Books and Literature

Where I investigate things literary.

Crowdfund a New Take on Classics for Kids


Meet Bax of Bax Classics. 

A Nashville couple is crowdfunding the first printing of a new collection of classic literature–that’s just for kids! Meet Baxter–Bax for short. Bax is a precocious, inquisitive kid who is a little bored with kids books. Eyeing the dusty, adult classics on the top shelf, Bax dreams of more. Wendy and Steven Martin created a series called Bax Classics that makes these books accessible to kids.

They’ve written and illustrated three volumes already. In each, friends of Bax find themselves in a dilemma “whereupon Bax’s wiley imagination pushes things off the rails, whisking everyone into the wondrous world of a classic!” says the project’s Kickstarter. It’s not so much about retelling the stories precisely, but rather about making the themes and lessons accessible to a new audience with three beautifully illustrated volumes.

For example, Volume 1 centers on a reading classroom that is stuck in a rut of predictability. Bax persuades the teacher to crack open his own copy of Moby Dick, and the class enters a high seas adventure. In  Volume 2, Bax tries to out-scare his sister Hattie by summoning the spectres of Jane Eyre‘s Gateshead and Thornfield. In Volume 3, Bax transforms his friend’s regular old rendering of Cinderella by introducing Dickens’ Abel Magwitch and bringing Great Expectations to life.*

bax friend

Bax’s friend Marla finds an entry point to Great Expectations through her precocious friend.

“With this kid-centered approach,” Wendy Martin explains, “we’re about to bring kids into themes of classic literature while keeping it really relatable, and that’s something we don’t often see in adaptations of classics.” What can little kids learn from the classics? The perils of obsession, the courage it takes to be loved, the unexpected nature of kindness? Yep, and lots more to boot.

Support the project here!

They’ve also worked with educators to create a teaching curriculum that pairs the stories with quotations from the classics themselves, exposing kids to the language of the masters. There will be an app, too!

Their Kickstarter offers generous prizes. At $25, they’ll send you the hardcover of Volume 1 featuring Moby Dick, the PDF, and the curriculum. Educators will love the $75 bundle of all three hardcovers, PDFs, a media enhanced curriculum for classroom use, plus a Bax bookbag.

Like Bax’s Facebook page to stay up to date!

[This blogger one threw a Danbury High School copy of Great Expectations at dear Mrs. Paonessa’s blackboard in the ninth grade and could have used a relatable access point even at the supposedly mature age of 16.]


Poet TJ Jarrett Reads at Scarritt Bennett Thursday

Listen to me: If you miss TJ Jarrett reading her poetry at Scarritt Bennett Center Thursday at 7:00 pm, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

How do I know this? My bird brain was absolutely sure that the reading was LAST Thursday. I was in a meeting and didn’t skip out because I am SO IMPORTANT. I felt devastated after. I tweeted my heartbreak at a friend, who told me otherwise. I could have kissed her.

I love being wrong. But don’t be like me. Prioritize poetry in your life.


Photo by Dennis Wile.

Jarrett’s poetry is magical. I have read Zion, her second collection, published 2014, and spent hours chasing her characters back and forth as their moments wove through Jarrett’s words. There’s Aunt Polly, Cicely Tyson, the ghost of her grandfather, her grandmother, and Theodore Bilbo – U.S. Senator, two-time governor of Mississippi, and KKK member. In Chapter 16, Maria Brown wrote of the Bilbo poems: “There’s a kind of moral passion at work between the two protagonists; the desire to be forgiven is met with an equally powerful, though conflicted, desire to forgive.

Jarrett Ain't No Grave and ZionOne thing I love about Zion is how the poems seem very still, yet have a great deal of movement; a slow-burning anxiety observed through Jarrett’s watchful eyes. For those who love story-poems, there is much to be discovered. Those who prefer the contemplative will find many lines on which to linger. But what I think is a major draw to Jarrett’s poetry is her ability to resist moralizing while telling the truths of the human heart in conflict with both itself and our history. Poet Jean Valentine said of Jarrett’s first collection Ain’t No Grave, “I was more lonely before I heard this voice.”

Jarrett said in an interview with The Atlantic last year:

I believe in redemption. I believe some poems are really prayer. I believe one is called to write poems because God knows it’s not for money. I believe the words move you and not the other way around. I believe that one should submit humbly to hearing what the soul has to say. I’m not terribly religious, but I know some poems come, and I just stand by and attend their journey into the world.

