Just started reading the second installment of THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, and I’m looking forward to April 30, 6pm, when Soman Chainini will be at the Harvard Coop to talk about his book.  He will be in conversation with Gregory Maguire, and I will introduce and “moderate” the conversation.

I love the playlist for the first volume, which reminds me how much fun he is having with the trilogy.

The School for Good and Evil Reading Playlist by Soman Chainani

One of my goals in writing The School for Good and Evil was to give the book new energy from chapter to chapter, so you never feel like you’re in the same place twice. For each of the 30 chapters, I’d pick a book (sometimes a piece of music or an article) that I remembered loving as a child or adolescent and obsessively reread it until I put the chapter to bed. None of the books had explicit links to The School for Good and Evil – in fact, most of them aren’t even fantasy. But in the end, I realized I had a ‘playlist’ to my own imagination, at once light and dark, good and evil.

Compiled between April 2011 through March 2012

1. The Princess & The Witch

Mary Poppins, P.L Travers.

2. The Art of Kidnapping

Peter Pan, JM Barrie

Music Video: “Oh, Father” (Madonna, Like a Prayer)

3. The Great Mistake

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket

4. The Three Witches of Room 66

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

The Steampunk Bible, Jeff Vandermeer

5. Boys Ruin Everything

Interview with a Vampire, Anne Rice

6. Definitely Evil

The Witches, Roald Dahl

7. Grand High Witch Ultimate

The Magicians, Lev Grossman

8. Wish Fish

9. 100% Evil

The Magician King, Lev Grossman

10. Bad Group

The Hobbit, JR Tolkien

11. The School Master’s Riddle

The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

12. Dead Ends

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

TV: Downton Abbey, Season 1

13. Doom Room

14. The Crypt Keeper’s Solution

Room with a View, EM Forster

15. Choose Your Coffin

16. Cupid Goes Rogue

Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, John Berendt

17. The Empress’ New Clothes

18. The Roach and the Fox

Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis

Auntie Mame Around the World, Patrick Dennis

Madonna Style, Carol Clerk

Music Video: “Express Yourself,” Madonna

“Viva Donatella,” Lauren Collins. New Yorker. 9.24.07

19. I Have a Prince

Lord of the Flies, Wiliam Golding

20. Secrets and Lies

21. Trial by Tale

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

22. Nemesis Dreams

The Secret History, Donna Tart

Music Video: “Bedtime Story,” Madonna (Bedtime Stories)

23. Magic in the Mirror

The Line of Beauty, Allan Hollingshurst

24. Hope in the Toilet

25. Symptoms

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

TV: Downton Abbey, Season 2

26. The Circus of Talents

27. Promises Unkept

Blindness, Jose Saramago

Music Video: “Frozen,” Madonna (Ray of Light)

28. The Witch of Woods Beyond

The Crucible, Arthur Miller

Music Video: “What It Feels Like For a Girl,” Madonna (Music)

29. Beautiful Evil

30. Never After

The Alienist, Caleb Carr

Music Video: “Falling Free,” Madonna (MDNA)


Published in: |on April 20th, 2014 |No Comments »

Adventures at the Harvard Bookstore and more in an interview with Dan Morrell

And here’s what they left out:

Maria Tatar has become so familiar with fairy tale characters through her work, that it’s easy to imagine them walking among us in modern times. Here, according to Tatar, are the six fairy tale characters you’re likely to meet in everyday life.

Gretel:  Shy and introverted, but when push comes to shove, she gets the job done. Has a sweet tooth that is out of control, but she still looks like she needs a sandwich. Hates cooking. Very loyal with strong family ties. Has read The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at least 10 times and is a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence and Rooney Mara.

Frog Prince: Sweet guy who is always ready to lend a helping hand. Tends to overshare and can become clingy at times. Willing to change for the right woman. Big supporter of sustainability movements and eco-friendly solutions.

 Goldilocks:  You know her. Ben Bernanke has a big crush on her, as does almost every economist. She may be high-maintenance, but she’s the chick who knows exactly what she wants and, for her, size does matter. Runs several marathons a year and is training for a triathlon.

Anansi: Prankster who is full of himself. Close to setting Guinness world records on pizza consumption, burgers, and shakes. Hard to tell when he is serious, when he is joking—has a poker face. Chick-magnet of sorts but toxic dating material.

Rumpelstiltskin: Never gives out his real name on a first date. Very secretive, especially about why he always looks exhausted—claims to be working nights at some kind of dull job. Don’t make any bets with this guy—he always has an angle.

Jack: Still living in his mother’s basement, even though he’s loaded. Distinctly metrosexual but talks constantly about returning to the land—growing things, raising chickens, milking cows. Hobbies include rock climbing and selling stuff on eBay.

