Sunday, February 26, 2017

Little Men Reread Part II: Content

My Little Men
As I suspected in yesterday's post, as an adult I'm nowhere near as fond of the book Little Men as I was when I was a child. Unfortunately, my life is a sort of ode to that book. I could have done worse, I suppose. I read a lot of Marvel comic books as a kid, too. Inappropriate adult spy novels. Historical romances. Nearly everything Agatha Christie wrote. At least in Little Men young boys living in a boarding school are exposed to a lot of improving generic spiritual stuff about sorting out your faults and taking care of your conscience. I don't recall seeing that in The Avengers.

 

 Does Alcott Romanticize Poverty And Women As Wives And Mothers?


I ask that question because she does it in An Old-Fashioned Girl. So, you know, I wondered.

Money. In Little Men it's not so much that Alcott romanticizes poverty, it's that she holds wealth, and particularly how it's achieved, in low regard. Jo and her husband, Professor Bhaer, run a boarding school and their student Jack represents the evils of business. He's introduced as "sly." "Many men would have thought him a smart boy, but Mr. Bhaer did not like his way of illustrating that Yankee word, and thought his unboyish keenness and money-loving as...an affliction..." Jack's uncle is described as setting a bad example for him, presumably with the keenness and money-loving. Yes, Jack steals from one of his classmates, lies about it, and lets someone else take the blame for it. But that's his function in the story. He's interested in money, so he's bad. Seriously, Jack has warts. He's even physically marked.

Laurie from Little Women darts in and out of Little Men. He has great wealth, but even though there's a reference to him being in business, he is a beloved character who uses his money for good. Why? He's known Jo and her family for years, is married to her sister, and they have had an improving influence upon him. "I'm the first boy Mrs. Jo ever had to take care of...she has been working on me for years and years."

So a variation of the poverty vs. wealth/business issue appears in Little Men.

Women. The women in Little Men are particularly intriguing. First, we have Daisy, Jo's niece, and Nan, an unrelated student. Poor Daisy appears to be being trained for service to family. She attends real classes, but we never see her in the classroom. Her interests appear to be all domestic, and she loves doing things for others, particularly for her male classmates. Her playing involves domestic tasks like cooking and, I kid you not, doing laundry.

Nan is a wild child, not traditionally domestic. Her interests do involve care giving, though. She's already headed for a career in medicine. (I've read Jo's Boys.) Jo believes she will make a "capital doctor" and wants to convince Nan's father to support her, because Nan "...wants something to live for even now, and will be one of the sharp, strong, discontented women if she does not have it." I'm not sure what that means. Do more domestic women like Daisy not have something to live for? Is being sharp and strong and discontented a big negative?

A reader could argue that in Daisy and Nan Alcott is presenting women's choices, choices that most women probably didn't have in the 1860s when this book was written. Then there is little Bess. What about her?

Bess is Laurie's very young daughter, making her another of Jo's nieces, who only visits the school. She is beloved by all, primarily because she is a beautiful child. She may be beautiful inside and out, but the outside gets a lot of attention. Her big chapter is called "Goldilocks."

And then there's Jo. Not once in Little Men do we see a reference to Jo writing, which pretty much defined her in Little Women. (I think it may come up in Jo's Boys.) Nor does she teach at the  school she runs with her husband, not in the traditional sense of the word. She influences all as a loving mother figure, one who teaches through spiritual analogies, and, I guess, mother love. There's a lot of talk of sowing, gardening, and reaping in this book, for instance. There's a lot of intuitive knowing what her boys need. When she was hanging drapes and folding clothes and fitting Nan for a new pinafore, I kept thinking, Jo, Jo, what happened to you? And this exchange between Jo and her husband was a little chilling:

"But needlework is not a fashionable accomplishment, my dear."
"Sorry for it. My girls shall learn all I can teach them about it, even if they give up the Latin, Algebra, and half-a-dozen ologies it is considered necessary for girls to muddle their poor brains over now-a-days."

