Archive for the ‘books’ Category


Overcoming Writer’s Block: A Favorite Hint From The Ex-Lax® Of Writing Teachers (That Would Be Me!)

April 6, 2011

I asked Ring Lardner the other day how he writes his short stories, and he said he wrote a few widely separated words or phrases on a piece of paper and then went back and filled in the spaces. • Harold Ross

A student once called me “the Ex-Lax® of writing teachers” and I know what you might be thinking. However, this title was not bestowed because my assignments encouraged students to produce nothing but crap. (I do not censor this word here because it got me into trouble several times as a high school teacher, as did the word piss. There are some people who consider these words swearing, but my Grandma Wilkins, an extremely religious woman who said “hmmmm” instead of hell, used these particular vulgarities all the time, so I am inured to their power to shock.) No. I got the laxative title because the alternative school students with whom I was working were producing writing—lots of it—much of it coming from angry adolescents whose reluctance to put pen to paper had caused them to fail previous classes.

I am trained as a secondary English teacher. This means that I know the conventions of writing and I am also overly familiar with the conventional ways to approach writing as a task in school. And that’s the problem. Writing can be fun, but writing that’s always bounded by rules and prescriptions of properness is seldom fun for anyone. Because I made my living with words, often writing under deadline, before going back to school to become a teacher, and because I have been a lifelong researcher of creativity, I know that much of what I was supposed to be teaching about the processes of writing was also crap. I am definitely in favor of eventual correctness and I am not suggesting opening the gates and letting all manner of misspellings and grammatical incorrectness run rampant over the world’s pristine white pages. I am suggesting that an initial focus on these things can stop writers before they begin. I am also suggesting—No, wait! I’m asserting!—that the process of writing is highly idiosyncratic and that processes designed to help student writers may actually hinder some of them.

Some creative people approach writing tasks in well-mannered ways. They are organized and they know where they are going before they begin. I admire them. Surely this is some species of magic. There are writing teachers in this group. Other writing teachers—or teachers who require writing in their courses—are not writers themselves beyond having written the requisite papers or theses or dissertations for the courses they took along the way to getting their degrees. They muddled through these tasks and are sure that if they recommend the magic of well-ordered writing to their students, it will work for these others in ways that it did—or didn’t—work for them.

These teachers can be dangerous. They require standardized pre-writing and brainstorming. They require students to provide carefully detailed outlines before beginning papers. They require well-organized rough drafts that must be approved before an actual paper is written. They require perfectly stated theses and perfect paragraphs from the start. There is a correctness at the heart of their approach and all things must be done properly and in the proper order. These teachers require. They require. And they require some more. And they constipate those of us who have our own processes, whose writing emerges from the chaos of ideas.

I have long admired the work of Peter Elbow who reflects in his 1973 book, Writing without Teachers, on his own experiences as someone who wanted to be a teacher but struggled with writing. Elbow’s theories of composition are autoethnographic, and emerged from his life. Mine have as well. My favorite writing laxative comes from his book, Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (1981, 1998). It can be found in Section II: “More Ways of Getting Words on Paper,” where Elbow describes “first thoughts,” saying that this activity asks the writer to just dump* out what s/he is thinking about the topic, acknowledging that these initial ideas are “not good thoughts or true thoughts—just first thoughts” (p. 61). This initial dumping reduces the pressure of initial significance and organization that often causes writers to procrastinate. Once students have something, they can begin to find directions for potential exploration.

Elbow’s idea is related to Ken Macrorie’s (1970, 1976), “I-Search” processes detailed in Telling Writing. To begin an I-Search project, the researcher asks questions:

• What do I want to learn more about? Why am I interested in this?

• What do I already know about this subject?

• What do I need to learn about this subject?

“First thoughts” and “I-Search” beginnings are kinds of brainstorming, another piece of writing theory that has become formulaic and patterned, with well-meaning teachers requiring students to draw circles and lines and make Venn diagrams and engage in multiple kinds of teacher-directed pre-writing activities with colored pencils and Post-It® notes and other aids to creation. However, as the writer Jessamyn West said in an interview in September 1957 in the Saturday Review,There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft.” I heartily agree. I am a list maker, a card collector, a file creator, and a bitpiecer. This means that I write my way into projects bits and pieces at a time—a paragraph here, a phrase there, a page or two in the morning when I awake—filing it all away until the deadline looms and I have to piece together the wordy mosaic of thought and bring order to the chaos.

