Category Archives: Books

ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S PUBLISHED WORKS LITTERED WITH ERRORS, STUDY CLAIMS ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2; Photo:  The Guardian.)

Experts find hundreds of errors in the writer’s works, mostly made by editors and typesetters

Ernest Hemingway’s published writings are riddled with hundreds of errors and little has been done to correct them, according to a forthcoming study of the legendary writer’s texts.

Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds”. Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.

The majority of Hemingway’s manuscripts are held at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where Trogdon has pored over the originals.

He singled out, for example, the 1933 short story A Way You’ll Never Be, which mistakenly features the word “bat” rather than “hat” when the character Nick Adams is explaining catching grasshoppers to the confused Italian soldiers. Hemingway originally wrote: “But I must insist that you will never gather a sufficient supply of these insects for a day’s fishing by pursuing them with your hands or trying to hit them with a hat.”

Misspellings in one edition of The Sun Also Rises, his 1926 novel about disillusioned expatriates in postwar France and Spain, include the bullfighter “Marcial Lalanda” appearing as “Marcial Salanda”, an easy mistake to make because of the similarity of the author’s handwritten “L” and “S”, Trogdon observed. There is also a restaurant called “Ciqoque” when Hemingway meant the real-life Paris eatery Cigogne, again an easy mistake for someone unaccustomed to distinguishing the author’s “q” and “g”.

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THE 40 BEST IRISH FICTIONAL CHARACTERS – IN ORDER ·

(Chosen by Rosita BolandDonald ClarkePeter CrawleyMartin Doyle, and Hilary Fannin for the Irish Times, 8/1; Photo: The Irish Times.)

FROM NIDGE AND CONNELL WALDRON TO GRETTA CONROY, RASHERS TIERNEY AND PEGEEN MIKE, ALL OF THESE PEOPLE EMERGED FROM ACTS OF IMAGINATION – BUT ARE SO DEFTLY CREATED THAT THEY ARE AS REAL TO US AS ANY LIVING PERSON

40. BESSIE BURGESS

From The Plough and the Stars
Play, 1926
It befits an unsentimental classic like The Plough and the Stars that its heart resides in such an unlikely place. Bessie Burgess, the cantankerous, self-demolishing, crowing unionist (“Oh, youse are all rightly shanghaied now!” she spits at her revolutionary neighbours) is ultimately the spine of compassion, quiet heroism and genuine sacrifice amid all the posture and chaos of Seán O’Casey’s street-level view of the 1916 Rising.

39. AISLING

From Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling
Book, 2017
For a modest, sensible twentysomething from Ballygobbard, Aisling has taken Ireland by storm. The first three books featuring her, written by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, are the bestselling Irish fiction titles this century. Compared to “an Irish Bridget Jones”, Aisling is as much in the tradition of a Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes heroine as she is a rival to Helen Fielding’s creation.

38. CONNELL WALDRON

From Normal People
Book, 2018; TV drama, 2020
Despite being a young man both studying literature and writing it, Connell’s trademark characteristic is an inability to be articulate, especially with Marianne, his love. What Sally Rooney’s creation doesn’t, or can’t, say to her during their school and college years together is partly what makes his character so realistic, frustrating and engaging.

37. CATHERINE MCKENNA

From Grace Notes
Book, 1997
In Scotland, Catherine, a composer, is trying to literally compose her life. She is a new mother, but her partner is abusive. She is estranged from her family back in Northern Ireland. Music and her career-changing composing commission both ground her, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel, and then lift her onwards from where she has been in a paralysis.

36. SADIE JACKSON

From The Twelfth Day of July
Book, 1970
Sadie, a Protestant teenager, is sassy and feisty. As we follow her love-across-the-divide relationship with Kevin, a Catholic, over five books, we grow with them. Joan Lingard’s young-adult-fiction series brought the Troubles home to generations of young people elsewhere and brought fiction home to young people in Northern Ireland.

35 CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN

From Cathleen Ni Houlihan
Play, 1902
“Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” WB Yeats wondered about Cathleen Ni Houlihan. If so, they must have been as naive as the question. In 1798, a mysterious old lady disturbs a family dinner to sing of blood sacrifice, tell of her stolen “four beautiful green fields”, and lure a young man to join the Rebellion. Thus appeased, she transforms into a girl with “the walk of a queen” and struts away into several more Irish dramas.

