The House at Pooh Corner

I read that Posingford Bridge, otherwise known as Poohsticks Bridge, was up for sale. Located in Ashdown Forest in England, it was a place where author A.A. Milne and his son, the real-life Christopher Robin, would go to play a game they called Pooh Sticks. It is the simplest of games. You put a stick in the water upstream, then go to the other side and watch it comew3 out from under the bridge and sail away. The game appears in the Winnie the Pooh stories.

I played Pooh Sticks with my sons on the bridge at our local library, and we read all the Pooh books. I still had my own childhood copies of the Milne books and some newer simplified versions for younger readers.

Pooh’s birthday just passed on August 21st. It is also the real Christopher Robin’s birthday. What a nice coincidence. The stories about Christopher Robin and his toys (His toy Edward Bear became Winnie the Pooh in the books) that became his father’s stories seem like such a nice series of tales. I made up stories about Peter Rabbit and his friends and family for my oldest son at bedtime. For my younger son, the stories were about Curious George. The stories closely paralleled my sons’ lives day to day., and I’m sure I was partially inspired to do this by what I imagined had happened in the Milne household between father and son.

But the real-life Christopher Robin and his father didn’t have as loving a relationship as Pooh and Christopher. Alan Alexander Milne was not Pooh or Piglet. Definitely not Tigger. Maybe a little bit Eeyore. He wasn’t warm and snuggly and was often absent from their home. His mother dressed him in “girlish” clothes and kept his hair very long – both styles that didn’t help him in his earliest school days.

Christopher Robin also had a love-hate relationship with his fictional version. That was true when the books became famous and he was maturing and it continued into adulthood.

Christopher wrote a memoir, The Enchanted Places, and in that book he writes, “At home I still liked him, indeed felt at times quite proud that I shared his name and was able to bask in some of his glory. At school, however, I began to dislike him, and I found myself disliking him more and more the older I got.”

Theirs is not a very happy story and though he did come to terms with his relationships with his father and the character, it didn’t happen until after his father’s death.

Christopher Robin Milne.jpg
Christopher and Edward Bear, 1928, Fair use, Link

The fourth and final Pooh title is The House at Pooh Corner, published in 1928 when Christopher was 8 years old. The entire series of books was a bestseller worldwide by then. The more popular the books, the more Christopher disliked them. He was teased at school and it was no better when he was put into boarding school at age 9.

He saw his father on school breaks, but when he went on to Cambridge University and served in World War II, their relationship was distanced physically and emotionally. After the war, he finished his degree and in his mid-twenties didn’t know quite what to do with his life.

Christopher married at age 27 his first cousin, Lesley. His parents did not approve. The couple moved to Dartmouth and opened The Harbour Bookshop together.

Though he occasionally visited his father when the elder Milne became ill, after his father died in 1956, Christopher never returned to Cotchford Farm. The farm near the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex was a place the family went on holidays from London. It is the real life Hundred Acre Woods of the books and that’s where Pooh’s walnut tree home and the bridge were located.

His mother sold the farm and his father’s personal possessions, and Christopher wanted no part of his father’s things or royalties from the books. Sadly, after Alan’s death, his mother, Daphne Milne, had almost no contact with her only child and did not see him at all during the last 15 years of her life. She refused to see him on her deathbed.

A few months after his father’s death, Christopher and Lesley had a daughter Clare. She was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy but lived into her mid-50s.

Christopher Milne gave the original stuffed animals that inspired the Pooh characters – Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and Kanga – to the book series editor, who in turn donated them to the New York Public Library. Christopher did not like the commercialization of the Pooh books and characters.

Christopher Milne died in April 1996 at age 75. He had lived with myasthenia gravis for some years.

In the film, Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) there is a version (not completely accurate) of his relationship with his father that was “inspired” by the more accurate book Goodbye Christopher Robin: A. A. Milne and the Making of Winnie-the-Pooh. There is also a Disney live-action/animation hybrid film “biography,” Christopher Robin, in which the adult Christopher encounters Pooh and relives some of the best parts of his childhood.

The two Pooh novels are Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. Milne also wrote two poetry collections, Now We Are Six (as in being 6 years old) and When We Were Very Young, which features the very first appearance of Pooh.

The four books are available as a collection.