There is a time for editing and proofreading and making sure that writing is ready to be read. There is a time to consider audience. There is a time to adhere to accepted conventions, particularly in an academic context. That time is not at the beginning of a writing task when writers must mindfully make meaning through an activity as personal as expressing voice on paper. I’ll end with a lengthy quotation from Writing with Power. If you want to be Ex-Lax® for your students, consider his words:

“Perhaps my general point would be clearer if I called this section ‘More Ways of Producing a First Draft,’ but I want to emphasize the fact that first-stage writing need not take the form of a draft. That is, it need not be a single connected piece of writing. There is no good reason why you must try to produce something in your first cycle of writing that resembles the form of what you want to end up with, Of course, if you have a vision of how your piece ought to be structured, yes, by all means do your raw writing in the form of a draft. But if you only have the hint of a hunch or some initial thoughts or incidents or images and you can’t see how they should be shaped, it’s usually best to go ahead all the same and plunge into what I call raw writing. Instead of a draft you will be producing a pile of rough ingredients. The fact is that you usually get more and better visions for how to shape these ingredients by starting to write them out however they happen to come off the pencil than by waiting till you get the so-called ‘right’ structure. Any structure that you dream up before actually getting your hands dirty in the writing itself is apt to be like a plan you work out for travel in an unfamiliar country: it usually has to be changed once you get there and see how things really work” (p. 47).

What do you do to overcome writer’s block? How do you begin a new writing project?

The writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratification, is a curious anticlimax. • Alfred Kazin, Think, February 1963 [Or herself. Sigh.]

* I trust that you are applauding my restraint as I pass up the opportunity to indulge in some verbal pun-ishment here.


Happy Rabbits Farm*—Home Of Rapidly Multiplying Stacks And Shelves Of Books And The Endless Ideas They Inspire, Support, And Challenge

October 24, 2010

Note: I’m publishing this post on Zinnfull, but it can also be found as the first post at a new blog I’ve begun, “Shelf Analysis,” at

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you will have a dozen.
• John Steinbeck

Without sufficient money for a meal I have spent the few pence I possessed to obtain from a library one of Scott’s novels, and, reading it, forgot hunger and cold, and felt myself rich and happy.
• Hans Christian Andersen

I am obsessed by books. They are my greatest indulgence. I seldom go on a trip without buying books. I almost never leave a thrift store without a book or two. Deliver me from the shelves of sell-‘em-for-a-dollar-each library discards. I will take some home. I am endlessly amused, inspired, comforted, educated, delighted, confounded, transported, and overwhelmed by books.

My first collectable was a book. Most of the trouble I got into as a child can be traced to books, whether I was challenging a teacher because of something I’d read, reading the wrong book when I should have been reading something else, reading inappropriate books, or just plain reading: “You always were a little shit,” my stepfather told me not too long ago, “always your nose in a book, and always wanting a ride to the library to get more books.”

I don’t doubt that I was a little shit. I was a smartypants and a smartmouth who hadn’t learned the kinds of discretionary skills that now moderate my smartiness, although I did learn to keep quiet and keep my ideas to myself. This is not necessarily a good skill for students—or children—to develop. Be warned. If you want students of any age to read, you should probably be prepared for them to think and wonder and question. Books are dangerous that way.

In Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg (1926) wrote, “The farm boys in their evenings at Jones’s store in Gentryville talked about how Abe Lincoln was always reading, digging into books, stretching out flat on his stomach in front of the fireplace, studying till midnight and past midnight. . .The next thing Abe would be reading books between the plow handles, it seemed to them.” I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, surrounded by Lincoln lore and learned from a National Park Service brochure that some of the books Lincoln read were Parson Weems’ Life of Washington, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Robinson Crusoe, and The Arabian Nights. I wish that Lincoln had been an autobibliographer.**

An autobibliographer tracks her or his reading and revisits these tracks, following the trails that lead to self-understanding. Through “shelf analysis”—the exploration of reading preferences and avoidances—passions and interests are revealed and deeper understanding of personal intellect is possible. Researching your reading choices is one way to begin to know your own mind. As tastes change and mature—or stay the same—these attractions and repulsions continue to be revelatory. I am the same person I was when I collected my first book, and I see in its pages the origins of some of my current reading obsessions.