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BOOK: JOHN B. ROBERTS II INTERVIEW (Pt. 1): INSIDE THE 1984 REELECTION CAMPAIGN’S SECRET OPERATION AGAINST GERALDINE FERRARO ·

MOB RULE:  JOHN B. ROBERTS II ON THE 1984 REELECTION CAMPAIGN’S SECRET OPERATION AGAINST GERALDINE FERRARO, THINKING OUTSIDE THE BALLOT BOX, AND HIS NEW BOOK  ON MORNING IN AMERICA:  “REAGAN’S COWBOYS”

In the run-up to the 2020 election, Reagan Political Strategist John B. Roberts II looks back at 1984—only  to find a highly controversial president, a terrible economy, and mass protests in the streets.  The parallels go on . . .

Interview with Bob Shuman, Stage Voices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is an issue from the 1984 Reagan campaign that is also important to a millennial–and why?

The economy. Until 1983, America had a terrible economy for a decade. It began with an oil embargo and gas shortages. We waited in long lines to try to fill our cars, at prices that spiked more than 150 percent.  I was a college graduate in 1973.  Jobs were impossible to find, and when you did find them, wages couldn’t keep up with double-digit inflation.  I vividly remember how hard it was to land a job and how it seemed impossible to ever buy a home.  It was really dismal, a lot like it has been for millennials.

Reagan was a highly controversial president, it should be recalled.  There were mass protests in the streets, a difficult economy, Russian interference in elections; the parallels go and on.  For those who do not remember that time, this look backward may reveal that no matter how bad things seem, they can turn around for the better.

Why hasn’t the story of the 1984 reelection campaign’s secret operation against Geraldine Ferraro been told before–and do you think reasons had to do with protecting participants?

By design, only a handful of us knew the full extent of the operation, even when it was happening.  We had lots of people working on the investigations, but they didn’t know everyone who was involved or what people outside of their cluster were doing.  It was a compartmented operation and only I, my colleague Art Teele, and the Reagans’ closest advisor, Stu Spencer, knew the complete story.  In late 1984, an editor at Knopf told me he was interested in publishing a book about the press coverage of the campaigns, which would have included the Ferraro operation.  Stu Spencer asked me not to write it because he thought it might embarrass the Reagans, especially Nancy. So we kept silent for decades.

 

Besides yourself, name the first Reagan Cowboy to come to mind–and who was he or she?

Mac Baldrige.  He was Reagan’s Commerce Secretary and although he was an Ivy Leaguer and successful businessman, he grew up on a ranch and had been a professional roper, a real rodeo cowboy.  In 1988 he was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame.  He and Reagan shared a love of horses and often went riding together.  Baldrige died from injuries in a freak riding accident.  Of course, the second name that comes to mind is Colonel Oliver North, who was a principal in the Iran-Contra affair. He was one of Reagan’s cowboys, whether they went horseback riding or not.   

 

Why was it worth staying with the campaign as you found yourself involved with organized crime?

That’s a really good question.  My mortgage was definitely a factor. But the main thing that kept me on the job was that Reagan declared war on organized crime in 1983.  Attorney General William French Smith ordered U.S. attorneys and the FBI to make the Mafia and other crime groups a top priority.  At the same time Reagan created a high-profile presidential commission to publicly spotlight the dangers.  One question Art Teele and I could never answer was this: was it just a coincidence that a relatively unknown politician with extensive connections to organized crime was picked to run for vice president? Or was the Mafia trying to put someone they could coerce into doing their bidding into the White House?  Because we couldn’t discount that possibility, we stuck with our investigations until the Mondale-Ferraro ticket was defeated.      

 

What do you see as major differences in opposition research then and now?

The dossier of derogatory information British former spy Christopher Steele developed on Trump in 2016 embodies the differences.  Even though the FBI and CIA could not verify the chief allegations in Steele’s dossier, it was used to justify secret surveillance.  The report became part of a counter-intelligence investigation of the Trump campaign and was shared with the press, senior officials in the intelligence community, and in the Justice Department. Each and every one of those actions would never have happened in 1984, at least not on my watch or on Art Teele’s watch.  They violate every important principle of a democratic election, from abuse of executive authority to potentially introducing Russian propaganda into a presidential campaign.    

