BOOKS I LOVE: PART I – BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS

BOOKS I LOVE: PART I
BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS

Recently a reader wrote to ask what some of the books I liked were, saying, “I would love to read authors/stories that she enjoys.” I totally get that. Many of my favorite books were first recommended to me by authors. I read The Pickwick Papers because the March girls had a Pickwick Club in Little Women, read Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” because Anne was acting it out in Anne of Green Gables, and discovered Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat because Kip’s dad was reading it in Have Space Suit, will Travel. So I’d be happy to share some of the books I love.

But making a list of all of them will take far more than one post, so I’ll start with one category of books I’ve always adored, and one which has been on my mind a lot lately since I’ve been writing a story about a mysterious bookshop, and that’s stories about books.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff.

I think I saw the movie of this, with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (before he turned into a cannibal) first, and it’s great, but I’d recommend doing it the other way around and reading the book first. It’s composed entirely of the correspondence between booklover Helene and the bookshop Marks & Company (at 84 Charing Cross Road) as she orders hard-to-find books in the years immediately following World War II and gradually develops a friendship with the owner of the bookshop. Like all epistolary books, the story exists entirely between the lines, which is why it’s so funny and sweet and touching.

2. A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith.

This book about a girl growing up in New York City in the early 1900s was loaned to me when I was ten or so, by somebody who thought I’d like it, and I adored it, even though I was probably too young to really understand it. But I totally identified with Francie, who loved to read and spent all her time in the public library. At one point, she decided to read her way alphabetically through the library, so I decided to do that, too, and discovered all sorts of books I’d never have read otherwise: Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand, Margery Allingham’s A Tiger in the Smoke, Peter Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place (about which more later), and Peter DeVries’s Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, which had the memorable line, “The recognition of how long, how long is the mourner’s bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship, all of us, brief links, ourselves, in the eternal pity.”

Unfortunately, I’d only made it through part of the D’s when I discovered science fiction and I abandoned Francie’s plan to read everything with a spaceship-and-atom symbol on the sign.
And then the Rocky Mountain News published a pages-long insert of “Books Every Well-Read Person Should Read,” and I started my way through that. But Francie’s plan was a great plan, and if I didn’t have a miles-high stack of unread books to get through, I’d start up where I left off.

3. MATILDA by Roald Dahl.

This is another one where I saw the movie first and then read the book, and they’re both wonderful. It’s the story of a little girl living in an awful situation with wretched parents and a truly scary school headmistress who rescues herself with the aid of a little telekinesis and a lot of books. Oddly, since Dahl is such a great writer, it’s the movie that has the best line: “These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message. ‘You are not alone.'”

4. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury.

This novel about a strange and ominous carnival that comes to town has one of the most evocative and frightening scenes set in a library that I’ve ever seen. Bradbury obviously loved libraries–and books–and he writes them in many of his works, from Zen in the Art of Writing to Fahrenheit 451. My favorite, though, is “The Exiles,” his short story about what happens to books–and the imaginary worlds they create–when they’re no longer read.

5. THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco.

This award-winning book is a mystery novel about a medieval monk investigating a suicide that might be a murder, but it’s the strange, labyrinthine library that’s the real mystery, and Eco has some truly profound things to say about books. Like: “Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside of books. Now I realized that not infrequently books spoke among themselves…(the library) was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a known mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or been their conveyors.”

And finally, my absolute favorite:

6. THE UNCOMMON READER by Alan Bennett.

This delightful little book (it’s actually a novella) tells the story of what happens when Queen Elizabeth II stumbles across a bookmobile parked on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. It’s actually there for the staff, but when the Queen asks if she can check out some books, they’re hardly in a position to say no, are they? The Queen’s never had the opportunity to read for pleasure before and her takes on literary classics are wonderfully original and funny. But reading, as we all know, is a highly subversive activity, and there are all sorts of unforeseen consequences to her launching into literature.

The first time I read The Uncommon Reader, I was very nervous. I hadn’t read Bennett before, though I knew he’d written the screenplays for The History Boys and The Madness of King George. The book ambled along amusingly enough, but I didn’t know whether he actually knew what he was doing, or whether the story would peter out or take some awful turn (like so many books), and I’d be sorry I’d ever started it. But he knew EXACTLY where he was going and what he was doing, and when I reached the end I was both surprised and delighted. So then I promptly read it again–and gave it to every booklover I knew for Christmas.

I hope this list will be enough books to get you started. Good reading!

Connie Willis

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WEBSITE UPDATE 2/12/2017 – ED BRYANT’S DEATH

WEBSITE UPDATE 2/12/2017
ED BRYANT’S DEATH

Ed Bryant in 2016 Photo by Gage Skidmore

I got really sad news on Friday–Edward Bryant, my dear friend and fellow SF writer, had died. I say “sad” rather than “terrible” because he had been ill for a very long time, struggling with the complications of the diabetes he’d had since he was 18 and which was now affecting his heart and eyes and shutting down his kidneys (he was supposed to start dialysis in the next couple of months.) So in some ways his death was probably a blessing to him.