That first book I collected, Dante’s Inferno, a folio edition with engravings by Gustave Dore depicting the nine circles of hell, began my fascination with the grotesque and gory. Coupled with regular revisitings in Springfield newspapers about the Donner Party and their cannibalistic scandals, as well as the radio spookiness I shared regularly with my grandpa, I grew up loving Cinderella, but loving all kinds of creepy stuff more. I understand why my latest acquisitions include the following from the stacks sitting in the living room waiting to be filed, all of them for Yuckology 101: Vile and Disgusting Literacy Activities for Children of All Ages:

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (2008). “There’s a lot of them./Enough for us to eat well,/and then keep eating.” (p. 114). Who can resist poetry celebrating the undead? Not me.

The Munsters and the Great Camera Caper by William Johnston (1965). This “Authorized Edition based on the well-known television series” is one of those dandy Whitman Publishing Company shiny-covered books celebrating schlocky TV. It’s chockfull of Munster wisdom like this from Herman, “Things are always darkest before the nightfall. I guess nothing seems as bad in the dark as it did in the daylight” (p. 205).

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler (1995). Weschler’s book celebrates the odd and wonder•full and visits David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (2007). “I get edgy near sharp knives,” Little Mouse writes, while above him, the page informs readers that aichmophobia is the fear of knives and the facing page shows a triumphant farmer’s wife on the front page of the newspaper, holding three mice tails. This participatory children’s book invites readers to record their fears on its pages.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies! A Book of Zombie Christmas Carols by Michael P. Spradlin (2009). Fair warning, “Zombie Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “He eats you when you’re sleeping;/He bites when you’re awake./He chews if you’ve been bad or good,/So just hide for goodness’ sake!” The kids will love singing these.

• And finally, I love black and white artmaking and I get inspiration paging through books of copyright-free images. Mostly this stuff is only available on the internet now and that’s just not the same as looking through books where serendipitous discoveries await. Dover Publication’s (2010) Spiders, Insects and Crustaceans is the latest addition to my collection.

Of course, I bought some cotton candy books too, but since I read five or six of these a week, they don’t really count except to reassure you that it’s not all serious stuff around here.

Consider beginning your own autobibliographical studies. Record the books or magazines or newspaper articles you read or your web searches or other literacy activities. Be sure to date everything and keep track of bibliographical data. In time, revisiting these records is bound to be interesting!

Books are becoming everything to me. If I had at this moment my choice of life I would bury myself in one of those immense libraries that we saw together at the universities, and would never pass a waking hour without a book before me.
• Lord Macaulay

* Because ideas are always blossoming at The House of Stuff, my husband and I call our home Happy Rabbits Farm, home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History, Keep Smilin’ Music, Dr. Z’s House of Fun, and more.

** For insights into Lincoln’s reading, see Robert Bray’s (Summer 2007), What Abraham Lincoln Read: An Evaluative and Annotated List (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Vol. 28, No. 2).


Reading Is To The Mind What Exercise Is To The Body*

July 14, 2010

A large, still book is a piece of quietness, succulent and nourishing in a noisy world, which I approach and imbibe with “a sort of greedy enjoyment,” as Marcel Proust said of those rooms of his old home whose air was “saturated with the bouquet of silence.” • Holbrook Jackson

The alarm on my phone will soon be melodically reminding me to shower and get ready for work. I’ve been reading my way into the day. Sometimes this is simply a relaxing time of mindlessness and other times, I nibble at several books at once, taking small bites and chewing on them, doing a bit of writing as well.

The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. • Holbrook Jackson

These nibblebooks are usually related to Collectory topics I’m interested in, and they are the ones I collect, the ones that line the shelves in every room. They’re mostly non-fiction. Cottoncandy quickread books are mostly fiction and are usually only brief guests in my home. The volumes of fiction that settle in on my shelves are those I want to read and reread because of the lyricism of their language or the connections of their content.

Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome. • William Ewart Gladstone

I’m not sure where the myth comes from that says once you begin a book you should always read it from start to finish. Do schools promote this fiction? I seldom do this with non-fiction. I choose a chapter that interests me and begin there. Or I search the index for a particular topic and read all the references to that area of interest first. Or I look in the index for topics I’m not familiar with. Or I just flip through the book, waiting for something to catch my eye. Almost always I’ve finished the entire book before I realize there’s nothing I haven’t read. I just haven’t read it in the order it was written. Instead, I read it in the order of personal interest.