We verified the information we uncovered about Geraldine Ferraro before we disclosed it to anyone.  We then required the main news organizations we worked with to independently verify our leads, as a condition of our sharing the information.  We refused to involve Executive Branch agencies in our investigative work, and the one time we found out someone, on our side, had tried to do so, we shut him down.  Without subpoena powers, without court warrants, without FISA court approved eavesdropping, we nonetheless uncovered politically damaging information.  Some of that information led to a congressional investigation, unanimously approved by every Republican and Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, into Geraldine Ferraro’s compliance with the law.  Unlike in recent years, where the Steele dossier’s allegations remain unproven and investigations into Russian collusion have come up empty-handed, the 1984 investigation into Ferraro found numerous violations of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978

The second part of the Stage Voices interview with John B. Roberts II will appear next Tuesday.

Reagan’s Cowboys by John B. Roberts II, available now from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers 

View on Amazon

Visit the Web site of John B. Roberts II

Read Part 2 of this interview

Photos: North, Guardian; Steele, Business Insider

Interview (c) 2020 by John B. Roberts II and Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

JOHN B. ROBERTS II: ‘REAGAN’S COWBOYS: INSIDE THE 1984 REELECTION CAMPAIGN’S SECRET OPERATION AGAINST GERALDINE FERRARO’ BY JOHN B. ROBERTS II ·

A Presidential Election Year Is Like the Wild West . . .

When rumors about Geraldine Ferraro–the first woman vice-presidential nominee by a major party in U.S history–reached First Lady Nancy Reagan during the 1984 presidential election, a secret operation was launched to investigate her. It revealed Ferraro’s familial ties to organized crime and the extent to which she would have been subject to pressure or blackmail by the Mafia if elected.

Written by an insider responsible for running the investigation, this never-before-told story goes behind the scenes as an incumbent president’s campaign works to expose a political opponent’s mob connections. Part detective story, part political thriller, the narrative features all the major players in the Reagan White House and 1984 reelection committee, with revealing anecdotes about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Reagan’s Cowboys – McFarland

View Reagan’s Cowboys on Amazon

John B. Roberts II got his start as an author with a play that he wrote and directed for a school performance in the fourth grade. His first professional work as a writer came when he and a college buddy scraped by through a dreary English winter to launch a magazine in London. When State Department exams required him to go back to America, he wrote magazine and newspaper articles for the airfare home. To get the money back to London, he took a temporary job on a presidential campaign. Sixteen years later, after two terms in the White House and a decade as an international political consultant, he made a mid-career switch back to writing fulltime.

For the last two years, he has been criss-crossing America’s backroads towing a retro-mod Bowlus Road Chief travel trailer while exploring America’s “fly over” country for a travel book.
His latest novel, “Stripping Lolita,” is in revision.

“Reagan’s Cowboys” is a true account of the 1984 Reagan-Bush reelection campaign’s secret operation against Geraldine Ferraro, America’s first female candidate for vice president on a major party ticket. It will be the first book to expose the hardball political tactics used at the pinnacle of American politics.

Roberts was The Mclaughlin Group’s senior producer and creative collaborator with television host John McLaughlin until his death in 2016. He has written thousands of shows and interviews for world leaders, celebrities, experts, politicians, and authors. In 1998, he launched CNCB’s top-rated talk show, “The McLaughlin Special Report.” As a freelance producer, he works on assignment around the world, from exotic locales such as a remote atoll in Tahiti to world capitals like London and Madrid.

When he isn’t writing books, articles, or TV shows, he can be found drawing and painting, or wandering remote byways in his 1984 CJ7 Jeep.

LIVING THROUGH THE PLAGUE TIMES – EXCERPT: ‘DEATH BY SHAKESPEARE’ BY KATHRYN HARKUP ·

(Harkup’s excerpt appeared in Shakespeare & Beyond, 5/5; via Pam Green.)

View book on Amazon.