Found in Used Books

When I was a student, I used to spend a good amount of time in used bookstores. The attraction was partially the low prices, but it was also the randomness of what I would find. The books were often shelved or boxed alphabetically, by subject, or just in no order at all. One store that I frequented in my Rutgers College town of New Brunswick just had one side for fiction and another for non-fiction. Sometimes browsers did some sorting, making a shelf of textbooks, or putting poetry books off in one corner, for example.

Sometimes, I would pick up a book that had something left in it by the last reader. I found it intriguing in some cases to imagine who was that person and why they had left that item in there. A folded paper as a bookmarker is nothing special, but what about a love note, or a photograph of someone? I have saved several of my finds in the books where I found them.

All this came to mind when I heard a very brief NPR story about the things one library has found in returned books.

I looked into that Oakland Public Library collection that is online where they have classified things (remember, these are librarians) and posted, without comment, a lot of things.

Several of the ones I have found and saved are related to travel, such as airline ticket stubs. In both fiction and non-fiction, I have found 3X5 note cards that suggest someone who was writing a paper for school.

I don’t keep all my found-in-books objects in any formal collection. I went through my bookshelves this weekend and did find a few again that I had recalled. In a paperback of Ellison’s Invisible Man (not the sci-fi novel by H.G. Wells), I found a postcard photo of an embracing couple in the back of a car. On the text side of the card someone wrote “thinking of you.”

The photo is by Bruce Davidson in 1965. It is hard to tell the genders of the couple. Is it two men, women, a man, and a woman? They look both male to me. I don’t recall that Ellison was gay and I don’t recall much of the novel (read 45 years ago). But should the found card and the book that held it be connected?

I found in a used copy of John Updike’s short story collection Pigeon Feathers a payroll check stub and a receipt for the book from a Boston airport bookstore. I met Updike at a reading he gave at Seton Hall University and asked him to sign the book. I showed him the two found items and said “I always thought there must be a story and connection with the three found things.” He signed, smiled, and said “Why don’t you write it?”

I found a crumbled and partial Amtrak rail ticket from someone traveling near Washington, DC. It is dated “27APR17.” I found it bookmarking a copy of Philip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus which is his first book – a novella and five stories. It is an old book to be reading in 2017. Was someone starting out with Roth and working their way front to back or back to front with his books? Maybe they saw the movie version and so bought the book.

I found an entire packet of photos tucked into a copy of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest. Several of the photos show the same woman. There is a portion of her in the photo shown here. I had to think that this was an intentional insertion, thought the photos were in bad shape. They look like they had been left outside and were water-damaged and wet. Some of the photos have notes scribbled on the back that are difficult to read. Some day I will work my way through them and try to piece together some story. Is it connected to the book which is about Cheryl Strayed’s solo and cleansing thousand-mile+ hike on the trail from the Mojave Desert through California to Washington state?

My final examples for today are the six playing cards I found interspersed in a used copy of Doctor Strange Epic Collection, which collects the first comic book stories about one of the few Marvel characters that I actually have read and watched. This surgeon-turned-mystic superhero is different in these 1951-1968 stories from the Benedict Cumberbatch movie versions. I like both.

The playing cards are strange too. I haven’t been able to identify the game. They all have an island on the back and the fronts have a boulder, a sheep, some wheat, logs and bricks. They seem strange enough to be in a Dr. Strange book and the story in my mind has the cards being tucked in at some comic book store by a kid playing the game. Why did he give up the cards? Why were the cards placed between those twelve pages? I looked for clues. No answers.

Must there be connections between the books and the found objects? No, but I feel like there should be. Maybe the person who put the photos in Wild wasn’t the person who took those photos. Maybe they found the photos and put them in the book and then left both in the Little Library box in a park in Washington, D.C. where I found it. Then again, that too is a connection and story unwritten.

There is a magazine and website for found things in general. I picked up a copy of it when I was in Washington, DC. that was devoted to parking notes. Those are the notes left on a car windshield by someone probably complaining. “Please don’t park here unless you live here…”

I guess I am just one of many who have some fascination with things that have been found. Some were once lost. Some things seem to have been left intentionally. I suspect sometimes the book and objects have been deliberately put together to create a small mystery for someone like me.

Bid Time Return

Despite all the stories and films and my own best efforts, it doesn’t seem like we will be able to time travel in my lifetime. Readers of this blog know that time travel is a topic I write about rather often. I have come to the somewhat disappointing conclusion that there are only a few ways that I can travel back in time. (I haven’t figured out any travel to the future methods yet.)

