Posts Tagged ‘LinkedIn’

Banned Book Week Strikes Again!

September 26, 2014

Each September I find myself thinking “Gee wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to commemorate Banned Book Week in America?” Of course that day is nowhere on the horizon and, once again, I found myself incensed to read that, in Dallas, TX, Highland Park parents are trying to get seven books banned in the schools. In a barrage of emails and meetings attending by hundreds, parents asserted that the books they want removed are “Inappropriate” for students because they refer to things like rape, alcoholism, and abuse and expose kids to “the controversies and hardships of adulthood”. To me, this is beyond ridiculous. What student hasn’t heard about abuse or divorce or sex by the time they reach high school? And, if they can’t receive realistic information or have a safe place to discuss these unsettling topics and the issues and emotions they raise, like their home or their school, then how will young people ever be adequately prepared for “the controversies and hardships of adulthood”? Besides, most adults should realize that banning books to “protect” teenagers only makes them more desirable to read. Who out there is old enough to remember secretly reading Judy Blume’s books to learn more about “taboo” subjects our own parents were often unwilling or unable to discuss with us? Oh-wait, hasn’t she been on the banned or challenged list a few times too?

Every year I see ridiculous selections on the Banned Book list. The idea of forbidding Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey always makes me laugh, just like the naughty heroes, George and Harold, made our whole family chuckle for years. But some challenges should be taken more seriously. The one that incensed me the most this year was Jeannette Walls “Glass Castle”, which I believe is one of the best memoirs ever written. Not only does Walls cope with a dysfunctional family situation with a strength and character that often belies her years, she also is able to relay her survival tactics to readers with a humanity and humor that will stay with you long after you close the last page. Why anyone would find this book not fit for students is beyond me. If Jeannette Walls (and Sherman Alexie, another author on the Highland Park list of “must go’s”) could survive childhoods this difficult to become the insightful and compassionate authors they are today then why would anyone want to keep other kids in difficult situations from learning about the various survival strategies these two practiced? Or from seeing that it is possible to escape your past and create your own future if you just believe in yourself? The power of a good book to affect positive change in attitude and actions should never be underestimated!

To learn more about the Dallas controversy, check out these articles:

But, lest I appear judgmental to some, it isn’t only Dallas, or even just Texas that bans books. There’s a huge controversy over what books can be read in Arizona schools and libraries. Even Ithaca, New York, one of the most liberal, and literary, towns in America has had challenges to books in its school library over the years. This week, please take a minute to remind yourself why it’s so important to have a wide variety of books available to encourage, not only positive reading habits in kids and adults, but a love of discussion as well, the ability to talk about books and articulate what they mean to us. If you don’t like a book, you don’t have to read it. But please don’t try to tell me that I can’t read it either!

Now, for a final word from Sherman Alexie himself on why books should not be censored:

What’s your favorite banned book?

What’s on my Bedside Reading Table?

September 23, 2014

Lots of good fiction to read this month! Some of the books have been so riveting that they’ve even kept me up past my bedtime.

The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings

It’s every mother’s worst nightmare, outliving your child. So when Cully, Sarah St. John’s twenty-two-year old son perishes in a snowy avalanche in their hometown of Breckenridge, Colorado, Sarah feels like she is drowning in a grief that may never abate. Her retired father, her ex (Cully’s father) and best friend try to distract and comfort her to no avail. When she learns not one, but several, secrets it seems Cully had been keeping from her, Sarah starts to question just how well she really knew her son. So when a strange girl arrives unexpectedly in their town, claiming to have known Cully intimately right in the period before his death, Sarah isn’t sure what to think.

The characters each respond to their loss differently and they are so well-developed that you find yourself drawn into the aftermath of their personal tragedy and hoping that their grief will eventually find some resolution. Though Cully is never present in the story, through their recollections, he comes alive to the reader, so much so that you may find yourself mourning him along with those he left behind.

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

This book is a truly haunting story about what happens when diverse cultures and disparate people collide, much in the manner of The House of Sand and Fog (which I also found very compelling).  The opening scene of the book, where a wife (and mother of an Iraq veteran) attempts to seduce her husband, only to have him reveal that he’s in love with a much younger woman, will grab your attention immediately.