What would it have been like to live through the plague outbreaks of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? And what insight does that give us into the mentions of plague in Shakespeare’s plays?

Kathryn Harkup has looked at the science behind literature from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie, and she turns her attention now to Shakespeare with a new book, Death By Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings, and Broken Hearts. In it, she devotes a chapter to the plague, excerpted here.

There were at least five major outbreaks of bubonic plague in London during Shakespeare’s lifetime and though these outbreaks didn’t reach the devastation of the Black Death, they all had a major impact on the population, particularly in towns and more populated areas. Wealthier Londoners often took Chaucer’s advice, written during the Black Death, to ‘run fast and run far’. At that time there were few uninfected corners of Europe that you could run to. At least a quarter of Europe’s 75 million population died in the mid-fourteenth century.1 The plagues of the Renaissance were a different matter. Escaping the city during the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century outbreaks would have significantly improved a person’s chances of survival. Shakespeare was fortunate to have a house and family in Stratford that he could retreat to when plague appeared in London.

There was some recognition that plague was contagious, even if the mechanism was far from understood. Some suspected it was brought to London by foreigners. Others tried to blame outbreaks on an unusual alignment of the planets. The 1593 plague was blamed on the position of Saturn in the night sky ‘passing through the uttermost parts of Cancer and the beginning of Leo’ as it had done 30 years earlier when there had been another terrible outbreak. Shakespeare was certainly aware of the planetary theory, as in Timon of Athens the playwright has Timon urge Alcibiades to take revenge on Athens: ‘Be as a planetary plague, when Jove / Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison / In the sick air’.

The mention of vice in the same passage acknowledges that many saw plague as punishment from God. It was just reward for the licentious living for which city dwellers were renowned. This position was difficult to maintain when priests, expected to visit the sick and dying and therefore especially susceptible to infection, suffered particularly high mortality rates from the disease. What was clear was that when one person died of plague others closely associated with the sick often became ill themselves.

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BOOK: ‘AMERICAN HUMBUG’–ROBERT WILSON’S BIO OF P.T. BARNUM ·

(Nathaniel Rich’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 4/23.)

American Humbug

Barnum: An American Life

by Robert Wilson

Simon and Schuster, 341 pp., $28.00

Since his heyday in the mid-nineteenth century, P.T. Barnum’s name has been shorthand for ebullient humbuggery, maximalist entertainment, inexhaustible self-promotion, rags-to-riches industriousness—for fun. After The Greatest Showman (2017), a highly fictionalized musical that defied studio expectations to gross a Barnumesque $435 million, fades to black, the screen fills with a sober epigram: “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” Barnum wrote this at the end of his life, during a period in which he referred to himself as “The Children’s Friend.” He groomed himself to look like Santa Claus.

Yet the images that animate his biographies—of which Robert Wilson’s Barnum is at least the fifteenth, not counting Barnum’s own serially revised and overlapping memoirs—are united by an eerier quality, suspended between the pitiful and the grotesque. The most indelible of these includes the Fejee Mermaid, a three-foot monstrosity composed of the lower half of a large fish stitched to the upper half of a small monkey scowling at the indignity of its afterlife. The What Is It? was a mentally disabled, microcephalic eighteen-year-old black man, four feet tall and fifty pounds, dressed in an ape costume, ordered by Barnum to speak in gibberish, and touted as the “connecting link between man and monkey.” The gargantuan elephant Jumbo, upon being purchased by Barnum and forced to leave the zoological gardens at London’s Regent’s Park, blurted a trumpet call, lay down in the road outside the park’s gates, and refused to budge for a full day. “Let him lay there for a week if he wants to,” said Barnum at the time. “It is the best advertisement in the world.”

There were also the catastrophic fires, five of them, that destroyed Barnum’s museums, circuses, and most opulent estate, yielding horrors equal in their majesty to any of his exhibitions: the pair of squealing white whales burned alive after their tank was shattered in a failed effort to douse the flames; the escaped tiger roaming the streets of lower Manhattan in a snowstorm; the white elephant that, having been led to safety, repeatedly charged back into the inferno in frantic determination to commit suicide.

