Today is the birthday of two writers who have been very inspirational to me. It's the birthday of Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the beloved Madeleine books. I loved the character of Madeleine, who was a feisty little girl--yes, I'm seeing a theme here, Jane Eyre, Meg from A Wrinkle in Time, spirited females of all sorts.
But the books make clear that Madeleine is good at heart, even though her behavior may not always be. There's one book where the girls meet a truly terrible child, a "bad hat." I'm going to spend my day saying, "Well, you know, he's a bad hat" instead of "He's such a jerk." Not that I would go around saying that about people.
I also remember the book where Madeleine had to get her appendix out. I wonder if my fear of hospitals goes back to this book, even she lives through the experience with her typical bravery.
And what delightful drawings. If I ever lived in France, I would expect it to look like that.
Some part of my writer's self would love to write books like the Madeleine books or the Amelia Bedelia books. My nephew just discovered Amelia Bedelia, and he thinks they're hilarious. Not every part ages well, since the language has changed, and we're all in Amelia Bedelia's predicament now. Who says, "Draw the drapes"? We'd all break out our sketchbooks, just like Amelia Bedelia does, when her employer gives her the to-do list with that task on it.
Those were the books that made me love to read. What a wonderful accomplishment, to write books that spark a love of reading in children.
It's also the birthday of August Wilson, who represents a different dream for my writer's self. He wrote a play for every decade of the 20th century, a play that represents the life of African-Americans during the twentieth century, one play for each decade. And each play is solid work.
He is one of those rarities, a person who was expelled from public school (when he was 15), but taught himself everything he needed to know from the library.
What a sweeping idea, to write a cycle plays that capture the 20th century as seen by black people. And he managed to avoid the pitfall of creating cardboard characters who exist solely to talk about the important issues of the age. His characters are dealing with the daily dross we all must deal with. His characters don't exist solely to explore racism. His plays are much more nuanced than that.
If you took on a huge project, what would it be? Would you break it into smaller parts or would it be a single sweeping work? What are the big ideas that haunt you? What are the small, daily objects and experiences that delight you?
The Summer of Reading
2 months ago