An ordinary man can… surround himself with two thousand books… and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. • Augustine Birrell

I also quit reading books that don’t interest me. This is particularly true for fiction since I’m aware that with non-fiction, especially books related to something I’m exploring, I may bring different eyes to the task later. Still, once you’re not in school and have no academic or professional reasons for reading something, it’s okay to close the covers and say adieu.

What are your reading patterns?

Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves. • Jeremy Collier

* The title quotation is provided by Richard Steele from The Tatler in 1710.


Some Books Are To Be Tasted, Others To Be Swallowed, And Some Few To Be Chewed And Digested,* And Some Books Just Slide Right Down The Gullet, Lubricated By Silliness And Seasoned With Absurdity

July 7, 2010

The covers of this book are too far apart. • Ambrose Bierce

I’ve confessed many times to reading middle-of-the-night books that few academics would brag about, but as a teacher who’s concerned with literacy issues, I feel compelled to reveal my bookish secrets. I read lots of stuff just for fun and I read lots of books and articles that most people would have little interest in. I reference the serious ones in other venues, since they represent the kind of reading that only the interested would be interested in. I love this intellectual stuff too, but I don’t feel compelled to impress you with my erudition. If it isn’t enough that I use the word erudition correctly in a sentence, clearly you are people who will never be pleased, so I might as well not worry about it.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. • Bertrand Russell

When I write about books here, I hope to remind people that reading can be fun. That isn’t always the message students get in school where reading can be boring and tedious and can require intense concentration in order to take away requisite knowledge. This is a skill students need—the ability to persist even when the reading is less than entrancing—but they also need to learn how amusing books can be.

Every night, I have to read a book, so that my mind will stop thinking about things that I stress about. • Britney Spears

I wear a quiet hat in class to get students’ attention. It’s a horned plastic helmet and I’ve just discovered that Vikings never wore such headgear. This piece of historical myth-information is debunked by Michael Powell’s (2010, New York: Fall River Press) Lies You Learned at School. Page 18 reveals that “the Viking fighting style actually precluded their [horned helmets’] use.” I unlearned much more—you’ll have to buy the book.

I was reading a book…’the history of glue’ – I couldn’t put it down. • Tim Vine

How could anyone who collects old sex books pass up The Best of Sexology: The Illustrated Magazine of Sex Science? This book, edited by Craig Yoe promises on its cover that readers will be treated to “kinky and kooky excerpts from America’s first sex magazine.” I am hooked before I open it and can only hope that there will be breast stuff within. And there is, a whole article devoted to “Polymastia. . .Multiple Breasts” by Sara R. Riedman, Ph.D. I also find a picture of a spiked blouse designed to protect women from contact with those who might wish to cop a feel. What treats!

A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul. • Aldous Huxley

I’m a sucker for first sentences that grab my attention, so I love this one from Daniel Waters (2008, New York: Hyperion), Generation Dead. “Phoebe and her friends held their breath as the dead girl in the plaid skirt walked past their table in the lunchroom” (p. 1). This tale chronicles the story of “living impaired or “differently biotic” teens who won’t stay dead and who just want to fit in. I’ll use this for reading aloud at the start of class.

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man [or women] who wants to read a book and a tired man [or woman] who wants a book to read. • G.K. Chesterton

Twisted: Tales from the Wacky Side of Life is the kind of you-had-me-at-hello title that always appeals to me. This 2006 (New York: MJF Books) book from Bob Fenster is packed with strange quotations, facts, anecdotes and other odd stuff I hadn’t seen before. For example, I learn on page 178 that First Lady Patricia Nixon “was named Macaroni Woman of the Year by the American Macaroni Institute” and was even “sculpted in pasta.” I drift off into thought for a moment thinking about this. The only pasta art I’m familiar with is macaroni necklaces. Do pasta sculptors use cooked or dry noodles?

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. • Charles de Secondat, Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, Pensées Diverses

“My first conscious recognition of being abducted [by aliens] was in 1988” (p. 106). This is the opening sentence from one of the chapters in How It Feels to Be Attacked by a Shark and Other Amazing Life-or-Death Situations!, a book of real-life stories edited by Michelle Hamer (2007, New York: MJF Books). If you’ve ever wondered how it feels to choke to death on a cheeseburger, to be shot in the heart with a nail gun, to win the lottery, to be caught in a cyclone, or to have quintuplets, this is the book for you.

So there they are, a few of my recent summer purchases, books that will entertain me and my students, books I claim proudly as my own, knowing that my choices will impress no one.

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. • Henry Ward Beecher

What kind of summer reading do you secretly—or openly–enjoy?