Published in: |on April 14th, 2014 |No Comments »

A New “Finding Neverland”

The American Repertory Theater’s 2014-15 season, consisting entirely of world premieres, will begin this summer with the musical “Finding Neverland,” about “Peter Pan” playwright J.M. Barrie.

Although it is based on the 2004 film of the same name, “it’s a completely new production with an entirely new score, entirely new script,” ART artistic director Diane Paulus, who is directing the show, said by phone from New York.…

Published in: |on March 29th, 2014 |No Comments »

The Brothers Grimm at Cumberland Lodge

Can Stories of Abuse Build Healthy Societies?

Starts on 24/03/2014
at 10:00
Ends on 25/03/2014
at 15:30

The Brothers Grimm regarded their tales, many of which are violent and disturbing, as character-building. Others see them as dangerous and harmful; it was even argued that they fuelled Nazism. This two day multi-disciplinary conference brings together a wealth of expertise to consider the value of storytelling, and in particular whether the reworking of traditional tales by the Brothers Grimm and others can be a force for good. The conference will explore issues including psychotherapy and child abuse, and the impact of storytelling through literature, cinema, theatre, and music.

Speakers confirmed to date

  • Nick Bicât, composer
  • Mary Leay, musician
  • Karen Lury, Professor of Film and Television Studies, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow
  • Edmund Newell, Principal, Cumberland Lodge
  • Philip Ridley, writer and film-maker
  • Jeany Spark, actress (subject to availability)
  • Tim Supple, theatre director
  • Maria Tatar, John L. Loeb Professor of Folklore and Mythology, Harvard University
  • Judith Trowell, child and adolescent psychiatrist; Co-founder, Young Minds
  • Salley Vickers, novelist
Published in: |on March 21st, 2014 |2 Comments »

THE GIVER makes it to the big screen, at last

The Giver

If you click on The Giver, right above, you will get the trailer.

How many big names can you pack into one Hollywood film?  Fortunately, it looks like a great cast.

If you are near Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend run, don’t walk, to this event:

An Afternoon with Lois Lowry and Kathryn Erskine: A Twentieth Anniversary Event Sun. March 23rd, 2014 – 2:00 PM – See more at:…

and listen to the great Michael Sims as well, on Thoreau.  Wish I could be there for both events!…

Published in: |on March 20th, 2014 |No Comments »

Christopher Myers and Walter Dean Myers on the Apartheid of Children’s Literature

Walter Dean Myers writes:

But there was something missing. I needed more than the characters in the Bible to identify with, or even the characters in Arthur Miller’s plays or my beloved Balzac. As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. I didn’t want to become the “black” representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.

Books did not become my enemies. They were more like friends with whom I no longer felt comfortable. I stopped reading. I stopped going to school. On my 17th birthday, I joined the Army. In retrospect I see that I had lost the potential person I would become — an odd idea that I could not have articulated at the time, but that seems so clear today.

My post-Army days became dreadful, a drunken stumble through life, with me holding on just enough to survive. Fueled by the shortest and most meaningful conversation I had ever had in a school hallway, with the one English teacher in my high school, Stuyvesant, who knew I was going to drop out, I began to write short columns for a local tabloid, and racy stories for men’s magazines. Seeing my name in print helped. A little.

Then I read a story by James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues.” I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.

During my only meeting with Baldwin, at City College, I blurted out to him what his story had done for me. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said. “I had to leave Harlem and the United States to search for who I was. Isn’t that a shame?”

When I left Baldwin that day I felt elated that I had met a writer I had so admired, and that we had had a shared experience. But later I realized how much more meaningful it would have been to have known Baldwin’s story at 15, or at 14. Perhaps even younger, before I had started my subconscious quest for identity.

And here’s Christopher Myers:…

Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.

Published in: |on March 16th, 2014 |2 Comments »

Ron Suskind: “Reaching My Autistic Son through Disney”

Years ago Simon Baron-Cohen wrote a book called Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind.  He could not have imagined that Disney movies might be harnessed to teach autistic children about mental processes in their own minds and in the minds of others.  Wallace Stevens told us that symbolic worlds help us visualize the real, and now it seems that they also provide a portal into minds.

Be sure to watch the video that accompanies the article–it makes the term moving pictures come alive.

When Owen was 3, his comprehension of spoken words collapsed. That’s clear from every test. But now it seems that as he watched each Disney movie again and again, he was collecting and logging sounds and rhythms, multitrack. Speech, of course, has its own subtle musicality; most of us, focusing on the words and their meanings, don’t hear it. But that’s all he heard for years, words as intonation and cadence, their meanings inscrutable. It was like someone memorizing an Akira Kurosawa movie without knowing Japanese. Then it seems he was slowly learning Japanese — or, rather, spoken English — by using the exaggerated facial expressions of the animated characters, the situations they were in, the way they interacted to help define all those mysterious sounds. That’s what we start to assume; after all, that’s the way babies learn to speak. But this is slightly different because of the way he committed these vast swaths of source material, dozens of Disney movies, to memory. These are stored sounds wecan now help him contextualize, with jumping, twirling, sweating, joyous expression, as we just managed with “The Jungle Book.”

 Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.


But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times.…

I want to change the title of the NYT article to: “Reaching My Son through Disney”

And the book, Life, Animated, comes out in April.  Creating the semblance of life from celluloid–animating–was always the goal of Disney films, and that theme emerged self-reflexively in Pinocchio.  And now we can discover how film, and art in general, can animate us.  What is fascinating to me is that the parents used the mechanisms of autism to have Owen learn about how the mind works in ways that his own mind could not. 

Published in: |on March 9th, 2014 |3 Comments »

Morse Institute Library in Natick

Looking forward to talking about fantasy and  Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane on March 10 at 7pm.

NATICK READS NEIL GAIMAN EVENTS Once upon a Time with Professor Maria Tatar, Monday, March 10, 7 p.m., Lebowitz Meeting Hall, lower level. Ever wonder how tales of fantasy began and why they survive for generations? In this lecture, Professor Tatar will take us on a historical fantasy journey showing us the social origins and historical evolution of folklore and fairy tales including the fantasy of Neil Gaiman. Come be enchanted. Maria Tatar is the John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. She chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology where she teaches courses in German Studies, Folklore, and Children’s Literature. She is the author of numerous annotated books including “The Annotated Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and “The Hard Facts of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” No registration required. Book copies available at the Circulation Desk. Teens and up welcome. Mature content may not be appropriate for some younger readers.…

Published in: |on March 8th, 2014 |No Comments »

Are ‘Golden Age’ TV Shows the New Novels?

Adam Kirsch and Mohsin Hamid ask whether new tv shows like House of Cards, The Wire, and The Sopranos are now doing the cultural work that novels once did.

Here’s Adam Kirsch:

One criticism that could be leveled against quality cable TV is that it is not nearly as formally adventurous as Dickens himself.

Television was so bad for so long, it’s no surprise that the arrival of good television has caused the culture to lose its head a bit. Since the debut of “The Sopranos” in 1999, we have been living, so we are regularly informed, in a “golden age” of television. And over the last few years, it’s become common to hear variations on the idea that quality cable TV shows are the new novels. Thomas Doherty, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, called the new genre “Arc TV” — because its stories follow long, complex arcs of development — and insisted that “at its best, the world of Arc TV is as exquisitely calibrated as the social matrix of a Henry James novel.”

Some years ago, the dramatist Bertolt Brecht declared that his plays would begin to “narrate,” to tell stories rather enact scenes.  And now television seems to have made a similar assertion.

If there is one thing that the novel does supremely well, it is to enable us to read the minds of its characters.  The writers of fiction can take us seamlessly from scenic description to the trappings of the mind, letting us get inside the heads of characters and explore a mental apparatus that is nuanced, contradictory, and complex.  For that reason, the novel seems in no great danger of losing its hold on our imaginations.  House of Cards moves into a novelistic mode every time Frank Underwood turns to the camera and reveals his thoughts to us in a manner that is uncannily Brechtian.  But still he wears a mask in ways that characters in a Dickens’ novel rarely do.

House of Cards, like Downton Abbey and other serial television adventuresdraws much of its power from the collision of deeply personal family matters with political intrigue on the world stage.  It offers visual pleasures (faces, costumes, landscapes) that the novel, with its black squiggles on white pages, cannot possibly recreate.  Even the sorcery of a Nabokov falls short on that score.  But who else can take us inside the mind of a predator and turn him our soulmate, our brother, our friend?

I readily admit to my new addiction to tv shows–guilty as charged–but  last week, it was Richard Wright’s Black Boy that had me hooked in ways that television never has.  And one of the great pleasures of binge reading is that you never ever feel a trace of guilt.…

Published in: |on March 7th, 2014 |No Comments »

Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird

POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR reviews Boy, Snow, Bird, a refashioning of Snow White.

Set in the 1950s, Oyeyemi’s novel opens on the Lower East Side of New York City, with a young white woman named Boy Novak running away from her violent rat-catcher father. She soon meets a widower, a jewelry craftsman and former history professor named Arturo Whitman, in Flax Hill, Mass. She marries Whitman and becomes obsessed by her new stepdaughter, Snow. “What was it about Snow?” Boy asks herself. Oyeyemi paints Snow as half virtual, half corporeal: “She was poised and sympathetic, like a girl who’d just come from the future but didn’t want to brag about it.” All seems well until Arturo and Boy have a daughter of their own, Bird, who is born undeniably “colored.” Whitman’s family members are light-skinned African-Americans who have been passing as white, and the revelation becomes a turning point. The Snow White bits take over, with the Wicked Stepmother and the mirror motifs, and the fairy tale rewrites itself in startling ways.…


Published in: |on March 4th, 2014 |No Comments »