Wilson is the editor of The American Scholar and the author of two previous biographies of nineteenth-century pioneers, the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady and Clarence King, an explorer of the American West. When Wilson set out to write a new life of Barnum, he made a point of courting his predecessors. The most distinguished of these is the historian Neil Harris, whose Humbug: The Art of P.T. Barnum (1973) uses Barnum’s story to examine the birth of modern American culture. Harris gave Wilson his blessing, telling him that “each generation seems to need its own” study of Barnum. Harris’s own thesis, however, suggests otherwise. Barnum built his legend, he writes at the beginning of Humbug, on “the myths and values of a self-proclaimed democracy.” This is what makes Barnum’s insights feel timeless: as long as Americans boast of the triumphs of our democracy (the wisdom of crowds, the beneficence of a free market, the promise of equality for all), his story will continue to mock such ideals as deranged humbug.

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THE PAGE’S THE THING – TAKE IT FROM SHAKESPEARE’S EARLIEST READERS ·

(Emma Smith’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/1.)

With theatres closed, now is the time to find pleasure in Shakespeare’s texts. His first fans used them for chat-up lines – and read the plays without the baggage of Bardolatry

That Shakespeare wrote for the theatre and that his plays should be enjoyed on the stage not the page has become the standard rallying cry of directors, teachers and academics. “I don’t think people should bother to read Shakespeare. They should see him in the theatre,” Sir Ian McKellen advised in 2015. And if actors bring Shakespeare to life, according to Royal Shakespeare Company director Greg Doran, the benefits are mutual: advocating a “Shakespeare gym” earlier this year, Doran suggested that without proper opportunity to perform Shakespeare, the craft of acting itself could “diminish or get lost”.

But this is a modern perspective. Powerful advocates for Shakespeare in the past were less convinced by the medium of theatre. Samuel Johnson, the great 18th-century lexicographer and editor of the plays, felt that while comedy was often better experienced in the theatre, tragedy rarely was. Charles Lamb, who with his sister Mary wrote the popular children’s Tales from Shakespeare, suggested that “the plays of Shakespeare are less calculated for performance on a stage than those of almost any other dramatist whatever”. When we watch King Lear, he suggested, we see merely the mundanely pitiful “old man tottering about the stage with a walking-stick”, but when “we read it, we see not Lear but we are Lear”. Deep engagement with the plays meant private study, not public spectacle.

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BOOK: RIOTOUS PERFORMANCES–SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA BY JAMES SHAPIRO ·

(Emma Smith’s article appeared in the Spectator, 3/6; photo: The Spectator.)

Shakespeare’s single explicit reference to America is found in The Comedy of Errors. The two Dromios are anatomizing the unseen ‘kitchen wench’ Nell, who is ‘spherical, like a globe’: ‘I could find out countries in her’, says one Syracusan brother. ‘Where America?’ asks his twin. The reply, ‘O, sir, upon her nose, all o’erembellished with rubies, carbuncles, sapphires’ embodies early colonial fantasies about the famed riches of El Dorado.

The first record of a Shakespeare text in America comes a century later, and the first known production — an amateur run of Romeo and Juliet in the Revenge Meeting House, New York — three decades after that. But by 1898 a book published in Chicago could claim not only that The Tempest, in particular, ‘has an entirely American basis and character’, but further, that ‘America made possible a Shakespeare’.

Institutions, from Hollywood to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, strengthened this reciprocal bond. Whenthe showman P.T Barnum sent an agent to Stratford-upon-Avon ‘armed with the cash and full powers to buy Shakespeare’s house, if possible, and to have it carefully taken down, packed in boxes and shipped to New York’, America’s possessive embrace of Shakespeare seemed complete.

James Shapiro’s expert and readable intervention in this long history is organized around defining moments and themes in American life. He shows how, for example, apparently literary arguments over Desdemona’s relationship with Othello mediated toxic disputes about interracial marriage in the early 19th century. He explores how Civil War attitudes to Caesar’s assassination influenced John Wilkes Booth to cast himself as an American Brutus murdering the tyrannical Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. Kiss Me Kate offers Shapiro a lens to analyze the changing role of women in the workplace and in marriage after World War Two. Harvey Weinstein’s creepy off-screen influence on the plot of Shakespeare in Love places this blockbuster fictional biography of the playwright at the heart of the #MeToo movement.