Then you’re introduced to a child protagonist, the young son of an immigrant family with an ice cream truck and parents who haven’t quite learned how to negotiate their new American lives. Bashkim wins your heart by page 10 and you’ll quickly find yourself rooting against all odds for his happiness and success in the land of opportunity. Finally, there’s Luis, his Abuela, and Dr. Ghosh, the military hospital psychiatrist whose lives become entangled with the Albanian family’s in what should have been the most ordinary of circumstance but turns out to be life-changing for all of them.

Set against the backdrop of Las Vegas, the city of sin and lost innocence, Mc Bride’s novel is a great illustration of how people, wars, and seemingly random events have the capacity to change your life forever. On the jacket, the author says her hope is that readers walk away believing that, though deeply flawed at times, humans are worth something and with this heartbreaking, yet redemptive, story she has far surpassed her goal.

And, the spellbinding historical fiction novel I’m just finishing now:

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

Any book with endorsements from the likes of Jodi Picoult, Scott Turow, and Stephen King practically jumps off the library shelf into my arms. Even the length, 788 pages, was not enough to deter me. With a cast of unforgettable characters and the universal themes of race, violence, and the ethical issues related to the medical, legal, and journalism professions, the tome did not disappoint and held my attention right up until the last sentence. And oh what a perfect ending it was!

One of the more interesting features of the book is how it goes back and forth between the tumultuous sixties and the twenty-first century, allowing the reader to simultaneously see how much certain things have, and haven’t, changed over the years. The sheer amount of corruption and brutality of some of the characters may stun you but the goodness and morality of others reminds the reader that nothing is ever black and white, there are almost always shades of gray involved. This is the first book of Iles’ that I’ve had the pleasure to come across and I’m thrilled to see that he’s written several more for me to peruse. Happy reading!

Historical Societies: A Hidden Gold Mine for Writers

September 11, 2014

Historical societies may seem old-fashioned to those of us accustomed to having Google Chrome and Firefox search engines at our fingertips. In reality they are a researcher’s dream. And, the people who are work there curating, archiving, and helping the general public search for accurate or obscure information are an invaluable resource. Don’t let yourself be deterred by rumors that historical societies are only manned by formidable older ladies and that they don’t operate on the same schedule as the rest of us. Remember, some of the best stories and articles are the ones that pose the most challenges!

Though I’ve often written articles about historical societies in my neck of the woods, they’ve usually been about special exhibits (the Moog synthesizer, the history of Girl Scouts in our area, and the Living History tours come to mind) and have involved interviewing key staff members rather than delving into the artifacts and files in the research library. Given this, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I entered The History Center in Tompkins County the other day. I had a topic I wanted to learn more about but wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to know or how I would use the information (does this sound familiar to other writers?). Donna, the archivist, seemed unfazed by my request. However, she had a few requests herself before we could get down to business. The first thing I had to do was put my purse in a storage locker.

“Even my water bottle?” I asked plaintively.

“Yes!” she responded firmly, reminding me that there was a drinking fountain just down the hall.

My next question was about how I could take notes. Donna provided me with some pale green paper and a pencil with an eraser. Apparently no pens were allowed either. I sat at the small table feeling like I was back in elementary school which, surprisingly, was not a totally unpleasant sensation!

After some consideration, she told me where she thought I should begin reading, not in the 1950’s as I had proposed, but in the 1930’s. Handing me four articles, she returned to her desk and I began to read. In between reading and recording my impressions and observations she and I and one of the volunteers had a lively discussion about the historical implications of certain events and how peoples’ attitudes and beliefs influenced them. Not everyone is as interested in our country’s history and how it shapes our lives today as I am so it was a pleasure to be in the company of two women who were. I felt a genuine sense of regret when 5:00 p.m. arrived and it was time to close up. This was followed by a pang of fear that I wouldn’t be able to remember where we had left off when I next returned. I shouldn’t have worried; Donna had that covered too! Brandishing the information card she had given me to fill out when I arrived, she showed me the notations she had made on it so we’d know exactly where to pick up and not waste precious time trying to recall what I’d already read. Though I’d entered the History Center feeling apprehensive, I left it with a light heart. In fact, I can’t wait to return and experience the thrill of discovery once again!