But certainly not to us. My family and I have known him for over forty years. He had dinner with us countless times (and especially one memorably snowed-in Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house), taught my daughter Cordelia to hang spoons from her nose, and loved talking to my husband about science, especially on the trip to the total eclipse we took to Montana in 1979. (I feel so bad he won’t be here for this summer’s eclipse. It’ll be right in his hometown, Wheatland, Wyoming.)

He was one of my best friends, and I’d rather have talked to him than anybody. He was smart, witty, and full of fascinating stories about horror movies and urban legends and weird news articles. At our last dinner a mere two weeks ago at Cosine, an SF convention in Colorado Springs, he had all sorts of wry and insightful comments about Saturday Night Live, the movie Hidden Figures, and Donald Trump.

But he was not just a friend. He was also a mentor to me before that term even became popular. He taught me how to write, how to critique, how to find my way around the complex maze of the science fiction world without getting in trouble. He encouraged me to go to conventions, introduced me to everyone he knew (and he knew everybody from Jack Williamson to Harlan Ellison to George R.R. Martin) and got me onto panels. He even got me my first Hugo nomination by relentlessly talking me up to everybody.

He was completely without ego, even though he was a two-time Nebula-award-winning short story writer. (He should have won far more, including for “Shark,” “The Hibakusha Gallery,” and his brilliant “Particle Theory,” which, ironically, was about a man facing the prospect of his own death.)

He wasn’t just a terrific writer. He was also a terrific teacher. He founded the Southern Colorado and Northern Colorado Writers’ Workshops and ran Milford, the by-invitation weeklong writers’ workshop established by Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, bringing together an astonishing array of writers over the years:
George R.R. Martin
James Patrick Kelly
Carol Emshwiller
Cynthia Felice
David Gerrold
Eve McKenna
Kevin O’Donnell
Simon Hawke
Melanie Tem
Steve Rasnik Tem
John Stith
David Dvorkin
Pamela Zoline
John Kessel
Ronnie Seagren
John Peyton Cooke
Marie Desjardin
John Dunning
Catherine Montrose Cooke
David Skal
Pete Alterman
Karl Hansen
Mark Barsotti
Michael Toman
Bill Wu
Wil McCarthy
and countless others. He brought us together, made us into friends, fostered fascinating conversations, and created a community which became a major influence on the science-fiction field.

And in his spare time (ha!) he taught Clarion West and many other writers’ conferences, emceed the World Fantasy Convention, the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver–on roller skates, no less–the Nebulas (with me as co-host) and, on one occasion, a hilarious version of the Dating Game.

He was central to the field, and his influence and importance can’t be overestimated. I’m only one of many authors who owe their career to him.

But it’s Ed the friend I will really miss–the one who gave me Guardians of the Galaxy wrapping paper (I collect wrapping paper) and Edward Gorey’s THE WILLOWDALE HANDCAR for Christmas, introduced me to Peter Straub’s work, found me copes of Charles Williams’ books, who drove with me and Charles N. Brown to Jack Williamson’s Lectureship for years, and who was the kindest, nicest, best friend anyone could have. Oh, Ed, I’ll miss you so!

And yet I’m still not sorry he’s gone. To quote Swinburne:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Oh, Ed, may you find rest and peace and a heaven full of horror movies and SF conventions. And may we meet there and be friends all over again!

NOTE: I will be writing a longer memorial to Ed for Locus and will provide a link to it when it’s published.

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MY 2017 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Website Update–2017 New Year’s Resolutions–1-24-17

MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

My New Year’s resolutions are always late and always the same–write more, eat more fruits and vegetables, clean the basement, do my New Year’s resolutions on time. Not this year, though. We’re heading into uncharted territory with our new president (if we’re not there already), and a different set of resolutions is definitely called for. After all, as one of my characters once said, emergency situations demand emergency measures. So here’s what I’m going to do.

1. Speak up.

2. Protest.

3. Write–or better yet, call up– my Senator, Congressman, the Speaker of the House, the head of the Senate, and the heads of committees, and tell them exactly what I think and what I expect them to do. I also intend to remind them they work for me. (Note: According to veterans working in Washington, phone calls are the most effective, followed by handwritten letters, e-mails and online petitions not so much, although (unless Trump abolishes it) petitions with more than a hundred thousand signatures have to be formally answered by the administration.

4. Subscribe to the Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Talking Points Memo, and Daily Kos. Trump’s announced his intention to shut journalism down, make them “pay the price” for reporting negative things about him, and sue papers for libel, and Steve Bannon just told the press to shut up, so I’m going to need reporters to ferret out the truth and tell it to me, and they can’t do it without backing. (I didn’t list the New York Times because I already buy it and read it every day at Starbucks.)

