Sarah Sundin

Another WWII trilogy, each book (A Distant Melody, A Memory Between Us, and Blue Skies Tomorrow) chronicles the journey of one of the Novak brothers. I fell in love with these B-17 bomber pilots, and again, Sundin’s understanding of personality and faithfulness to history add layers to these beautiful books.

Essentially anything written by Lynn Austin

Austin’s books are the friends I return to again and again; in fact, I’ve read Eve’s Daughters at least once (if not twice) a year since I was 16. The four generations of resilient, vibrant women represented in this novel endure immigration, the Great War, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Vietnam War. While We’re Far Apart and A Woman’s Place are set exclusively during WWII, and in both, Austin vividly portrays different facets of life on the home front. Her realism, characterization, and accuracy ensure that each novel is an enriching experience.

The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding

A friend recommended this account to me, and though I haven’t yet read it (it’s top of the pile!), this true story sounds remarkable. Through memoirs, interviews, and histories, Harding explains how during the final days of WWII, American soldiers worked with German Wehrmacht soldiers to rescue French VIP prisoners from the fanatical SS and Gestapo.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

This exquisitely painful novel is narrated by Jenny, the innocuous cousin of a returning British soldier. Through Jenny’s eyes, we witness the emotional and relational effects of WWI on the soldiers and their loved ones. I adore this imagistic story, so much so that I almost wrote my Master’s thesis on its themes.

Postscript: What poignant historical fiction or non-fiction books would you recommend?

Baby Names

Reportedly, J.K. Rowling kept a shoe box full of unique names to use in the Harry Potter series. Like my pal Jo, I also love collecting names, and my list of favorites keeps growing. (It’s a good thing I’m a writer, because it’s much easier to create characters than it is to bear children.) I’m not suggesting children should be dubbed Salazar or Xenophilius, of course, but with so many kids identified by a last initial in their kindergarten class, it’s nice to hear a fresh name.

There’s always another end of the spectrum, though, and sometimes parents are a tinge too colorful. Sophia is now substituted with Sida (Sida what? Fries?), and Jacob is replaced by Jag. (Like the 90s TV show.) I’m all for a unique name, especially when creating characters, but some of these monikers from the “Unusual Baby Names of 2013 List” seem lifted straight from the Hogwart’s roster:

Girl Names:

Blip—On her 18th birthday you can say, “It just seems like a blip in time since you were born, honey!” Teehee, aren’t you punny, Mom.

Chevy—Because every little girl wants to be named after the manic dad with the light fetish on National Lampoon’s: Christmas Vacation.

Feline—“Sly, stealthy, or treacherous.” Won’t that look lovely on the Name Meaning plaque hanging above her crib?

Green—Green with envy. Greenhorn. So sick she’s green. Green as Slytherin House robes. Whatever connotation you were going for here, none of them are good.

Pippin and Viggo—You do know there are women in The Lord of the Rings, right? Wouldn’t you rather bring little Liv or Arwen to dance class? Rosie, Eowyn, Galadriel? Heck, even Merry at this point.

Boy Names:

Cheese—Maybe he can marry Green and they can have horrible connotations together.

Leviathan—An entire Bible full of genealogies and this is the name you pick.

Osbaldo—Apparently the new strategy to combat name-calling on the playground is to beat the bullies to the punch.

Thiago—How would you explain this to your parents? “Come meet your new grandson Thiago! You know, Thiago. Like the bird in Aladdin but with a speech impediment.”

Kashmere—No. Please no. You did not just name your son after a fabric made from goat belly fibers and then MISSPELL it.

Character-Inspired Halloween Costumes

It’s a safe bet that there will be lots of cute Elsa’s and Anna’s trick-or-treating this year. But if you’re like me, you want your Halloween costume (or that of your child) to be clever and distinctive. Here are some sure-fire one-of-a-kind costumes inspired by fictional characters. I guarantee you’ll be the only one running around cul-de-sacs and ringing door bells in these costumes.

Member of Abnegation (Divergent trilogy)

Costume: Modest gray t-shirt, gray sweatpants, no makeup.

Pros to costume: You can basically just roll out of bed. Also, Four is attracted to members of Abnegation.

Cons to costume: Other trick-or-treaters will assume you’re exceedingly lazy. Also, Four doesn’t exist.

Nancy Drew (Nancy Drew series)

Costume: Black pumps, titian wig, blue convertible (in case you need to pursue suspects), packed overnight bag (in case you need to pursue suspects across state lines).

Pros to costume: Black pumps go with everything.

Cons to costume: No one knows what “titian” means.

Dolores Jane Umbridge (Harry Potter series)

Costume: Pink. Cats optional.

Pros to costume: Pink will be easy for drivers and pedestrians to see.

Cons to costumes: You probably (maybe) (definitely) won’t receive any candy.

The Ghost of King Hamlet (Hamlet)

Costume: White sheet draped over your head and body.

Pros to costume: Oh-so-simple yet oh-so-unique.

Cons to costume: Few people will discern the subtle distinction between the ghost of King Hamlet, deceased ruler of Denmark, and a regular ghost costume.

A Pevensie Sibling (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Costume: Fur coat, British accent.

Pros to costume: You’ll be warm while trick-or-treating in Minnesota.

Cons to costume: A fur coat is actually necessary to keep warm while trick-or-treating in Minnesota.