Jarrett lives in Nashville, and in addition to being a poet, she is a software engineer. How dope is that?

The reading will be at Scarritt Bennett Center in Fondren Hall at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 26. Unlike every place else in the Vanderbilt area, Scarritt Bennett has two amazing and free parking lots. Lot A is closest to Fondren. Here is a map of their campus.


Jon Ronson to Read at Parnassus April 14

shamedThis is the moment I’ve been waiting for all year. Parnassus Books announced today that they will welcome author Jon Ronson for a reading on April 14 at 6:30. Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed will be released tomorrow, March 31, and I can’t wait.

Everyone was re-posting this NYT Magazine piece Ronson published in February that’s an excerpt from the new book. The piece is about Justine Sacco, a woman whose life was literally ruined after she posted the kind of racist tweet that a lot of white people think is too ironic to be racist. Sacco got off a plane to find her life in shambles. Ronson identifies himself as a shamer and gets inside the shame spiral that many observe from the outside. But public shaming wasn’t invented with the Internet, of course, and I’m hoping the new book will examine how it has been enacted in other times and cultures and what it does to shamers psychologically. (FYI, I just shamed a stranger on Twitter for being racist. I shamed another stranger on Facebook five hours ago for supporting the Indiana Religious Bullshit bill. I will probably shame again before bed. What is it about exercising moral superiority that is so goddamn gratifying? And how close is this to Ronson’s research for The Psychopath Test?)

Ronson has a way of diving into a subject and letting it lead him. It might take him to a Bilderberg meeting, on a road trip with a terse Northern Ireland politician, or into the open arms of many (possible) psychopaths. He follows the story and the people he meets in often riotous escapades that leave us simply enamored with the human race, even as it disappoints us. He relays these experiences through sharp journalistic prose that’s infused with his curiosity and wry wit. Ronson is a perfectly delightful writer.

If you’ve never been a fan of audio books, he will change your mind. He reads The Psychopath Test, Them: Adventures with Extremists, Lost at Sea, and Frank. (I’m hoping he does The Men Who Stare at Goats because that narrator is horrible.) Hearing Ronson read his work is such a treat. He’s a hoot to follow on Twitter and his blog sometimes follows up with people we get to know in his books. Get there early and buy his book. Hell, but ALL his books.

Here he is on the Daily Show the other day talking about So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Parnassus is located at 3900 Hillsboro Pike in the Hillsboro Plaza Shopping Center.

John Darnielle Reads to a Packed House at Parnassus

John Darnielle reads at Parnassus Books.

John Darnielle reads at Parnassus Books.

By my count, over 150 people packed into Parnassus books Thursday evening for a reading of Wolf in White Van, a new novel by Mountain Goats leading man John Darnielle. I’ve only read the first chapter, having just bought it, but I’m already hooked on the narrative voice that is both inviting and lonesome–a characterization that I suspect will apply to the protagonist, Sean Phillips, as well.

Here’s what I gather from the reading: the narrator, Sean, who was disfigured in his youth, creates a correspondence role playing game that blurs the edges of fiction into the landscape of his isolated reality. The game is successful on different levels–in popularity and in the solace it provides Sean. But the confluence of fantasy and reality doesn’t stop in the imagination of its creator. It becomes real to two of its players, with dire consequences.

I’ll issue a brief disclaimer: I’m not familiar with Darnielle as a musician. Perhaps because of it, I didn’t have high expectations. I find a lot of contemporary prose to be self-congratulatory, repeating its best phrases and metaphors until they lose their significance and sacrificing complexity for style. Darnielle read from two sections of the book. While it’s usually quite difficult to follow a reading that begins in the middle of a novel and is not preceded by an introduction, I found myself quite drawn into the prose. Sometimes tangential, it occupies the whole of Sean Phillips’ mind, but not at the expense of the plot. Darnielle knows how to withhold information and how to dole out the lines that make you pause.

In the Q&A that followed his reading, he showed an ease interacting with the audience that reminded me that he’s used to being in front of a crowd. Admitting that “being a writer was my first real dream,” Darneille shared that he was “freaked out” when he received the news that Wolf in White Van is on the long list for the National Book Award. Based on the questions asked, fans seemed to want to draw a connection between Darnielle the songwriter and Darnielle the novel writer, but the artist said that he puts up walls between the two: “I want the two things to be discreet,” he said. It’s interesting that he wrote the last chapter first and then worked backwards to figure out how it got to that place. “The book is a tracing back to a moment,” he said, “which is something I do a lot.” When writing songs, the artist said he always works from beginning to end. Where a finishing a song packs an “immediate punch,” writing a novel is more like sculpting, he said.