5. Donate regularly to the ACLU, CREW, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign so that they’ll have the money to fend off attacks and fight for my (and other people’s) civil rights.

6. Read. Right now everybody’s reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and George Orwell’s 1984 (it’s Number 1 on Amazon right now.) These are all excellent ideas, but I think I’ll re-read Scott Peck’s The People of the Lie, which is about the nature of evil and the nature of people who practice it by the psychiatrist who worked with many of the people who participated in the My Lai massacre, instead. Peck desperately wanted to understand how ordinary people could come to commit atrocities, and the answers were not at all what you’d expect. I’ve thought about this book every day since I first read it, but I want to read it again, this time with a focus on what’s happening right now, especially since Trump has said he wants to bring back torture “whether it works or not.”

I’m also going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and try to remember that 1) tipping points always take longer than you think they should and 2) while events are building up to a tipping point, it doesn’t look like anything at all is happening.

7. Do some research on Oliver Cromwell and his takeover of England in 1653. He picked fights, started wars, smashed everything connected to previous rulers (the list of destroyed stained glass windows, statues, treasures, books, and people is absolutely sickening), and nearly destroyed England in the process. But not quite. And when the monarchy was returned to power, the people dug up his body, hung it in chains, cut off his head, and put it on a spike. So how did he go from being a successful leader of a movement, beloved by the people, to someone they hated so much they wanted to kill him even though he was already dead? I think the answers to that might be helpful. And I think it might also be helpful to realize that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

8. Re-watch Spotlight and All the President’s Men, which are both about how ordinary people brought down people much more powerful than they were, in the case of Spotlight the Catholic hierarchy in Boston (and eventually in much of the world) who were covering up and protecting pedophiles and in All the President’s Men, the President of the United States.

I especially plan to re-watch the last scene of All the President’s Men. It shows Nixon winning the election in spite of his dirty tricks and Woodward and Bernstein’s damning investigation. You can see Nixon speaking triumphantly to cheering crowds on the televisions in the nearly empty newsroom as Woodward and Bernstein sit at their desks, patiently continuing to type their news stories even though they’ve lost the battle. But then, just as you’re beginning to despair, the screen focuses in on the headlines they’re typing: “Hunt Pleads Guilty….Magruder Pleads Guilty…Colson Pleads Guilty… Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman Guilty on All Counts…Tapes Show Nixon Approved Coverup….Nixon Resigns.”

9. Re-watch Sondheim’s Into the Woods–both the movie and the play. Into the Woods is all about people who suddenly find themselves facing disasters only partly (or not at all) of their making, and realizing the only way to face them is together. I also plan to listen to the soundtrack–especially “Your Fault” and “The Last Midnight,” with its way-too-close-for-comfort line, “No, of course what matters is the blame. Somebody to blame.” And I plan to put the song that really matters on repeat in my car: “No One is Alone.”

10. Keep writing. In the movie Enigma, about Beltchley Park during World War II, one of the characters says, “You can only fight your own war,” and that’s so true. Sometimes it seems like it’s a betrayal to spend any time not fighting against Trump, but literature has a role to play, too. I remember a speech one time that outlined everything happening in politics in 1884 (all of which have been completely forgotten) and then saying, “Why have I spent all this time on 1884? Because something else happened that year. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was published.” It changed the world. Fiction matters. So I plan to keep fighting my own personal war against chaos and violence and keep writing.

11. Put what Ben Bradlee said to Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men up on my refrigerator and above my desk:

“Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of
the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the
future of the country. Not that any of that matters.”

And:

“Wit is the only wall between us and the dark.”
Mark Van Doren

And:

“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is
one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the
scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to
us in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind
the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness…
Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the
clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
E.B. White, responding to a letter-writer in 1973

Connie Willis

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BELLWETHER, LIBRARY CULLING, AND SAVING THE BOOKS WE LOVE

In my short novel, BELLWETHER, my heroine Sandra made a practice of checking out her favorite books and the classics to keep them from being summarily discarded by the public library. I did that because I’d had a terrible experience with my own library, who I caught throwing out their entire set of Beany Malone books.

“What are you doing?” I said, horrified. “Those are by Lenora Mattingly Weber, one of Colorado’s best writers. A whole generation of girls grew up on the Beany Malone books. They’re classics.”

“Nobody checked them out,” the librarian explained. “If a book hasn’t been checked out in a year, it gets discarded and put in the library book sale.”

Where if it doesn’t sell, it gets taken to the landfill, she should have added. And it doesn’t matter if the book’s a bestseller or a classic of literature. (If you don’t believe me, go to your local library and try looking for MOBY DICK. Or Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN. Or THREE MEN IN A BOAT.

Or a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES, with the original photos taken of the Cottingley fairies (or some fairy paper dolls) by the little girls. My library got rid of that, too, even though it sells for upwards of eight hundred dollars on AbeBooks. “Nobody wanted to read it,” the librarian explained.