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. • P.J. O’Rourke

* Thanks to Frances Bacon for the quotation at the beginning of the title.


The Book That Changed My View Of My Education And Got Me Into Trouble When I Asked My U.S. History Teacher Why We Hadn’t Read About This Topic In Our Textbooks

June 10, 2010

For Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. • Upton Sinclair about his book, The Jungle

When I was in middle school, I accidentally read Upton Sinclair’s (1906) The Jungle. I wasn’t looking for a book about conditions in the meat-packing industry. I was in my rainforest, Amazon, South American, piranha, big-huge-scary-snake, jungle phase of reading, the one that followed my fascination with all things Egyptian.

I’ve always loved non-fiction and my childhood search strategy was to read everything related to a subject that I could find. I used the card catalog as my primary search tool, although I also hunted through the stacks using the Dewey Decimal System. The Jungle is fiction, a fact-based exposé that didn’t have anything to do with the topic I was currently exploring, but I took it home because of its title and because it interested me when I paged through it.

Once I really began reading, I was repelled and fascinated. On my next visit to the library, I looked up more about the topic and found out that the conditions in the United States meat packing industry that Sinclair exposed in his book led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. I asked my history teacher why we hadn’t learned about this in class and why it wasn’t in our textbook and he told me to be quiet, that it wasn’t possible to cover everything. And that was the end of it.

There’s a new food safety act before the Senate—The Food Safety Modernization Act—that would overhaul a system that’s over a century old. According to an article in The Oregonian (Portland), May 31, 2010, p. A1, “One-size-fits-all reforms may not fit small farmers,” by Lynne Terry, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “estimates that every year 76 million people get sick and 5,000 die from food poisoning.”

Small farmers, including many growers who sell at small farmers’ markets, believe the bill needs exceptions for local growers, saying that this bill and one already passed by the House, could put them out of business because of related expenses. I’m torn. I love our local growers’ market. Saturdays are special when you can buy produce directly from its grower. I don’t know enough to take a stand on this issue.

I’m reminded that research is always necessary if you want to make an informed decision about something and that school doesn’t teach you everything you need to know.

Write about significant book from your childhood.

Children don’t read to find their identity, to free themselves from guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion or to get rid of alienation. They have no use for psychology…. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff…. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions. • Isaac Bashevis Singer


Don’t Miss This Recipe For Hard Cooked Egg Cobbler That’s Yummy Or Yucky Depending On Your Tastes Since I Realize That While I Find It Repellent, Apparently Others Considered It Quite Tasty

June 10, 2010

For Tuesday, June 8, 2010

As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced. • Alan King

The kinds of books we read sometimes depend on what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes they’re school-related or work-related or project-related. Some reading passions are ongoing, though, and cookbooks are one of mine. Once upon a time, I wrote a twice-weekly cooking column in the newspaper and I’m still a sucker for collections of recipes.

Although I enjoy looking for cooking instructions online when I know what I want to make, when I read cookbooks, I find recipes for things I’d never considered making. Since we like eating at home, both my husband and I look for recipes we think we’ll enjoy trying. We Post-It® or print or bookmark these possibilities. And I find Collectory stuff among them.

I just bought a new cookbook, Kay West’s (2007) Around the Opry Table: A Feast of Recipes and Stories from the Grand Ole Opry®. I couldn’t resist the $2.49 price tag, especially when I found it full of so many things I wanted to remember. This is one of the ways I decide whether or not to buy a book after it passes the cost test. If there is just one thing I want from the book, I copy it down. Two, and I copy them down. Perhaps even with three. But once I pass the three mark and the book’s affordable, I figure I should just buy it. I found multiple things I want in West’s book.

The first I’ll share is a recipe I’ll use in two Collectorys: Food of the Clods and Yuckology. Bless her heart, it’s country singer Kitty Wells’ recipe for “Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler” and it repels me just to read about it. Perhaps you will not feel the same way and will want to try it, so here it is, direct from p. 79:

Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler

12 whole eggs

2 cups sugar

½ cup (1 stick) butter

Fresh grated nutmeg

2 pastry shells

Hard cook 12 whole eggs. (I’ll skip the directions for doing this). After draining them and immersing in cold water, immediately remove the shells and slice the eggs directly into a pastry-lined shallow casserole dish (8-by-12-inch is fine.)