Yiiiiiikes.

Just as with An Old-Fashioned Girl, there's a lot of romanticizing of women as wives and mothers in Little Men and then one different kind of woman (in this case, Nan) thrown in. It's hard to figure out what is going on here.

And Speaking of "Old-Fashioned"


Alcott uses the express "old-fashioned" a number of times in Little Men and very favorably.

"These were the boys and they lived together as happy as twelve lads could, studying and playing, working and squabbling, fighting faults and cultivating virtues in the good old-fashioned way."

""Once upon a time," began Mr. Bhaer, in the dear old-fashioned way, "there was a great and wise gardener who had the largest garden ever seen." I told you there was a lot of garden talk in this book.

""You shall ferule me in the good old-fashioned way; I seldom do it myself, but it may make you remember better to give me pain than to feel it yourself."

"""First of all, put on this clean cap and apron. I am rather old-fashioned, and I like my cook to be very tidy.""

""Miss Crane kept a school for boys in a quiet little town, and a very good school it was, of the old-fashioned sort.""

"This yearly festival was always kept at Plumfield in the good old-fashioned way..."

"Old-fashioned" is always used to describe something good (except for that feruling business), just as it is in An Old-Fashioned Girl.

What Are You Driving At, Gail? You Are Driving At Something, Right?


Ah...I don't know. Little Men is sometimes considered part of a Little Women trilogy, but it seems to owe a lot to An Old-Fashioned Girl, which was published just the year before. The whole domestic goddess thing I see in these books seems so much at odds with what I know about Alcott's life. She was a woman who had to do what she condemns Jack for in Little Men, care about business and make money. In fact, Susan Bailey says at Louisa May Alcott is My Passion that Alcott wrote Little Men to provide financial support for her young nephews after the sudden death of her brother-in-law. (The John Brooke chapter in Little Men.)

Now, I need to reread Little Women at some point. Also Eden's Outcasts, a double biography of Louisa and Bronson Alcott. (Her father. Yeah. If anyone had understandable father issues, it would be LMA.)

Tomorrow


Sadly, I am going to have to do a third Little Men post, because there are some things I want to share about how the writing of the book differs from what we expect today. And I've got to get the fat-shaming business off my chest.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The "Little Men" Reread Part I: Why?

I wanted to take part in Read-at-Home-Mom's Old School Kid-lit Reading Challenge sometime this year. This month the Challenge's category is Books You Loved In Childhood. This was a 'fall into Gail's lap' sort of situation because my favorite book from childhood is Louisa May Alcott's Little Men, which is certainly old school, and I've been interested in rereading it for years. Thus I'm beginning what I hope will be a two-part (no more) Little Men Old School arc.

Some Backstory. Lots Of Backstory, To Be Honest

Read to death.

What do I mean when I say that Little Men was my favorite book from childhood? I mean that I read
our house copy until the last page fell out. By "house copy" I mean an edition published in 1913, which I think came from my mother's family, though she has no recollection of it. So I may not have to have read it very often to make that page drop out and disappear. As it turns out, I still have this copy, and it's what I read this month. As you  can see, time has not been kind to it. The front cover was already close to coming off, but this last read toasted the back.

Husband with beard. Two sons.
You used to hear that all girls wanted to be Jo in Little Women. I wanted to be Jo in Little Men. To a very great, and bizarre, extent, I succeeded. I wrote books like Jo. Like Jo, I married a man who eventually grew a beard. (He isn't a professor, but his father was.) We had two sons.


Running boys
For years, my yard was full of boys. I mean, full of boys. And while I didn't run a school, I volunteered at our elementary school for probably eight or nine years, taught Sunday school for maybe eleven, and was an assistant taekwondo instructor for three. I will argue that my teaching time is comparable to Jo's because she spends a lot of time in Little Men hanging curtains and darning socks.

  
Look at all the boys!
 At any rate, I felt I was one of the lucky few who had lived the   dream.

And Then...