“And now nobody will ever get the chance to because IT’S NOT HERE,” I said and tried to explain that I frequently used books for research in the library, so just because they weren’t being checked out didn’t mean people weren’t reading them, but to no avail. So I started making sure I checked out books I wanted the library to keep and ranted about the problem in BELLWETHER, and over the years a lot of people (including librarians) have told me they did the same thing.

Librarians throwing out books is bad enough, but now apparently it’s reached a whole new level, and it’s not just librarians doing it, it’s computer algorithms that automatically select books to be discarded. And things have gotten so bad that one librarian (and possibly more) created a fake library card user to check out and protect books like John Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW from automatic culling:

http://boingboing.net/…/02/automated-book-culling-softwar.h…

According to the ORLANDO SENTINEL, the librarian’s been placed on administrative leave and may lose his job over it. He’s called it “an overreaction to an action that had only one purpose, and that was to save items for potential patrons’ use.”

I say it’s a disgrace. Books aren’t cans of soup with expiration dates, and the decision to dump (and destroy) them should be made by human beings who use some other standard than how often they’re checked out. And don’t give me some nonsense about libraries having to “be responsive to patrons’ needs.” They’re also supposed to be archives of literature and history. When I was growing up, I owned no books and was completely dependent on my public library–if they didn’t have a book, I couldn’t read it. Luckily, they had LITTLE WOMEN and A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE and THREE MEN IN A BOAT and Frost’s and Sandburg’s and Sarah Teasdale’s poems, all of which would no doubt have been dumped by an algorithm.

The librarian who created the fake reader needs to be defended. And people need to complain to their local libraries and demand they use a reasonable standard for culling books. Plus, they need to go check out their favorite books to make sure they’re there for the next reader.

Connie Willis

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Crosstalk – News and Information

crosstalklg

Crosstalk by Connie Willis is being published by Del Rey on October 4th, 2016.

Part romantic comedy and part social satire, here one of science fiction’s most lauded authors examines the consequences of having too much connectivity, and what happens in a world where, suddenly, nothing is private.

One of science fiction’s premiere humorists turns her eagle eye to the crushing societal implications of telepathy. In a not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure that has been promised to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. So when Briddey Flannigan’s fiancé proposes that he and Briddey undergo the procedure, she is delighted! Only…the results aren’t quite as expected. Instead of gaining an increased empathetic link with her fiancé, Briddey finds herself hearing the actual thoughts of one of the nerdiest techs in her office. And that’s the least of her problems.

For more information, visit the GoodReads page for Crosstalk

There will also be a signed limited edition from Subterranean Press Note that the book summary there I’d consider much more spoilerly than the one above.

The U.K. edition is being published in paperback by Gollancz on September 15, 2016.

http://www.gollancz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/9781473200937_Crosstalk_TPB.jpg

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Report From Santa Fe Video Interview with Connie

Connie recently was interview for the “Report from Santa Fe” show on public television.  It is now available to view online here.

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WEBSITE UPDATE–12-27-16–THE ROCKETTES AND TRUMP

WEBSITE UPDATE–12-27-16–THE ROCKETTES AND TRUMP

The Rockettes made the news this week. Several times. First, Trump’s campaign announced that they were going to perform at the Inauguration, which didn’t totally surprise me, even though Trump has had a hard time getting performers to commit to the event. After all, the Rockettes performed at both of George W. Bush’s inaugurations.

But then several Rockettes announced that they didn’t want to perform but had been told they’d be fired if they didn’t, and that they were “embarrassed and disappointed” that they hadn’t had a say in the decision. As one put it, “the women I work with are intelligent and are full of love, and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling…We will not be forced.”

At that point the Rockettes’ union chimed in with an e-mail that said, “Everyone is entitled to her own political beliefs, but there is no room for this in the workplace. If you are not full time, you do not have to sign up to do this work. If you are full time, you are obligated,” which led to headlines like, “The Rockettes Will Perform at Trump’s Inauguration, Whether They Like It Or Not”, and numerous tweets about how fitting it was for this particular inauguration that women were once again being forced to do something against their will with their bodies, and giving out the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of the union and the company for people to contact to register their disapproval.

At which point the company announced that it was all purely voluntary–“For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event, including the inaugural. It is always their choice.”

But according to the New York Times, many of the women still felt under pressure “despite these assurances,” and union officials didn’t return any calls. Then on Friday evening, the union posted a statement on Facebook saying that it had reached an agreement with the Madison Square Garden Company (which owns the Rockettes) that would “allow all employees, even full-time dancers, to opt out of the inauguration” without repercussions. Still, other sources said that many of the Rockettes are still worried about their jobs if they refuse, so We Shall See.

But I was asfd12not at all surprised at the Rockettes’ refusing to perform or at their speaking out about it. The Rockettes have a proud history of speaking out and taking stands. I know this because I wrote a novella called “All About Emily,” the story of a robot who sees the Rockettes perform and decides she wants to be one, (well, I mean, what else would you want to be if you were a robot?) and in the process I did a ton of research on the Rockettes.