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BOOK: JOAN ACOCELLA ON ‘MARIUS PETIPA: THE EMPEROR’S BALLET MASTER’ ·

A scene in the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère, 1900; from Marius Petipa: La Dansomanie, a two-volume album in three languages published last year by the St. Petersburg Museum of Theater and Music to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of Petipa’s birth

(Acocella’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 12/19.)

Souls in Single File

Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master

by Nadine Meisner

Oxford University Press, 497 pp., $34.95

A scene in the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère, 1900; from Marius Petipa: La Dansomanie, a two-volume album in three languages published last year by the St. Petersburg Museum of Theater and Music to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of Petipa’s birth

It will surprise many people, but not many dance historians, that the most productive and influential ballet choreographer of the late nineteenth century, the Franco-Russian Marius Petipa (1818–1910), was accorded no biography for more than a century after his death. Dance was central to the religious and patriotic festivals of ancient Greece and Rome, but with the transfer of power to the Christian church, it was pretty much kicked out of the arts. It was too closely associated with bodily pleasure. Social dance probably never died out among common folk. As for the better-placed folk, the processions in which the servants of the French and Italian courts of the Renaissance brought dinner to their guests involved, if not exactly dancing, then a great deal of synchronized gown-swishing and foot-pointing. But dance did not officially reenter the lists of the high arts in the West until the seventeenth century, under Louis XIV. Louis imported music masters and dance masters, mostly from Italy, to create elaborate allegorical ballets, in which he himself appeared. In 1661, he founded Europe’s first proper dance school, the Académie Royale de la Danse.

In those days, dance people, like most other theater people, tended to come in families, including actors and musicians as well, because not all of them had a royal academy to teach them their arts. They learned from their mothers and fathers. Also, there was still a stigma attached to making one’s living on the stage (Molière, famously, was denied a Christian burial), so theatrical professionals often married within their own ranks and thereby created clans.

One was the Petipas of France and Belgium. Their name starts appearing in the annals of the Continental theater at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Marius Petipa was the son of a ballet master (that is, a teacher/choreographer) and an actress; most of his siblings too were theater people. In the beginning, he was not the star of the family. That was his older brother, Lucien, a handsomer man and a far better technician. Lucien was the premier classicist of the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest and most respected company in Europe. (It was the descendant of Louis XIV’s academy.) He was in demand all the way to Russia, but when Russia called, it is said, Lucien, already in possession of a good job, declined, and recommended his younger brother. Thus, in 1847, Marius Petipa, age twenty-nine, presented himself at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet and was given a one-year, let’s-see contract. As it turned out, he stayed for sixty-three years and was the company’s artistic director—or first ballet master, as they called it—for nearly thirty-five years. In Russia he created more than fifty original ballets, mounted versions of nineteen other ballets, and fashioned dances for thirty-seven operas. Today, the name of Lucien is known only to specialists, whereas Marius is acknowledged as the prime creator of late-nineteenth-century ballet and, one could say, the foremost source of twentieth-century ballet as well.

Still, this did not earn him a proper biography—in any language, not just English—until last spring, with the publication of Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master by Nadine Meisner, a longtime dance critic in London.1 The book is low on analysis, but at last someone has collected the facts—the successes, the flops, everybody’s patronymic—and put them down in graceful English prose.

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TANIA FISHER INTERVIEW BY LORI BEEDSLER ·

Interview with Tania Fisher, Author of Children’s Book, “Grandma’s Garden”

By Lori Beedsler

 

Briefly, what’s the book about?

To a grown up all that happens in this book is that a child takes a five minute walk in Grandma’s backyard, but you know, I wrote this for children not for grown-ups, and to the child taking that walk, they see it as a special secret adventure.  It’s theirs and they own it.  It’s private; dad has to stay behind inside and drink his tea and it’s just the child and grandma.  The child points out the same items; the broken pot, the bucket with the worms, and loves hearing Grandma tell them where they got it or how it came to be there and hearing her tell those stories over and over again.

Is this story taken from your own personal experiences?