...I read Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl. I found it "hardcore nineteenth century instructive, improving literature for the young. In her Preface, Alcott is very clear that this is no accident. She knows exactly what she's doing:

'The 'Old-Fashioned Girl' is not intended as a perfect model, but as a possible improvement upon the Girl of the Period, who seems sorrowfully ignorant or ashamed of the good old fashions...'"

In OFG, Alcott romanticizes poverty  and  women as wives and mothers. Lots of stereotypes. Old- Fashioned Girl left me wondering, Was Little Men, which I'd kind of based my life on, like this, too?

 Part II tomorrow.


Friday, February 24, 2017

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb. 20 Editon


Goal 1. Adhere to Goals and Objectives. The time frame objective is working pretty well, so far. I've flailed around a bit with the weekly check of goals recently (like this one). And I've given up on the timekeeping app.

Goal 2. Generate New Work Through End Of April--Adult Novels I have continued to work on the second objective. Interesting thing happened. I have the project I'm working on now sort of outlined, at least in terms of a list of chapters. I started Chapter 2 quite some time ago and have been struggling to make it work. It's not working because it's just chatting narrative. There's no scene. So I've finally decided I have to merge it with Chapter 3. My question now...how much good did having that second chapter planned? Of course, you could argue that I hadn't planned it well enough, and that's why I've been spinning my heels. More planning!

Goal 4. Make More Than 33 (last year's number) Submissions Of  Completed Work Throughout The Year. Most importantly, I made my first submission of the year. Only 32 left to go! I've also been working on the first objective, the publishers I'm sending the picture book manuscript to. I finished going through three months of Publisher's Marketplace Deals that had piled up in my in-box. (Another objective.) I've also started looking for agents to submit the completed adult book to (Goal 2, Objective 1) And I've been working on query letters, which wasn't an objective but still has to be done. I've downloaded some spreadsheets for keeping track of submissions. Getting material from my old, somewhat chaotic system to this presumably better system could end up being more work than it's worth. Also, no matter how careful I am about organizing things, I always lose something.

Goal 6.  Support And Promote Diverse Literature, Diverse Culture  Did a blog post on When the Moon Was Ours and promoted it (see Goal 7. Hmm. We're talking a multiplier here.) The same for Door at the Crossroads.   Then I only managed a few other diversity related tweets:

3 more days to enter to win Fancy Party Gowns. Follow link & comment at blog post

Everyone should know about these amazing women!

Pragmatic Mom:   Book Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore via

Goal 7. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding

Door at the Crossroads post. Promoted to Google+, a Facebook community, Twitter, and Goodreads
Time Management Tuesday post. Promoted to Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.
When the Moon Was Ours post. Promoted to Google+, a Facebook community, Twitter, and Goodreads.
CCLC update.
Finished October Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar & sent it on to Computer Guy for the newsletter edition.
Checked out the NESCBWI Conference.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Some Serious Magical Realism

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore is another Cybils YA Speculative Fiction finalist. It's an example of intense magical realism. According to my understanding of this sub-genre of fantasy, fantastical elements are brought into a real world setting and everyone simply accepts them. So no one is amazed when the main character in Moon makes her first appearance spilling out of a water tower, or that she has roses growing out of her wrist.

What I liked best about this book were a couple of nonmagical elements. One involves Sam, the romantic interest for main character Miel. I can't think of a single thing to say about him without risking a spoiler. So I will say nothing. I will write, instead, about the Bonner sisters. Four beautiful siblings who prey romantically on young men. That's creepy. Yeah, I liked them, too.

When the Moon Was Ours is elegantly written with lush language that's carried through the whole work. In addition to being a Cybils finalist, it was on the long list for the 2016 National Book Award. It's also a 2017 Honor Book for the ALA's Stonewall Book Award.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Time Management Tuesday: Temporal Landmarks. That's A Thing.

I've written here a number of times about the significance of beginnings and endings of units of time. Last September, I wrote about September becoming the new January for people making changes in their lives. Turns out, there's a term for these kinds of moments. Temporal landmarks. And there's research to describe it.

Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, Jason Riis in their paper, The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior (No, I didn't read the whole thing.) describe temporal landmarks as "distinct events that “stand in marked contrast to the seemingly unending stream of trivial and ordinary occurrences that happen to us every day.” I found that a little vague. They also talk about something more specific-- "special occasions and calendar events (e.g., a birthday, a holiday, the beginning of a new week/month), which demarcate the passage of time and create numerous “fresh start” opportunities at the beginning of new cycles." That's better. I'm thinking January and September fall under "beginning of new cycles." 

In their study, Dai, Milkman, and Riis found what they call a fresh start effect whereby people were more likely to  engage in improving behaviors following temporal landmarks, such as the initiation of new calendar cycles (e.g., the start of a new week, month, year, or academic semester), holidays, and birthdays. One of the reasons this could happen: the temporal landmarks may create discontinuities in perception of time that make people feel disconnected from their "past imperfections." I had problems staying on task before, but I'll do better after school starts, after school gets out, after vacation, after my birthday, after your birthday, after winter's over.

Using Temporal Landmarks 


The research team suggests that individuals can not only take advantage of their fresh start feelings at naturally occurring temporal landmarks like holidays, but they may also be able to create fresh starts themselves by creating their own temporal landmarks. For writers, those might be retreats, starting new projects, or vacation writing.

Or it could be a "created" writing event like National Novel Writing Month. In fact, I learned about temporal landmarks in an article on NaNoWriMo in the November/December 2016 Writer's Digest, How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing.

Next week I'll have more on creating temporal landmarks.



Monday, February 20, 2017

Connecticut Children's Lit Calendar Update

Author Janet Lawler will appear at Ooh La La! Boutique's Gather, Sip n' Shop fundraiser at 80 Memorial Road, Blue Back Square, West Hartford, this Thursday, Feb. 23rd from 5-8 PM. Both Janet and Ooh La La! will donate a portion of sales to the  non-profit Read to a Child. In addition, patrons donating a new children's book to Read to a Child (either one they bring with them or purchase from Janet) will be entered into a drawing for a store gift certificate.

Read to a Child in Connecticut serves over 140 kindergarten through grade four at-risk children in Hartford, New Britain, and New Haven public schools.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Some Speculative Fiction For Black History Month

The Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott was one of the Cybils YA Speculative Fiction finalists this year. Though it's technically science fiction/fantasy (not sure where time travel comes down), it's a good read to consider for Black History Month because it's time travel. Its teenage African American and Jamaican main characters are transported back to the American Civil War. Genna ends up in Weeksville, a free black community in Brooklyn. (I'd never heard of Weeksville, but it sounds pretty impressive.) Poor Judah, however, ends up in a nightmarish situation, enslaved in the south.

Genna moves about in time a bit, getting back to 2001-era Brooklyn. But it's the historical work in Door at the Crossroads that's really impressive. Judah's story in the south is gripping, and the material on Weeksville left me wanting to know more. The book is a sequel, and readers might want to read the first book, A Wish After Midnight, before starting on Crossroads. The second book ends with a cliffhanger, suggesting another book is planned.

Author Zetta Elliott was interviewed earlier this month at Cynsations about one of her most recent books, The Ghosts in the Castle, and being a hybrid author, meaning she's book traditionally and self-published. Also check out her lengthy list of essays, many of which are available on-line.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What Did You Do This Week, Gail? Feb.13 Edition


Hahahahahahah.

I had a couple of appointments planned this week, but what's a couple of appointments in a whole week, right? So Monday started off great with me working on some Goal 2 and Goal 4 and some Goal 7, which involved getting ready for Writers' Group Monday night and then, indeed, going to Writers' Group Monday evening.

And then this happened on my way home.