Most people don’t know this, but the Rockettes literally saved Radio City Music hall. In the late 1970’s it was due to be torn down because it was losing money and there was no longer an audience for the movies and live performances which it provided. A major campaign to save it had been launched, and everyone from New York’s mayor to the woman who owned the wrecking ball company which had been hired to demolish the building had protested its destruction and tried to convince the city to change its mind. Celebrities from Johnny Carson to John Belushi and Celeste Holme had begged for it to be saved. To no avail. The Rockefeller Corporation refused to change its mind, and the date for the building’s demolition was set. There’d even been a last, star-studded “memorial” performance in the building, and it looked like nothing could stand in the way of its destruction.

Enter the Rockettes. They took up positions all around Radio City Music Hall, dressed in their costumes and carrying clipboards, and began collecting signatures from passersby on a petition to save the historic building. This was in January, mind you. There is nothing more bone-chilling than the winds which blow through Manhattan’s concrete-and-steel canyons in the winter, especially when it’s snowing, and the Rockettes’ costumes consisted (and still consist) of leotards, fishnet stockings, and not much else.

But the Rockettes (all sixty of them, plus dozens of former and retired Rockettes) stood their ground, remaining there shivering in the cold till they had collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and had talked the city into restoring Radio City Music Hall instead of tearing it down. It’s now a beautifully refurbished Art Deco building and the host to dozens of events, rock concerts, and performances every year, including Cirque de Soleil and the famous Christmas Spectacular. Featuring the Rockettes.

It’s also one of the most famous–and most visited–tourist destinations in New York City, and is known as the “Showplace of the Nation.” Best of all, it’s been designated a New York City and a National Historic Landmark, which means it can’t be torn down. And the Rockettes are the ones who made that happen. Because they were willing to stand up for their principles.

And now, once again, they’re standing up and speaking out–this time against a man who’s bragged about sexually harassing women and indicated repeatedly that he has no respect for them. In his own words, “You have to treat ’em like shit.” Yea, Rockettes! You’re my heroes. You go, girls!

Connie Willis

P.S. The e-mail address for Radio City Music Hall is feedbackradiocity@MSG.com
and the phone number for the American Guild of Variety Artists is 212-675-1003.
To e-mail the producers directly:
J. Dolan@msg.com
Jill.DeForte@msg.com
larry.sedwick@msg.com

Make sure you tell them that if a Rockette does not wish to perform at the inauguration, she shouldn’t have to and there should not be repercussions.

 

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WEBSITE UPDATE–12-22-16: CHRISTMAS AND COMMONPLACE BOOKS

loveactuallyA few years ago I discovered a book called A CHRISTMAS CRACKER, which its author described as a collection of entries from his commonplace book. I didn’t know what that was, but when I looked up the definition, I realized I did and that I’d been keeping them for years. I just didn’t know what they were called.

Commonplace books, which became popular in the 1400s, are simply personal scrapbooks of sayings, poems, quotations, and anecdotes compiled by an individual. I started my first one in high school in one of those black-and-white marbleized notebooks, with a quote from ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and I still have it. I’ve also kept them and added to them ever since. I also keep a separate commonplace book for Christmas, a holiday, which as you all know, I love.

Anyway, the author of CHRISTMAS CRACKERS (and MORE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS and STILL MORE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS), John Julius Norwich, gave his friends a sampling of his favorite quotes, etc., from his commonplace book, for Christmas, and I thought that seemed like a great idea.

So, here for your Christmas delectation, are some selections from my Christmas commonplace book. Enjoy!

“Humanity must be forgiven much for having invented Christmas.”
Christopher Morley
* * * * *

“The first worldwide tweet: Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!”
* * * * *

“Do you know what Darth Vader said to Luke Skywalker?”
“I know what you’re getting for Christmas. I felt your presents.”

Whoever it is who thinks up terrible jokes * * * * *

“I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely, and so I say, God bless Christmas!” Charles Dickens * * * * *

“Christmas is a three-day festival dedicated to the birth of Bing Crosby.”
Willis Hall
* * * * *
“May you have the greatest two gifts of all on these holidays–someone to love and someone who loves you.”

John Sinor
* * * * *

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.”
Shirley Temple
* * * * *
“(At Christmas) we ask ourselves why can’t the world be like this all the time…If we expect the world to change, I’m afraid we will always be bitterly disappointed because there are a great many obstacles to change, human nature perhaps being chief among them. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change ourselves. And that change may bring about other positive changes. The world did not change in Dickens Christmas tale, but Ebenezer Scrooge did after listening to his ghostly visitors, and that was enough to change the lives of those around him for the better. So too it may be with us.”