Kind of.  Actually this story has been on my mind for over a decade, maybe longer.  It stemmed from my own relationship with my paternal grandmother.  She was about 60 when she immigrated from Italy to Australia and didn’t really speak any English.  She was about 80 by the time I was seven, so we didn’t do much together really, except that I remember sitting outside with her staring into the garden.  There was a language barrier, so we used to just sit there very quietly together.  It was kind of unusual but really awesome, it was almost like meditation.  I knew a few words in Italian; kind of enough to make small talk with her or ask if she wanted anything, but basically we stared at leaves and flowers together and sighed at the same time when a breeze lifted a leaf, or sometimes I realized that we were focused on the same flower stem that was bending.  It was really a peaceful and kind of a simple and clear way to connect.

What prompted you to write this experience in the form of a children’s book?

I sometimes babysit my neighbor’s children, one of whom is a very smart three year old.  One day her nanny asked that I take her outside so she could get her dose of “fresh air” for the day.  On that particular day I think the playground was closed or something, or maybe she didn’t really want to go out, but I suggested we “walk around the neighborhood and see what’s what.”  She agreed to this so we got outside her building and hand in hand walked the length of a block and back again. That is literally all we did.  This may have taken 15 minutes though, not just because kids at that age walk slow, but because we had such adventures along the way.  I would stop and point out the policeman, then comment on the little dog we passed, then maybe stop to see the children getting on the yellow school bus and talk about that.  A little further on we’d stop at a tree and check out the flowers at its base and talk about the colors and if they smell or not, then a little further on we saw a kitten dart across our path and hide under a parked car.  So on and so on; special red flowers, a tree with lights wrapped around it – but to this day, whenever she and I walk that same stretch of sidewalk, she comments to me about that little kitten and what we think it’s doing right now, and she points out where the red flowers used to be, and where the tree with the lights wrapped around it is, all the while asking me if I remember! It’s too cute!

But anyway, it occurred to me that this was that whole repetition thing that kids do – that gives them that sense of safety and security.  It’s also part of why they love having you read the same book over and over again, I’ve had that experience too.  Perhaps while reading I’ll make an effort to point out something in the illustration, and the next time we read that book together, the child makes sure to point out what I had pointed out previously, and then does it every single time we read that book!

The illustrations are wonderful.  How did you come to collaborate with Riley Hagan?

Like all things in life, little blessings are sent our way when we need them most!  I was discussing “what else I do” with a neighbor whose birds and plants I sometimes look after when she goes away and she had no idea that I was an actor and a writer and a theater reviewer and so on, and when I mentioned I was developing a children’s book, she told me that her step daughter Riley draws and then showed me some of her work that she had around the apartment.  So I contacted Riley and it just couldn’t have been a better match.

 

She’s an amazing woman, she really understood where I was coming from with this book and my motivation and message, and although I had some rough drawings of my own to show her what I was after, she came up with some absolute gems on her own that turned out to be my most favorite illustrations in the book – the hands in the worm bucket I especially love, and the details on the flowers are just amazing too.  Also Riley’s style is very sketch-artist, and I like the black and white strokes, but I insisted that when we got to the garden part of the story that there should be this burst of color.  Then it was Riley who came up with the absolutely ingenious idea of adding color on each illustration that had a nature/garden related item.  So the flowers for example that they bring for Grandma, you’ll see those are in color.  It was really smart of her, and it ties in with what we talked about earlier, about kids pointing things out in illustrations for themselves.  They totally do that when I read them this book.

I do also have to mention that the image of the child in this book is based on my very special friend, Benji Carvalho.  Riley wanted an image of a child to work from so I gave her photos of Benji and actually her first drawings looked so much like him that I had to ask her to manipulate them a little because I needed the child to appear non-gender specific.  I like all my books to have non-gender specific child characters so that any child can relate and not feel left out.  But when I read this book to Benji he could still tell it was him in the illustrations and that was a really nice moment for both of us.

“Grandma’s Garden” written by Tania Fisher, illustrated by Riley Hagan

Suitable for ages 3 to 6.

On sale now at Westsider Books 2246 Broadway New York NY 10024, and Shakespeare & Co bookstores, or online at: 

http://bit.ly/GrandmasGarden 

Interview by Lori Beedsler