One way is simply by using memories. They are, of course, somewhat inaccurate as each time we recall something from the past, we seem to alter it slightly. Still, it is the most common time travel tool.

In the 1975 science fiction novel Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson and movie version (Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour), the protagonist, Richard, finds a method of time travel (found in J. B. Priestley‘s very odd book Man and Time about many theories of time) that involves performing self-hypnosis to convince his mind that he’s in the past.

Richard in the 1970s is dying. He decides he wants to spend his last days back in time. He is motivated by a picture of a woman on a hotel wall that he finds himself attracted to – although she was a famous stage actress who performed at the hotel in the 1890s. He stays in the historic hotel and buys an 1890s suit to wear to help reinforce his traveling back to that place and time. He surrounds himself with that time and place. It works.

Photographs and video are also commonly used for traveling back in time. I often wonder how my grandchildren’s memories will be different than mine simply because of the unbelievable amount of photo and video evidence of their lives that already exist. My sons grew up with me photographing them with film cameras. Film and processing and printing were expensive, so I was a bit limited pre-digital. I also took a lot of videos. Most of that was on a big VHS camcorder. Those tapes were converted to DVDs eventually and now I suppose I should convert them to digital files if I want them to survive. The black and white photos my parents took of me as a child still exist in their original format and don’t require conversions – though I have scanned a lot of them so they could enter the digital age. When I look through old photo albums, it is a kind of time traveling to the past.

A third time-traveling method came to mind recently when my wife and I went to France. We were walking through the little town of Pérouges. This medieval walled town is northeast of Lyon and has been kept very much intact over the centuries. As we walked the narrow paths through the own and when I climbed the watchtower on this small hill that overlooks the plain of the river Ain, I did feel myself back in time.

No, I didn’t see ghosts from centuries past. I touched objects that were ancient. I stood where people had stood 900 years ago. I didn’t time travel, but I did feel something.

Watchtower, Pérouges

According to the archaeological findings, humans have been present at Pérouges since the Chalcolithic Age (about –2500 to –1800). They don’t know when the fortress was built but its first written mention appears in the 12th century, so it is assumed to have been built in that period.

It still looks like a place from almost 1000 years ago. Films set in medieval times are sometimes filmed there, including Les trois mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers)(1961), The Bride (1985), and The Hour of the Pig (1993)

This past week the James Webb Space Telescope’s photos of deep space became another kind of time travel. It is showing us light that began a journey towards us at the birth of the universe.

The line that intrigues me most in the graphic above is this: “If you were in a Virgo Cluster galaxy today, and you had a telescope powerful enough to study the Earth, you would be able to see the prehistoric reptiles.” It’s theoretical and probably not possible, but you could see the dinosaurs. You could see the past. From place in deep space, with that powerful telescope, I could see my past.

Richard Matheson’s original title for Somewhere in Time was Bid Time Return. That comes from a line in William Shakespeare’s Richard II (Act III, Scene 2): “O call back yesterday, bid time return.” At the conclusion of the novel, after Richard has died, a doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind. It was the desperate fantasy of a dying man. Richard’s brother is not completely convinced and publishes his brother’s journal of the experience which is the novel.

We are all traveling forward in time. You’re traveling as you read this sentence. Do you want to go back? Go much further forward? So far, I have not found any ways to travel forward in time. I’m still searching.

Young Adult

Young adult fiction (YA) is defined as a category of fiction written for readers from 12 to 18 years of age and while the genre is targeted at adolescents, surveys show that approximately half of YA readers are adults. Some authors write with that age group in mind, but many books with characters in that age group become thought of as YA literature even if the author did not intend that to be the audience. That is the case with many popular titles taught in middle and high schools, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, and Of Mice and Men.

As a secondary school teacher, I never really saw a great difference in the styles of YA and adult literature other than the themes. A lot of YA novels address friendship, first love, relationships, and identity. Some might be classified as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.

Young adult fiction was developed to make a transition between children’s novels and adult literature. There were a good number of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century authors who wrote novels that appealed to the YA age group. Some of these authors – Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, JM Barrie, L. Frank Baum, Astrid Lindgren, C.S. Lewis – may have had younger readers in mind but probably hoped for a wider audience than 12-18 year-olds. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, published in the 1930s, was an early effort to target a specific YA audience. But schools and librarians did not accept books for teenagers as a genre until the second half of the twentieth century.

Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) was written for adults but gained a huge adolescent popularity, though few schools taught it at that time and some schools and libraries banned it. Holden Caulfield’s angst and alienation still are a part of many YA novels.