Anyone out there want to share your favorite research haunt?

Unique New York: More than Just a Tongue Twister

September 3, 2014

This week I had the chance to experience two really cool things that New York has to offer. The first was the birth of a baby calf in the Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair. The second was the Wing Bobbing Contest at the 13th Annual Buffalo National Wings Festival. Throughout both events, I found myself captivated by the multitude of new and different things you can find to do, and write about, in New York State.

When I first decided to volunteer at the Birthing Center, friends and relatives were skeptical (to say the least!) But I learned a long time ago that if you want to be a good writer, you shouldn’t say no to any opportunity that comes knocking at your door. So I put on my sneakers and packed pens, a notebook, and my camera and set off for the Fair. The first surprise was not how many people stopped by to check out the exhibit, but how many actually stayed from the moment the heifer from Beck Farm in Freeville, NY had her first contraction until the calf, with a little veterinary assistance, emerged in a tumbled heap on a bed of straw. Many of these observers were people “on a schedule” and initially they’d ask things like “When is she going to have the baby?” or “How much more time?” But they soon seemed to realize that nature operates on its own schedule and if they wanted to see a calf being born they were just going to have to settle down and wait. In the meantime, the farmer and his two sons, the organizers of the event, the vet, and other volunteers cheerfully answered audience questions, from the sophisticated to the simple. I found myself humbled when a young girl asked me where the calf came out. Though I grew up with plenty of farms in the vicinity and had studied my volunteer manual religiously, I realized that I had no idea! Together we tracked down a more knowledgeable source and now we both know!

I learned so much more than this though. We all see cows grazing peacefully on the hillside and we all hear allegations about the use hormones and mistreatment of animals. The real truth of the matter is that most dairy farmers are in the business because they care about animals and want to contribute to feeding America. Farming is a business; cows are not kept as pets. Some of the farming tenets may feel “wrong” to those of us who have never been exposed to them, however the experts are able to provide reasons that make sense if you’re there to learn, not judge. Heifers provide the milk for the dairy, not bulls, therefore bull calves are usually sold within a few days of their birth. Calves are taken from their mothers once they’ve been licked clean, for health and safety reasons.

Farmers work 365 days/year to feed, house, and provide good veterinary care for their animals and they take this responsibility seriously and make an invaluable contribution to society. New York is the fourth largest dairy-producing state in the nation and most of its farms are family owned (some for many generations). Seeing “Boeheim” arrive in the world was not yucky or disgusting; it was amazing and uplifting. After all, the production of milk begins in the maternity pen, though not usually at the NYS Fair!



At the other end of the state, the chicken was king. 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the revered Buffalo chicken wing and what better place to commemorate this than at the National Chicken Wings Festival in Buffalo, NY where it all began? We sampled as many wings as we could, most of them delicious, some a bit too hot for my tender palate, and several of them (like the Bacon and Maple Wing) unusual. We also took many photos, listened to the band, dodged a thunderstorm under a local radio station tent, collected all sorts of swag from various companies, and bought two funky t-shirts. The grand finale was the Bobbing for Wings Contest. Three applicants are selected to participate and this year men were vying to see who could pull the most chicken wings out of a child’s wading pool filled with Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing with their mouth (no hands allowed). Messy? Yes! Even though the contestants are allowed to wear goggles, they become covered in the dressing. It was something I had never envisioned and may not ever need to see again but I’m glad I did it!


Hope your last week of summer was just as eventful!

Fall Means Changes for People Too

August 26, 2014

As summer draws to a close and fall approaches, our family finds itself going through a lot of changes. My oldest son, a recent graduate, is looking for a job and facing student loan payments. My middle son, a junior in college, has a new apartment off campus, a part-time job, and a car both of which come with more adult responsibilities. And my youngest, who just returned to school the other day, is living in a suite with five other boys and has a full course load, a girlfriend, and an internship at the school literary magazine. My husband and I are once again contemplating our empty nest, but 2014 is no longer an adjustment/transition year. This September we have a good sense of what it feels like to be a couple once again, only this time with adult children.