“Visions of Sugar Plums”
MagisterLud
* * * * *

“There are three things you never want to see on a Christmas present:
One size fits all.
Fun for all ages.
Removes unwanted hair.”
Jim Mullen in Entertainment Weekly
* * * * *

“Just for a few hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the stupid, harsh mechanism of the world runs down, and we permit ourselves to live according to untrammeled common sense, the unconquerable efficiency of good will.”
Christopher Morley
* * * * *

“Christmas is 1,940 years old and Hitler is only 51. he can’t spoil our Christmas.”
Sign in a London shop window, 1940

* * * * *

Have a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyful Kwanzaa, fun Festivus, and/or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year. Like the fact that the shortest day is over, and, despite all appearances to the contrary, light is coming back into the world.

Connie Willis

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WEBSITE UPDATE–“SILENT NIGHT”

A few years back I wrote a novella called “All Seated on the Ground,” about an alien invasion in which the aliens didn’t attack or try to take over the planet or even demand, “Take me to your leader”–they just stood there, glaring like the heroine’s disapproving Aunt Judith, while people tried frantically to figure out what they wanted.

The answer involved the lyrics to Christmas songs (it’s a long story), and in the course of the story I talked about everything from “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Including a way-out-there rendition of “Silent Night,” which was the only version of any song the aliens (called Altairi) responded to.

“But that’s good, isn’t it?” I asked. “Now we can analyze what it was that was different about it that they were responding to. Which version was it?”

Instead of answering, [Calvin] walked over to the CD player and hit play. A loud chorus of nasal female voices began belting out, “Silent night, holy night,” shouting to be heard over a cacophony of clicks and clacks.
“What is that?” I asked.

“The Broadway chorus of the musical 42nd Street singing and tap-dancing to ‘Silent Night.’ They recorded it for a special Broadway Christmas charity project.”

I looked over at the Altair, thinking maybe Calvin was wrong and they hadn’t really fallen asleep, but in spite of the din, they had sagged limply over; their heads nearly touching the ground, looking almost peaceful. Their glares had faded from full-bore Aunt Judith to only mildly disapproving.
I listened to the 42nd Street chorines tapping and belting out “Silent Night” at the top of their lungs some more. “It is kind of appealing,” I said, “especially the part where they shout out ‘Mother and child!'”
“I know,” he said. “I’d like it played at our wedding.”

I knew the song because we’d seen a Broadway musical some years ago, and the cast had sold CDs of the charity album, which included all sorts of Christmas songs done by the casts of shows on Broadway at the time, after the performance. But our favorite was 42nd Street’s “Silent Night,” which was bold, brassy, and ridiculously at odds with the usual sickly renditions of the carol. Energetically tapping and shouting out the lyrics introduced a whole new and funny dimension to the song, and we’ve played it every Christmas since.

I’m telling you all this because this fall I got a great e-mail from Mylinda Hull, a Broadway actress living in Brooklyn who had played Anytime Annie in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street (reprinted here with her permission):

“My name is Mylinda Hull and I arranged the version of “Silent Night” sung by the cast of 42nd Street for “Carols for a Cure” that she used as a plot point in her marvelous novella, “All Seated on the Ground.”

I came to the story randomly, browsing through the Brooklyn Public Library, and my eyeballs rolled around in my head for quite a while when I came to the part where she wrote about the song.

So I just wanted to tell Connie, thank you. I’m so glad she enjoyed it enough to include it. It must have tickled her, as it did me, to have the loudest tap dancing-est, trumpet blaring-est “Silent Night” on record. I’m curious to know if she happened upon it by chance, or if she did a search for group-sung versions of the song when she needed one for her story.”

I wrote her back:

“Thank you so much for your e-mail! I’m delighted to know who arranged it, since it’s my favorite “Silent Night” ever. The reason I knew about it is that I and my family went to New York the year of the 9-11 attacks. Mayor Giuliani (who I have since had many problems with, but who was great right after 9-11) had said to support the city by coming and spending money, so we did. We went to the Macy’s Parade, had Thanksgiving dinner at a deli off Times Square, visited Ground Zero, and saw the Rockettes’ Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. We also went to see the musical Urinetown, and at that performance they were selling the “Carols for a Cure” CD, which my daughter bought and we all loved. Lots of great carols, but yours was the most amazing!

I love irony in all its myriad forms–one of my other favorite ironic songs is Barbra Streisand’s sad, torch-song version of “Happy Days Are Here Again”–but your song is my absolute favorite! Particularly since I spent years and years in church choirs singing versions of “Silent Night” which put everyone–including the choir–to sleep. I honestly thought there was nothing to be done that could save the song, but you proved me wrong! We’re not the only ones who love it. We play it for everyone at Christmas, and everyone who hears it adores it!”