I read that A Wrinkle in Time, written by Madeleine L’Engle in 1960, received over 26 rejections before publication in 1962, at least partly because it was hard to label as a children’s or adult’s book. It is also science-fiction with a teenage girl protagonist and sci-fi was targeted at males.

Many critics point to the modern classification of young-adult fiction as starting with S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in 1967. It was the first novel specifically marketed for young adults. Hinton is Susan Hinton and the S.E. was because her publisher though a book that featured tough, male characters wouldn’t be read by boys if they knew a girl had written it. And Hinton was a girl when she wrote it. She wrote it while she was still in high school which is why it feels true to teens.

The cast of The Outsiders (19xxxxxxxxxxxxx

I taught The Outsiders many times and it never failed to connect to students, even reluctant readers. It is a truer, darker side of adolescent life that didn’t appear in novels of that time that featured adolescent characters. It is not a nostalgic story. Adults, including parents, are almost non-existent in the book. There is violence and death.

When I was 13, I read my sister’s copy of Fifteen by Beverly Clearly hoping to understand what being a teenager was all about – especially understanding girls. That and other books on my sister’s shelf and that the librarians pointed me at were nothing like Hinton’s writing. They were written by adults looking back. Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and things in the Scholastic books order form that we got in class were fun but tame. When I was 14, I ordered the new novel, The Outsiders, from Scholastic, her publisher. She had submitted it to them because it was where she ordered books in school too.

Though the content of Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders seems very mild compared to content of movies and TV shows available to children and teens today, those books and many others are still included in the nationwide wave of book bans that continues to move from libraries and school reading lists works that acknowledge the existence of racism, gender identities, gay people, sex, profanity, religion, fantasy, and other topics and themes.

Hinton’s first novel is about two feuding groups of teenagers in an economically segregated city based on her own Tulsa life (though students always assumed it was New York or some other big urban center). Hinton said in an interview that she wrote the book because she was “surrounded by teens and I couldn’t see anything going on in those books that had anything to do with real life.”

Eventually, I taught the novel together with Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story and they all swirled together in the classroom and in our discussions. Which kid in Tulsa reminds you of Benvolio in Verona? Compare the rumbles in the three stories.

Between 1990 and 1999, The Outsiders was (according to the ALA), the 38th most frequently challenged book in the U.S. Imagine how shocking the number one book must have been. Actually, number one was Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories, usually because it has scary illustrations.

What were the objections to Hinton’s novel? Sone people objected to the smoking, violence, and the absent parents, broken homes, single-parent households and some drug and alcohol references.

I don’t remember any references to something else that I have discovered has been found between the lines more recently. These young men, like Pony and Johnny, who spent the night curled up together in a lot or an abandoned church were seen as a gay romance. Ah yes, like Ishmael and Queequeg in that inn before going to get the white whale. Trigger warnings all over the place, including for scenes where someone pulls the trigger on a revolver.

I don’t know how I would teach any literature in these times.

E.B. White had 18 nieces and nephews who asked him to tell stories, so he started writing some down. In a dream, a story about a mouse-boy with human parents came to him. He wrote Stuart Little in 1945, and seven years later Charlotte’s Web. The latter book has sold more than 45 million copies.

White was not a children’s author and he didn’t really write with children in mind. He said, “Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention. I’m lucky again: my own vocabulary is small, compared to most writers, and I tend to use the short words. So it’s no problem for me to write for children. We have a lot in common.”

For me, the line between much of children’s literature, young adult and adult literature isn’t much of a line. The Alice adventures in Wonderland may be the best examples. I know children like the stories. I had YA students who loved them and saw other things in them. And there are lots of adults, me included, who have read them, read the annotated versions and dug deep into other aspects of them.

Young adult? Really?

Have a Fictitious Meal

A book club I participate in recently asked members what characters from fiction they would like to host for a dinner. I went with Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces), Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing (Fear of Flying), T.S. Garp (The World According to Garp), and Juliet Capulet (Romeo & Juliet) If they are allowed to bring a plus one it would be, in order, Phoebe, his mother, Adrian, Jenny, and Romeo Montague.

But what about the food? I’m not much of a chef and not very adventurous with menus. But how about a fictitious meal?

Fictitious Dishes is a bit of a cookbook without recipes, maybe a coffee table book that people page through, one they borrow from the library or give as a gift to a literary person who likes to cook. It is a pretty book. It has re-creations of meals from classic and contemporary literature with some excerpts from books, information about the food, author, their works, and the food itself.