Why is this important enough to blog about? Because what our family is experiencing is universal but sometimes, when everyone is struggling and suffering at once, it feels very isolating. Writing about our daily dilemmas is one way to share what’s working for us and what isn’t. Putting words to feelings makes them more manageable and often, as you write it down, what was initially a hopeless tangle of emotions suddenly unravels itself and a path to a better place emerges. Here’s the thing-when the kids were little it was our job to teach them all sorts of things, from how to tie their shoes to good table manners to knowing how to admit when they were wrong no matter how hard it was. Now that they are young adults our job actually becomes much harder because we have to trust that we gave them the skills to handle almost any situation that arises and we have to be willing to step back and let them succeed or fail on their own merit. That is really difficult to do, but in fact, saying the words “You can do this” or “You’ll figure it out” is the best gift you can give both your son or daughter and yourself. Gradually letting go means that you believe in them and in your parenting. Here are three ways I’ve used writing to help myself during this period of constant change.

Send a card

In this day and age sending something with a stamp may sound hopelessly old-fashioned but I’ve noticed that, when the going gets tough, a funny or encouraging card will still bring a smile to my sophisticated boys’ faces. Use the blank space to tell them how proud of them and the choices they’ve made so far and that you know they have the strength and intelligence and compassion to get through anything life hands them. Don’t forget to remind them you’re always there if they need to talk!

Keep a journal

This is where you’re allowed to write down all the things you want to do but know you shouldn’t. Vent all you want and then move on! Use a daily journal to refocus all the energy you used to expend on the kids on yourself and your goals. Amazingly, once you ease up on the twenty-something’s, you’ll have more time to spend on your career and personal aspirations. Write that novel, take a class, volunteer to lead a teen book group and keep telling yourself the same thing you tell your offspring, “You can do this” and “You’ll figure it out”.

Write articles or personal essays

As I mentioned, the odds are that you are not the only family going through all these readjustments. Articles are a great way to get paid while also being helpful to other parents. We all like to read about how others cope with or solve problems, and parenting young adults, restructuring your marriage, and reviewing your future are all fascinating topics for people in our age bracket. So, write away! Before you know it, it will be Thanksgiving and they will all be home again, along with a whole new set of adjustments to make!

Any other ideas? Please send them on!

Think Ahead!

August 15, 2014

September is just around the corner which means,for many,  it’s time to head back to school. We writers are no exception. Once Labor Day has come and gone, educational opportunities for writers abound. Here are a few places I’ll be continuing my education this fall:

Local writing organizations

Writers and Books will begin offering their “Writing Aerobics” classes once again on Saturday mornings. For an hour and a half and a minimal fee, you get to do timed writing exercises, share what you wrote with the rest of the group, and get to hear advice and suggestions from a writer more experienced than yourself. Every week these are taught by a different writing teacher so the exposure you receive to a variety of writing styles is invaluable. It would be a mistake to think that, just because you’re sitting down, you’re not doing much. Every time I’ve been, I leave the writing room finding that both my hand and my brain are quite exhausted from the effort I’ve put forth. But I also feel that special glow of positive energy that you get after a really good workout. Which is why I keep coming back for more!

Area Colleges

Here in my little corner of the world, Cornell University will also be resuming their reading series this September with free talks by literary agents and editorial directors, along with readings and discussions led by notable poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers. These are open to the public and students and faculty are also encouraged to attend so the audience is made up of people from all walks of life, making the Q&A sessions much livelier.


Buffalo Street Books is an independent bookstore in Ithaca which hosts all sorts of reading and writing-related activities. Next month I’m planning to hear Alison Lurie discuss her latest novel, The Language of Houses and author Edward Baptiste talk about his nonfiction book. Also on my “to do” list is a long overdue visit to Trampoline, Ithaca’s Competitive Storytelling Event, where participants get five minutes to share a story related to a chosen topic. The September theme is “Your Mom” which I have no doubt will be absolutely fascinating. After all, we all have mothers!

All of these homework assignments are geared towards making me a better overall writer. I’ll let you know if it works when October rolls around!

What’s In My Cape Cod Travel Journal-Part II?

August 7, 2014

As tent campers, our family tends to eat simply on vacation-easy foods like hot dogs and hamburgers, baked beans, and s’mores. Given this, we always try to set aside some money to treat ourselves to at least two or three interesting lunches and dinners just to add a little spice to our daily meals. This year, thanks to a timely article in the Boston Globe, we tried something a little different. Instead of going to one restaurant in Provincetown, we experimented with a tapas system, visiting several places we’d never been to before, all of which had unusual menu items that we couldn’t resist sampling, sharing, and comparing. To make it even easier, all three are located on Commercial Street in the West End. Our final verdict:

Relish (


This airy restaurant features sweet and savory sandwiches, salads, and desserts created by Chef Mark Buchholz who, to his customers’ delight, continues to hone his craft on a daily basis. There is something for everyone with gluten-free, organic, free-range, and vegan options and all menu items feature the freshest of ingredients. Since it was almost dinnertime, we opted to sample the chicken salad with Gorgonzola, fresh pear, and sweet onion-a daring, but delectable, choice and the Italian, seasoned with balsamic and Sweet Heat. Sadly, despite the rumor that the cupcakes were beyond delicious, we were too full to sample them since this was our last stop. Next time…

Pop + Dutch (



This friendly corner store/deli intrigued us by mentioning that the counter jars held candy, dog biscuits, and condoms! Once we arrived, we felt obligated to taste the oddest thing on the menu which was a Nutella and Fluffernutter sandwich on white bread. Though it was way too sticky and sweet for my taste, my college-age son loved it and I think most kids (and perhaps seniors with a sweet tooth) would too. The service was so friendly and the atmosphere so funky that we plan to go back next year and order some of their other in-house specials for a beach picnic at Race Point or Herring Cove!

The Canteen (

This culinary find was recently voted one of the top ten best small restaurants in the area by Cape Cod Magazine and we could instantly see why. An ocean breeze, drifting gently through the windows and the chalkboard menu give it a beachy, vacationy feeling. Add a raw bar next to the counter and a selection of beer and wine and it’s a colorful and inviting place to share a meal with old friends or hang out and make a few new ones. We opted for three items to share. The grilled P ,B, and J, made with peanut brittle and fresh strawberries, was even better than it sounded, just the right mix of flavors and textures. The Mexican corn, with crumbly cheese, chili powder, cilantro, and lime tasted great but, sadly, was a real mess to eat from the cob (you almost need a lobster bib!) An unexpected surprise-the kale, linguica, cranberry chutney, and garlic aioli on French bread was an eclectic and amazing combination of flavors. One thing that we didn’t try (since we all hate the round green vegetable) was the Crispy Brussels Sprouts in Fish Sauce, which is reputed to be The Canteen’s best seller. This is one more restaurant we will definitely return to again and again.



 This jaunt was a pleasure-filled reminder that, even when you’re on vacation, a sense of adventure is a writer’s best friend!

What’s In My Cape Cod Travel Journal?

August 5, 2014

You’ve got to love summer, especially vacation week! This year I was extra lucky and was able to take 12 days off, instead of the seven I’m usually allocated. Maybe having three kids in college this year had something to do with it…So off to Nickerson State Park in Brewster. MA I drove for my annual dose of the ocean and a rejuvenating break from reality. Here are a few highlights from my first week on the Cape.

Nickerson State Park (Brewster)



If you’re a diehard tent camper, you can’t beat this 1,900 acre park, conveniently located mid-Cape. I’ve been coming here myself for about 40 years and I still love it!  The park has several freshwater kettle ponds (formed by glaciers) where you can swim, kayak or canoe, of float on something inflatable to your heart’s content. Motorboat use is restricted to small craft and to get to Cliff Pond (our favorite) it’s a steep hike (bordering on treacherous) so the beaches aren’t too crowded and very peaceful. Nickerson also has miles of biking, jogging, and hiking trails and is one of the gateways to the popular Cape Cod Rail Trail. Not completely rustic, it has a camp store, flush toilets, and hot showers, along with nature programs.