I asked her if the song was available anywhere else or if the CD could be bought somewhere, and she replied:

Yes, I looked and the album is still available at the Broadway Cares online store http://broadwaycares.stores.yahoo.net/caforcucds.html [2001 edition] and a person can buy single tracks on itunes. I made another recording for them, in the 2005 version when I was in Sweet Charity, the one with Christina Applegate. Much sillier, a Christmas comedy sketch of sorts, it’s called “Joy to the World.” As a fellow connoisseur of curious Christmas lyrics, you might enjoy that one as well.

So if you’re interested, you can listen to it, too. This is what I love about writing. You meet the coolest people! And what I love about libraries–you never know what you might find when you start browsing in them!

Connie Willis

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Turing Law

THE TURING LAW

I just read that the British Parliament is moving forward with a bill which will pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of homosexuality. (The actual crimes they were charged with ranged from buggery and gross indecency to loitering with intent, most of which are no longer on the books.

The law, named the Turing Law, will also give pardons posthumously, and its passage is not without controversy. Some LGBT advocacy groups don’t think it goes far enough, since it requires a case-by-case review instead of a blanket pardon, and others say a pardon is the wrong solution since it implies wrongdoing on the part of those who were convicted. As one of the men who would be pardoned under the law said, “I wasn’t guilty of anything.”

I see their point, and I agree “pardon” is probably the wrong word. I’d like something more on the lines of what the judge said in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison when Harriet Vane was absolved of the crime she’d been charged with: “The Crown, by withdrawing this dreadful charge against you, has demonstrated your innocence in the clearest possible way. After this, nobody will be able to suppose that the slightest imputation rests upon you, and I most heartily congratulate you on this very satisfactory ending to your ordeal.”
But even given the problems with calling it a pardon and the fact that living individuals will have to apply for pardons rather than having it given to them automatically, I hope the Turing Law goes into effect because of all the people who will have their names cleared under it, including those who will be pardoned posthumously.

The law’s named after Alan Turing, who, in case you haven’t seen The Imitation Game,
cracked Germany’s Enigma code, designed the modern computer, was a major reason we won World War II–and was convicted on homosexuality charges in 1952 and forced to undergo chemical castration, which led directly to his suicide. But he won’t be pardoned under the law. Turing was already officially pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, and the government has apologized for its shameful treatment of him.

But Oscar Wilde hasn’t been pardoned or apologized to. Oscar was one of late Victorian England’s most brilliant writers, one of its most popular lecturers (he even came to Leadville, Colorado, where he gave a speech to a wildly enthusiastic bunch of miners), and the wittiest man in London, delivering such lines as “I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability,” and, “Always forgive your enemies–nothing annoys them so much,” and, “All of us live in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
He was the most famous writer of his time, the most popular, and the most quoted–none of which kept him from being convicted of sodomy (for having an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, who had a vengeful father) and being sentenced to two years’ hard labor, during most of which he was forbidden to have pen and paper.

And lest you’re thinking, “But what’s the point of pardoning him now? You can’t change what’s already happened. It’s too little, too late, and this won’t help Oscar. He’s long dead, and it’s all water under the bridge anyway,” here’s what Oscar wrote about his being transferred from the Hospital Ward of Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol:

“On November 13, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the Hospital Ward without a moment’s notice being given to me. Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me, they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed, they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.”

You’re right–a pardon won’t fully make up for what was done to him. But it’s still something. And it’s never too late to try to make amends for past wrongs.

So here’s to the Turing Law! May it make up a little for what you had to endure, Oscar.
Connie Willis

{editor’s note – information on what actually happened in Parliment can be found here  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing_law )

 

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Post Election Thoughts From Connie Willis

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
The Day After the Election

My mom died when I was twelve, and one of the things I remember about that day was how strange it felt that the world continued to go on going to work, eating, shopping, laughing, chatting about the weather, and watching TV, as if the world had not catastrophically, irrevocably changed.

I had that same feeling this morning as we walked our dog, amazed that our neighbors had put out their trash, that the students on campus were still blithely talking about term papers and being late to class. “How can you be worried about that?” I wanted to scream at them. “Don’t you understand what’s just happened?”

America, the country I love, has elected a man who supports torture, “even if it doesn’t work,” and who’s promised to deport millions of immigrants, put Muslims under surveillance, require a religious test for citizenship, pull out of NATO and leave Europe at the mercy of Russia, leave Japan and South Korea at the mercy of North Korea, put his political opponent in jail, dismantle freedom of the press, and require everyone to say, “Merry Christmas.”

It’s elected a man who mocks people and calls them names, talks publicly about his own sexual prowess in the most crass way, insults war heroes and Gold Star families, cruelly imitates the disabled, and, by his own admission, sexually assaults women. And then threatens to sue them when they confirm his crimes.

In one fell stroke, Americans have changed forever the way we’ll be seen by the rest of the world, and worse, the way we see ourselves. Nations can survive almost anything (look at England in World War II.) The one thing they can’t survive is their citizens losing faith in what they stand for. And yesterday our nation said it stands for racism, misogyny, homophobia, bullying, the breaking of treaties, and the use of brute force and/or blackmail to get its way, things I could never stand for, never believe in.