I was on a multi-lane highway, in the dark, when my car was hit by something. Then hit again. And again. We think from the looks of the car that I was hit three times. And that what hit me was a rogue tire. Though I didn't actually see the tire, either while the accident was happening or afterward, so it's possible that I was being attacked by a giant, invisible creature that had slipped out of another dimension and had no idea what it was doing. We believe it was a tire, though, because of the tire marks on the side of the car, where no tire marks should ever be. The very young state trooper was quite blown away by the sight of it.

Seriously, I was home an hour later, so it's not as if a car accident was all that time consuming. And it was 9 o'clock in the evening when all this first went down. Not my prime work time, anyway.

What happened the next day, though, was I had an appointment in the morning, then I go home with plenty of time to work. But I'd been in an automobile accident the night before, right? So while I did write a couple of blog posts, mostly I spent the afternoon watching two episodes of Fixer Upper, because everyone watches that,  and an episode of Outlander. I'm with Claire about the second season's Parisian setting. I'm not liking it as much as the first season in Scotland. Though I am able to understand a little bit of the French, which is gratifying.

Then on Wednesday I had to go with my husband to pick up a rental car, and then I had to follow him as he drove the damaged car to a shop for repairs. Then one thing led to another, and the only thing I did for work was buy some padded envelopes to mail books in.

And then Thursday I was on the road all day, because that's what I do on Thursdays, whether I've been in an accident Monday night or not.

So that was almost the whole flipping week.

Today is Friday, and I'm back on goal. Hmm. Maybe I'll start using that term here instead of "on task." Yeah, I'm back on goal today, specifically Goal 4.

Two Other Things I Managed To Do This Week

 

 I managed to share some tweets related to Goal 6
And I won a copy of Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers by Sally Allen through the blog Book Nation by Jen. Which just goes to show that anyone can win a book at a blog giveaway.

You still have time to sign up for your chance to win Fancy Party Gowns. Go for it. Because it is good to win a book. Especially the week your car has been hit by a flying tire. And you never know when that's going to happen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Environmental Book Club

Haven't heard about the ol' EBC in a long time, have you? Yeah, I just made that up...EBC. Environmental books, particularly fiction, which is my big interest, aren't something I stumble upon regularly, though I have my eye on one now.

What I'm directing you to today, people, is an article in the January/February issue of The Horn Book by Kathleen T. Isaacs. Featuring Wonder deals with encouraging "children's enthusiasm for and connection to nature through the sharing of well-crafted picture books." Isaacs covers specific criteria.

I was particularly interested in some material toward the end of the article. Isaacs writes about the general concern about the environment that "has filtered down from adults to children who learn about environmental issues in well-meant books that sometimes stress the losses more than the wonder that can still be found in nature." She also writes about "'ecophobia,' in which people distance themselves from the depressing news..."

That's the kind of environmental writing I'm not looking for.

Featuring Wonder isn't on-line, so look for the magazine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

And The Cybils Winner For YA Speculative Fiction Is...

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

Illuminae brings the science fiction thriller to a YA audience. I'm not aware of a lot of real science fiction being written for young readers. Note that all the other Speculative Fiction nominees were fantasy. Illuminae also has an interesting format. Like World War Z (the book, not the abysmal movie), it's an account of a disaster that is already over. The basic premise is that a tech group has collected information about the aftermath of an attack on an illegal mining colony and the ordeal the survivors suffered after they are evacuated . We don't know who is doing the collecting or who the information was collected for. So the story is told with documents--various types of reports, communications, transcripts of videos, etc., and a little commentary from the mystery technician. This can be risky, in my opinion. There's always the possibility that all the shifts will slow down narrative drive. And thrillers are all about narrative drive. No problem here. Drive, drive, drive.

Oh, and there's a plague. That's always good. And some neat plot twists at the end. And I haven't even started on the clever main characters and the little role reversal thing they've got going on, with Kady being the heroic nerd going all out to save Ezra, her guy in distress. Plus there's a sequel, Gemina, which offers a different setting and some new characters. I would read that.

Check out the YA Speculative Fiction Committee's write-up on Illuminae, as all as all the other Cybils winners.