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Audubon Society-Wellfleet)


This is a great stop for anyone who is interested in learning more about the flora and fauna on the Cape, as well as about the native species (aquatic and landlubbers) who live there. My friend Tammy and I saw wild turkeys, snowy egrets, many types of butterflies, and hermit and fiddler crabs. Popular trails provide a variety of paths to hike on, including pine needles (forest), sand (beach), and boardwalk (marsh) and plenty of viewing areas, including bird blinds and wooden docks. None of the trails are more than a few easy miles long so you can traverse them all in one day if you’re feeling ambitious, a real bargain for the $5 admission fee. The nature center is small, but well maintained, with all sorts of informative exhibits and a commitment to being as “green” as possible. Be sure to check out the “compostable” toilets!


Nauset Beach (Eastham)

Though the admission charge might be steep for some at $15/car, Nauset is free after 4:00 and has free concerts on Mondays throughout the summer. It also has good surf and you’ll often spot seals frolicking in the waves off shore (hopefully without the accompanying sharks!). The other perk is Liam’s Snack Bar, featuring the famous onion rings. For you writers out there, it’s also the best beach for eavesdropping and people-watching!

Sundae School (Eastham)

After a full day at Nauset, there is nothing we’d rather do than stop at this local institution for an ice cream treat to tide us over until dinner. The banana splits are beyond delicious, and we have even been known to make them our dinner! If that’s too much for you, try an old favorite like peach or mint chip or be daring and order a “raz Oreo” or chocolate mixed with orange sherbet, which sound gruesome but are actually mouth-watering.

Head of the Meadows National Seashore Beach (Truro)



If you prefer a more low-key beach atmosphere, try this favorite of ours. It’s more primitive, with limited toilets, a public changing area, and two shower spigots but there’s a sandbar to catch the waves on and a few miles down the beach, it’s possible to watch the seals sunbathing on the sand at low tide. The National Seashore beaches are also $15/car but you can use the pass at any of its other beaches to get in free for the rest of the day.


Next to ice cream, nothing tastes better than an ice-cold beer at the end of a long day at the beach. The Boston-based Samuel Adams Seasonal Summer Ale is always popular but my hands-down local favorite is Whale Tail Pale Ale. I think I like saying it as much as drinking it!

Let me conclude my post with an apology for not blogging in over a month. Between a hectic summer and some computer issues, I fell behind, but I’m back on the blog wagon with all sorts of new ideas and information.

Next up in my travel journal-Provincetown restaurants!

Chautauqua-A Writer’s Dream

June 18, 2014

I admit that I signed up for the Writers’ Festival at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York without really understanding what it would entail and how much I would actually get out of it. I’ve been to a fair number of conferences at this point but most of them have been more of the lecture and presentation variety rather than Chautauqua’s focus on daily small group workshops and multiple readings and panels by both the “experts” and anyone else who wants to give things like “Open Mic” a try (I wasn’t quite up for that yet but I really enjoyed listening to others read from their work).You also get an individual conference with your small group leader, which was immensely helpful for me in focusing what I’m trying to accomplish.

One of the best things that happens at Chautauqua is that you experience total immersion in everything literary. From 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. you are busy doing something that has to do with writing or reading or you’re eating a meal or having a drink with other writers. Because the Festival fee includes everything, you don’t have to think about mundane things like jobs, volunteer work, cooking, cleaning, laundry, children, other family members, and pets. All you have to worry about is getting to different rooms on time so you don’t miss anything! And the Festival organizers clearly “get” us. They’ve built in time for just sitting on the spacious hotel porch overlooking the lake and thinking, time to write quietly wherever you’re most comfortable, and time to take a walk or get some other type of exercise. The whole atmosphere evokes the literary retreats of old and most of the four days feels like you are in this blissful writing bubble.