It handed the One Ring to Sauron, and now all hell is about to break loose.
So how can the sky still be blue? How can the sun still be shining?

To quote W.H. Auden:

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”

Connie Willis

Thursday.
Two days after the election.

Feeling a little better, not because my assessment of things is any less grim than it was yesterday. but I’ve been remembering World War II and the Blitz and how the Brits held up in the face of certain disaster, and it’s made me a bit more cheerful. I knew all that research for “Fire Watch” and Blackout/All Clear would come in handy someday.

Some insights that might be helpful in our current situation:

–Just because things look bleak, it doesn’t mean you should give up.
Things looked worse than bleak for Britain.. Not only had France been totally occupied, the British Army’s equipment abandoned on the beaches of Dunkirk, the RAF badly decimated, London–and Liverpool and Manchester and Coventry–pounded into dust, but for four and a half years Great Britain lost battle after battle, convoy after convoy, and there was scarcely any good news. But they didn’t give up. And they eventually won the war.

–It’s entirely appropriate to feel kicked in the gut, scared, and despairing right now.
When all this first happened, the British weren’t the “Keep Calm and Carry On” heroes we all know about and admire. After the soldiers were rescued off Dunkirk, they came home exhausted, battle-shocked, and completely demoralized, and at the beginning of the Blitz, Londoners were terrified and close to panic. It took them a few days to pull themselves together, and during that time they were really scared. But then they rallied. And decided to not give up without a fight.

–Don’t think there’s nothing you can do.
The British never took the attitude of “I’m only one person. What can I possibly do?” Instead, they each did their bit, volunteering to spot fires and drive ambulances, signing up for the Home Guard and the ARP, manning anti-aircraft guns and putting on ENSA revues and passing out tea and sandwiches at canteens.

And they performed miracles. A flotilla of retired sailors and weekend mariners and young kids rescued the entire British Army from Dunkirk right from under Hitler’s nose. A ragtag bunch of choir directors, vergers, and church staff saved St. Paul’s Cathedral. A bevy of naked girls kept the Windmill Theater open. And an eccentric band of mathematicians and college professors and crossword puzzle enthusiasts broke the Enigma code and won the war.

So do your bit. Demonstrate. Protest injustices. Write your senators and congressmen. Donate to the organizations who can fight for the causes which are in danger. Write blogs. Speak out.

–Don’t let this ruin everything in your life.
The British didn’t let Hitler ruin their daily lives or their morale. He may have been raining bombs down on them, but they continued to have Christmas parties in the Underground shelters, continued to go dancing and shopping and to concerts and the movies and church, continued to laugh and fall in love and have children. They continued to read and wrote books, put on plays, work to keep all the things they cared about alive. And in the process, they kept civilization going.

–Follow Virginia Woolf’s example described below.
Virginia was working in the garden, and her husband Leonard called out for her to come inside, that Hitler was just about to speak on the radio.
Virginia refused. “I am planting irises,” she said, “and they will be here long after Hitler is gone.”

And they are. You can go see the irises at their house, still blooming.

Connie Willis

Oh, and one other thing.

To all you people who voted for Trump:

I’m already hearing a lot of talk about how liberals brought this on by living in a bubble or not understanding Trump’s supporters’ point of view or not realizing how much white men have been hurting, etc. So let me get this straight. Because we foolishly thought this was a country that was kinder and more enlightened than it actually is, because we foolishly thought all Americans believed in the same principles of freedom and fairness we did, you were forced to elect a bullying, arrogant, lying, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant, cruel, authoritarian narcissist to the position of the most powerful person in the world.
I’m not buying it. This is the kind of thing abusers say to justify their crimes–“You forced me to hit you. If you hadn’t made me mad, it would never have happened.”

But that’s a lie. And an excuse. The truth is: I didn’t do this, and neither did the left or the Democrats or anybody who voted for Hillary. You did this, and we have no intention of taking the blame for it.

I’ve spent the last two years obsessively following Trump’s campaign, becoming more and more alarmed, and telling anyone who would listen how dangerous he is. I worked Hillary’s campaign, donated money, helped get the vote out, and voted for her. *I* wasn’t the one who voted for someone racist who abused women and mocked the disabled and advocated torture “even if it doesn’t work,” and neither were the Democrats or the left. You  were.

You set us on a course that will lead us relentlessly not just into the past, but into the dark, ugly past we’ve fought so hard to come out of. It’s a course which is likely to spin out of control and take us places we can’t even imagine. And whatever happens, whatever damage he does, whatever whirlwind we end up reaping, it will be your fault and nobody else’s.

We’re all going to suffer for what you’ve done, but we’re jolly well not going to take the fall for this, too. The blame is squarely on you and only you.

Connie Willis

*Please note, Connie sends her updates to be posted here, but she is not personally on this blog and I (the webmaster) usually have comments turned off.

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