Wolf in White Van is already receiving rave reviews. All 17 copies have been checked out at the Nashville Public Library, and 16 more have been ordered. Read an excerpt published in Vice. Listen to his intense interview with Mark Maron on WTF.

Who to Watch in Nashville

Yesterday, 12th & Broad published a long list of Nashvillians who are leaders in their respective industries. 12th & Broad has kicked off “Next Gen Nashville,” a happy hour series for emerging talent. The September 18th focuses on writers and bloggers. Should I go? 

Anyway, check out the list. Even if you don’t know all the names, it’s a great resource for knowing who to watch! 

Your Saturday Afternoon at the Public Library

If you wistfully remember Patience and Fortitude, regally guarding the Beaux-Arts building on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, you should give the main branch of the Nashville Public Library a chance.  Located downtown at 615 Church Street, the library, like the Beaux-Arts branch in New York, is like a museum.  Everything is pristine. The grand central lobby shows NYPL’s current celebration, best viewed from above as you lean over one of the balconies. The Civil Rights Room is a beautiful tribute to Nashville’s role in the Movement, complete with a lunch counter that displays the rules for nonviolent protesters. The teen book room alone made me want to morph back to my 17-year old self for the first time ever. The library also boasts a sunny courtyard and fountain, a large special collection, kids’ crafts and story time, and a photography exhibit.  

I only poked around for a couple hours, but it was by far the most relaxing afternoon I’ve had in a long, long time. I haven’t known the warm smile of a librarian in ages, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the libraries in New York are frequently smelly and kind of gross. I’m excited to check out some NPL events, too. 




Book Hunting

Something about Nashville (namely, my boyfriend) has moved me toward the digital and audio read, so I decided to spend the afternoon exploring Nashville’s independent book stores. To me, a big bonus of living in a city is the likelihood of finding a good, independent bookstore, and Nashville is no exception.  One of my favorite places in NYC is The Strand. It claims to house 18 miles of books in narrow aisles, piled upon displays, and stacked on the floor. Inevitably, to reach the title of my desire, I had to mount one of their 20 foot ladders and make my shaky ascent.  Much like the rest of New York, in The Strand, you’re surrounded by people, yet completely alone in your world to feel the crushing weight of 18 miles of books that you simply must read before you die.

So, former New Yorkers, to find similar variety, visit McKay Used Books, CDs, Movies and More. Load up on classics for pennies. This is not hyperbole, my friends. Many titles go for 1 or 2 cents, a dime, a quarter. Really popular titles may get you up to $5.50. They have genres galore, too. And, they buy and trade, so after you move your 700 book library across the country, go ahead and sell those bad boys your first chance, like I did.  Your back (and boyfriend) will thank you when you move again.


The stacks at Rhino Books.

If St. Mark’s Books was more your thing–you’re looking for less traffic and a less daunting selection–go to Parnassus Books in Green Hills. Co-owned by Nashville author Ann Patchett, Parnassus offers new books, hosts events and readings, and runs a popular book club, switching titles each month. The management’s selection veers toward women writers and best sellers.  (Milling around, I was never more aware of how gendered book covers are.) If you’re child-ridden (really? and from New York?) kids will find the children’s section cozy and intimate.

Brooklynites who favored Tea Lounge on Union Street for their java will feel at home in Rhino Booksellers near Lipscomb University. Crammed with used books–even in the restroom!–this store carries all the charms of the past including collectibles and rare books. Although the organization is wonky (I saw The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in three different places), the staff is friendly and knowledgable. They’ll help you find what you need. Their Southern Literature section is a must-see, and they don’t mind if you make yourself comfortable in one of the armchairs to peruse your top choices and eavesdrop on the conversations of locals who hold court as if it’s a front porch in the summer time. Sweet tea, anyone?


If you’re like me, you spent countless afternoons drifting through Unnamable Books in the Village. Check out BookmanBookwoman in HIllsboro Village. They sell used and new books, their staff picks totally rock, and their collection spans two store fronts and winding back rooms. It’s a quiet place, and no one will be in your way. It’s mercifully free of children, the staff is unobtrusive but friendly, and for cryingoutloud, you get to explore alcoves of books! The last stop on my book hunting excursion, I picked up a new copy of The Girl with Curious Hair and headed home, just as it began to rain.


Bookwoman, Hillsboro Village.


Bookman, Hillsboro Village.