My group was nonfiction, historical and memoir, and there were 12 of us from all over the United States and all ages and walks of life, along with our fearless leader, Patsy Sims. Despite the fact that five members had MFA’s from Goucher College in Maryland and some of us were just starting to dip our toes in the water of serious writing, we instantly bonded, both as a group, and with Patsy. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t feel comfortable offering constructive criticism or suggestions, or asking questions, about each other’s works-in-progress though. In fact it was quite the opposite. As a result, I came away from the four days with all sorts of practical ways to increase my writing skills, a seemingly endless reading list (thanks Tandy!) and a better sense of where I’m heading with the book I’d like to write and how I can get there.

When I first walked through the front doors of the Athenaeum Hotel, I was apprehensive and intimidated, not sure that me, or my writing, would measure up to the other participants. When I left, I felt like I was finally part of a real writing community and that I had made some connections that I hope will last for a long time, with people that love words and their endless possibilities as much as I do. I look at the picture that Bob took on our last day of us all standing together in our little conference room and I smile, thinking to myself,”This is my tribe.”

Do Comics Count?

June 1, 2014

Do comic books count as “real” literature and reading material? Twenty years ago my answer would have been an unequivocal NO! But then my son Calvin was born. I have been a voracious reader since day one. My mother read to me, took me to the library, and bought me books for birthdays, holidays, and just for fun. Naturally I did the same for my three boys and the first two followed in my literary footsteps like ducks take to water. The third son, Calvin, started out like them but, by the time he was in first grade it had became apparent that, though he loved to have others read to him, he had no interest in picking up a book on his own. What to do? After wailing and gnashing my teeth for a while, I decided that the situation called for some type of innovative strategy. That’s when I thought of Calvin and Hobbes, the much beloved comic strip by the elusive Bill Watterson. After all, what adventurous and active young boy could resist the allure of a book that featured a hero with his own name? And, who wouldn’t love a loyal stuffed tiger with the voice of reason? I rushed to Barnes and Noble and quickly purchased a book to try out my latest idea on Calvin Henninger. This proved to be one of the smartest parenting moves I ever made. The comic strip panels in the book were short enough to be manageable for my young son to handle on his own, engaging enough for me that I didn’t mind reading them over and over to him when he was too tired to read on his own, and funny enough that soon our whole family became huge fans of Calvin, Hobbes, and the various other colorful characters in the books. Calvin is the little kid we all can identify with, slightly weird, with a vivid imagination, a touch of compassion, an indomitable spirit, and a twisted sense of humor. Watterson is spot-on with everything he writes. We all had a teacher like Mrs. Wormwood, a babysitter like Rosalind, or a pesky neighbor like Susie. If we didn’t have a “Get Rid of Slimy Girls” club and a tree fort, we wished we did. And Calvin’s snowmen are the stuff legends are made of!

Gradually my Calvin segued into story books and then chapter books, something I’m convinced never would have happened had we not used the lovable comic strips as a springboard. However, even though I knew I’d done the right thing, and really enjoyed reading them myself (though I’m not normally a huge fan of comics), there was still a part of me that was embarrassed that I had resorted to comics to raise a reader.

Then a young man, about my Cal’s age now, started a Kickstarter campaign and released a Netflix documentary called “Dear Mr. Watterson” about the huge impact the comic had made on readers over the years. The interviews in it made me realize that my experience with the comic wasn’t mine alone; it was universal. Those of us who spent time with Calvin and Hobbes have a special bond, an understanding of life that unites us and, I believe, makes us all better people for it. As I watched the documentary with my son, I began to understand just how much our whole family had gained from reading every single Calvin and Hobbes book over and over. As the film showed different clips from the books, I felt like I had come home again and I found myself laughing out loud at the way the characters seemed so real to me and at how joyful I felt to be reunited with them. I also felt an incredible sadness that Mr. Watterson has retired Calvin and Hobbes because, honestly, I would have gone on reading about them forever. That, to me, is the true mark of a good writer.

These days my Calvin is a creative writing major and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes were a huge influence in his career choice, the characters he creates and , above all, his crazy sense of humor. So today,  when people question the validity of comic books as literature, I find myself one of the genre’s staunchest defenders. Thank you Mr. Watterson!


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