Sprinkle two cups sugar over the eggs, [this is where the recipe went south for me—hardboiled eggs sprinkled with two cups of sugar just sounds disgusting] dot this with 1 stick of butter and sprinkle generously with nutmeg. Have ready 2 cups of boiling water and pour this over the egg, butter, and sugar combination. Place a top pastry over all and place in a medium-hot over (400 degrees) and cook until the top crust is nicely browned and the syrup formed has bubbled up around the edges. Serve warm or set aside and serve cold. It’s good either way.

I learn as I read about Miss Wells that “she was known among family, friends, and colleagues for her skills in the kitchen” (p. 77) and that she wrote The Kitty Wells Country Kitchen Cookbook (1964). I also learn something that I’ll add to my music Collectory, the one where I save band names: although Wells’ 1952 recording of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (written by J.D. Miller) was a number one Billboard hit, it was banned by the NBC radio network and Wells wasn’t allowed to perform it on the Opry. Its raciness seems quaint by today’s much, much looser standards.

But wait there’s more. I have a candy Collectory too, and West’s book reveals how “GooGoo Clusters” got their name. The clusters were created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and were the first candy bar with multiple ingredients. At first unnamed, the candy got its name during a conversation Campbell had with a schoolteacher who said that it was “so good, people would ask for it from birth.” Campbell then named the candy after the sound his newborn son made: GooGoo (p. 20).

One of my friends calls cookbooks pornography for dieters. I suppose they are. But they’re also pieces of history that show social and cultural changes over time. The exploration of food histories is a species of autoethnographic research that can reveal many aspects of familial and personal history.

What’s your favorite recipe or favorite food?

I’ve decided life is too fragile to finish a book I dislike just because it cost $16.95 and everyone else loved it. Or eat a fried egg with a broken yolk (which I hate) when the dog would leap over the St. Louis Arch for it. • Erma Bombeck (And I am delighted to include a quotation that I already loved that includes books and eggs, not easy to find!)


Shelf Analysis From The Land Of W-OZ: Using Scraps And Patches To Create The Bitpiece Life

June 6, 2010

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before. • Clifton Fadiman

I am a bricoleur, a patchworker. I do not make quilts from fabric, but I do piece together many kinds of things whether I am creating a home, a classroom, a piece of art, a poem, or an outfit. I am expert at making something from nothing and I am also adept at connecting the disparate and creating a cohesive whole.

In most lives insight has been accidental. We wait for it as primitive man awaited lightning for a fire. But making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, to see patterns, relationship, context. • Marilyn Ferguson

The naturalist John Muir said that when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world. Thus it is with life. In the act of exploring one thing I often find it attached to another, and another, and another, and have seen in my own life the unexpected connections Mary Catherine Bateson (2002) describes in Full Circles, Overlapping Lives, when she says that “[e]veryone has the chance to discover the patterns that order multiple ways of being human: through the arts, through the media, through conversations with the neighbors” (p. 18).

Learning and living. But they really are the same thing aren’t they? There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. • Eleanor Roosevelt

The metaphor of quilting provides me with an organizing construct for my life and it was with great delight that I realized the significance of my favorite Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913). My Aunt Mildred had a complete set of Oz books and I read each one many times, but my favorite character in L. Frank Baum’s collection is Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of Oz. She is a self-proclaimed original who has been accidentally given too many brains and too much cleverness.

What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen. • Cynthia Ozick

The Patchwork Girl’s story doesn’t really matter. Her adventures haven’t stuck with me. But her character has. She is what I long to be, heedless of the opinions of others and secure in her own idiosyncratic ways. She is delighted with her self. I do not want to emulate her carelessness, but as a child, I admired her self-assurance. I still do. It is not easy to revel in who you are.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way. • Virginia Woolf

In a letter to his publisher in November of 1912, Baum discusses the process of creating his fantasies, saying, “A lot of thought is required on one of these fairy tales. The odd characters are a sort of inspiration, liable to strike me at any time, but the plot and plan of adventures takes me considerable time…I live with it day by day, jotting down on odd slips of paper the various ideas that occur and in this way getting my materials together. The new Oz book [The Patchwork Girl of Oz] is at this stage….But…it’s a long way from being ready for the printer yet. I must rewrite it, stringing the incidents into consecutive order, elaborating the characters, etc.”

Baum was a bricoleur too. Many artists are. Many people are. Researchers certainly are.

Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. • Katherine Anne Porter

Indulge in a bit of shelf analysis. What stories or characters from childhood are significant for you? Why?

The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived. • Howard Pyle