I can see someone doing Mad hatter’s Tea Party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Maybe you can read The Bell Jar while eating its crab-stuffed avocado. Not every selection is elegant. From The Catcher in the Rye, we get a cheese sandwich (on rye?) and drink a malted.

But how about an elegant jazz age party with Gatsby: “glistening Hors-d’oeuvre” and cocktails. Looking to be fancy? Boeuf en Daube from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Some New England clam chowder with Ishmael and Queequeg from Moby-Dick

I love the novel Moby-Dick. I don’t love clams in or out of chowder. Ever since I dissected a clam in AP biology and discovered that people eat the part that filters junk out of the water I haven’t been a fan. I grew up with the Manhattan tomato-based version and the New Jersey variation which has Old Bay crab spices and asparagus and the less clam the better. I can live with the Moby addition of salted pork (Jersey Taylor ham or pork roll?), pounded sea biscuit, and lots of butter. Some good crusty bread and good coffee and I might just reread Melville again with a bowl of chowder in front of me the next cold November in my soul.

As I said, I’m not that adventurous when it comes to food. I tend to like the peasant foods from every culture – Italian, Mexican, French, Indian, German – take your pick. I’m going to go simple American with my meal from a favorite book – To Kill a Mockingbird‘s fried chicken, tomatoes (from my Jersey garden), beans, scuppernong (I had to look that up. They are a Southern big, white grape that is tart) and nice fresh-from-the-oven rolls. Dessert is some apple pie ala mode (coffee or cinnamon ice cream is my preference) from On the Road. Ala mode on the road. Sounds good.

The Sound of the Silent Spring

I first read marine biologist Rachel Carson ten years after she had published the book Silent Spring (1962). I had heard about the book because the first Earth Day and environmental concerns and protests were all around me in high school and college. Someone told me that I had to read the book — first serialized in The New Yorker in the summer of 1962 — that made her a name that was widely known.

She was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania in 1907. I was surprised to learn that she was an English major at the Pennsylvania College for Women. In her junior year, she took a biology course and it so fascinated her that she changed her major to zoology.

Silent Spring was not her first book. She was working for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and wrote something for a department publication. her boss thought it read it read as more “literary” and suggested that she send it to Atlantic Monthly instead of using it in a government publication. She did and it was published in the magazine in 1937. It also became the starting place for her first book, Under the Sea-Wind (1941).

Carson continued to work in government jobs until 1952. Eventually, she became editor-in-chief for all the publications of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She resigned in 1952 after publishing two books in order to devote herself fully to her own writing.

She won the National Book Award in nonfiction for her second book, the best-seller The Sea Around Us (1951). In her acceptance speech, she said:

“The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science. […] The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”

Silent Spring (1962) was the book that really gave her fame and allowed her messages about the environment to gain wider exposure. She opened the book with a little fable. The fable is about a time and place where a spring morning begins silently. No birds singing. No chirping insects. It is an ecosystem destroyed by the widespread misuse of harmful pesticides like DDT.

That opening may have hurt the book in its initial publication because some saw the book as “fiction” based on that fable. But the book was the result of six years of rigorous scientific research. She was also attacked by the chemical industry which had allies within and outside the government. Though today we know her message was accurate and one that needed to be heard and heeded, you can find many critics who attacked her at the time of its publication.  There were industry people who claimed that banning pesticides like DDT resulted in “millions of malaria deaths” while not considering the lives and damage that were saved by eliminating these pesticides from the ecosystem and slowly eliminating them from our water, soil, air, wildlife and humans via all those vectors and from our food sources.  She wrote. “I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm.”

When President Kennedy read Silent Spring during the summer of 1962, it influenced him. He formed a presidential commission to re-examine the government’s pesticide policy and the commission endorsed Carson’s findings. Rachel’s writing and advocacy boosted public awareness of environmental matters. It helped start a new conservation movement and some say it eventually was part of the reason that the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. Sadly, Rachel Carson never saw that happen. She died of cancer in 1964, just two years after Silent Spring was published.

The sound of the silent spring is still echoing in our world.

“….All the life of the planet is interrelated ….each species has its own ties to others, and….all are related to the Earth. This is the theme of ‘The Sea Around Us,’ and the other sea books, and it is also the message of ‘Silent Spring’.” Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine