I wanted to start this year’s Off The Bookshelf posts with a review of a beautiful story that I finally got around to reading recently. I know I really should have read it (or rather, finished reading it) a long time ago, and after I did, I realized what I had been missing since I was a kid. So long overdue, here is a review of a classic tale by a French aviator and author: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince (or Le Petit Prince, in its original French title) was first published in 1943 by Reynal & Hitchcock, in both English and French. Narrated in the first person, the book tells the story of a pilot who ends up stranded in the desert, where he meets a strange boy from a distant and tiny “planet” (which is really an asteroid). Over the eight days it takes him to fix his plane, the narrator gets to know the story of this “Little Prince”, from the life he had on his planet to the journey that brought him to Earth. The Little Prince enchants the pilot with his eccentric and poetic outlook on the world, and when the time comes for both of them to return home, the narrator is utterly heartbroken to lose the only friend he’s ever known who could appreciate life with the beautiful innocence of a child.
What stands out most about this book is how it criticizes the “adult” way of thinking. The story begins with the narrator telling his readers how he was discouraged from pursuing art by grown-ups who couldn’t comprehend his drawings when he was younger. Since that time, the Little Prince was the first person he ever met who understood the vision he had as a child. Still very young himself, the Prince thus represents the simple way children see the world in contrast to the analytical views of adults, and does so in a way that makes the former much more appealing.
The Little Prince and the Fox
(Illustration by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Though appearing to be a children’s book, The Little Prince is arguably targeted at adults who have forgotten how to understand the world the way they should. We as mature readers have it constantly pointed out to us that our manners are flawed, that we are too concerned with “matters of consequence”. Basically, we’ve become so focused on trivial details that we’ve lost sight of the things that are truly important. Perhaps this idea is most evident in a scene involving another well-spoken character of the story: a fox that the prince meets on his journey through Earth.
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
– The Fox, The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)
The Little Prince is a charming tale fit for readers of all ages. For adults, it’s a reminder of the lessons that can be learned from youth, many of which may have been lost long ago. As for children, they can find embedded in these pages the encouragement to keep living their own special way, and, if nothing else, a friend who can teach them the real matters of so much importance.
If there’s one thing I loved most about this book, it was the way it constantly reminded me how I used to see the world when I was a little girl (and how I probably should see it again as a woman). Living in a world that seems to demand we grow up as quickly as possible, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to experience life through the innocent eyes of children. The Little Prince’s questions and observations, coupled with the grown-ups’ awkward answers, served as a lesson on how I should never lose touch with the curious child still in my heart, for to do so would be like losing a very special friend.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Though it did break my heart a little, it was wonderful to read a story that could effortlessly shine light on the poetry children can bring to the world. The Little Prince has a lovely perspective on life, and after reading his story, I only hope I can remember to keep setting my inner child free. She is, after all, a very important friend to the grown-up writer I’ve become.
It’s the holiday season, and that means it’s the perfect time to share a blog post about a Christmas-themed story! I had originally planned this post for next week (Christmas Day), but when I realized Christmas is also the last Wednesday of the year, I decided to bump this review up and save next week for a special post instead. So here it is a week early, a review of another of my favorite Dr. Seuss books: How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot,
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did NOT!
– How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss, 1957)
Originally published by Random House in 1957, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! tells the story of a grouchy creature known as the Grinch and his plot to ruin Christmas for the town of Whoville, located just south of his cave on Mount Crumpet. Annoyed every year by the festivities of the warm-hearted Whos, he dons a makeshift Santa Claus costume and descends into Whoville on Christmas Eve to steal all their presents, food and decorations, in the hope of stopping the holiday from ever arriving. Come Christmas morning, however, he is surprised to find that despite his best efforts to discourage them, the Whos still have the spirit of Christmas in them, and that day, the Grinch learns a valuable lesson about the true meaning of the holiday season.
I’ve always appreciated How The Grinch Stole Christmas! for its uplifting message about the holiday spirit. With all the commercialization that Christmas has undergone over time, it’s easy to lose sight of the simpler things we should enjoy during the holidays, such as the company of our loved ones and all the possibilities that come with a new year. Puzzled to hear the Whos singing on Christmas morning, the Grinch starts to wonder why his plan didn’t work, and comes to a heartwarming revelation.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
It probably goes without saying that the author’s intention with this story was to criticize the commercialization of Christmas. Interestingly, the Grinch has been compared to Seuss himself, who claimed to have found inspiration for the character after seeing a “Grinchy” face in the mirror on December 26th. His idea was to write this sour character in order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, which he felt had been lost on him at some point in the past. The same way he did with Horton Hears a Who!, Dr. Seuss drew from his own life experience to tell a heartwarming story that readers of all ages can enjoy for its important lesson.
The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Like most of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is written in rhyming verse and illustrated with colorful and bizarre characters, making it a fun and memorable read for the whole family. A noteworthy adaptation of the book is the 1966 TV special directed by Chuck Jones (of Looney Tunes fame). I remember watching it often as a kid and smiling every time the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes at the end of the story (not to mention Cindy Lou Who was probably the sweetest little thing I’d ever seen in a classic cartoon). It’s an adaptation I’d highly recommend, so if you haven’t seen it yet and it runs annually on TV in your region, be sure to watch it this holiday season! And while you’re at it, you may want to read the book again; it’s truly a Christmas classic!
What I find most inspiring about this book is the way it never fails to fill me with holiday cheer, regardless of the time of year. I enjoy a good story where the villain is the main character, and seeing the Grinch embrace the Christmas spirit helps me remember that there’s more to the holidays than presents (not that I ever needed much reminding, with a wonderful family like mine).
Overall, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is a very enjoyable read, and one that should definitely be on every Seuss fan’s bookshelf. Whether I’m in the mood for his fun stories and illustrations or for his good life lessons, I always find something wonderful to enjoy in Dr. Seuss’s charming holiday tale! Enjoy, and have a very Merry Christmas!
Since last week’s post was dedicated to the amazing children’s author Dr. Seuss, I wanted to follow it up with a post about one of his many wonderful books. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how hard it would be to choose which book to feature; there are so many good stories by Seuss that it’s almost impossible to choose just one favorite. Eventually, though, I settled on one of the books I find most inspiring: Horton Hears a Who!
Horton Hears a Who!, by Dr. Seuss
First published in 1954 by Random House, Horton Hears a Who! tells the story of Horton the Elephant, a resident of the Jungle of Nool, and his quest to help the Whos. After hearing a small yelp coming seemingly out of thin air, Horton discovers the microscopic civilization of Whoville living on a speck of dust. Deciding that every life has value regardless of size, he places the speck on a clover and sets out to find a safe location to keep the Whos out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, being the only one with ears keen enough to hear these tiny people, the elephant has trouble convincing the other jungle residents that Whoville exists, and when they decide to put an end to his crazy antics by destroying the clover, Horton must struggle to save his new friends and teach the people of the Jungle of Nool an important lesson: “a person’s a person, no matter how small”.
Horton the Elephant is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss characters, mostly for his kindness and integrity. He stays true to his word no matter what; as seen in the previous story featuring his character – Horton Hatches the Egg – when Horton makes a promise, he has every intention of seeing it through, and that makes him one of the best role models in Seuss’s stories.
I meant what I said
And I said what I meant.
An elephant’s faithful,
One hundred per cent!
– Horton the Elephant, Horton Hatches the Egg (Dr. Seuss, 1954)
Like many of Dr. Seuss’s books, Horton Hears a Who! is more than just a children’s story. It also teaches good lessons, such as the importance of open-mindedness and understanding the issues of isolationism. Horton’s biggest challenge is convincing his peers that something they can’t perceive or fathom actually exists – which, when you think about it, is a story that’s only too familiar in real life. But what’s really interesting about this book is the history behind its lessons. Once strongly opposed to Japan, the author changed his opinions after World War II, and used this book as an analogy for the American post-war occupation, even dedicating the book to a Japanese friend. Overall, the metaphor of two worlds overlapping creates a beautiful message, one that children can certainly understand and appreciate.
Horton Hears a Who! is one of Seuss’s most notable works. From the children’s book to the TV special to the 2008 full-length feature film (which I thoroughly enjoyed; I swear the “We are here!” scene gives me chills every time I watch it), this story is wonderfully imaginative and fun for readers and viewers of all ages. Though they may have been written for a young audience, no one is too old to enjoy the stories of the great Dr. Seuss!
What I always found inspiring about this book was the main character’s determination to help an entire community that he couldn’t even see. I admired Horton’s devotion to his cause, and the respect he had for all forms of life made him a truly lovable hero. With colorful characters, adventure and a heartwarming message, Horton Hears a Who! is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories, and one I’ll definitely enjoy for the rest of my life.
Who among us writers hasn’t found themselves doubting at one time or another whether the grammar in our writing was correct? I myself have at least three doubts regarding the previous sentence in this paragraph! We’ve probably all been in this situation before, getting stuck during the editing process over a comma we weren’t sure was correctly placed or the appropriate formatting for a citation. That’s why today’s Writer’s Toolkit review features a nifty handbook designed to aid writers through the trials of editing and revision: The Hodges Harbrace Handbook by Cheryl Glenn and Loretta Gray.
This handbook was one of the required materials for the online creative writing course I took through UC Berkeley. I currently own the 17th edition, published in 2009 with an MLA update, though at the time of writing this review, an 18th edition has already been released (and you can be sure that more will follow).
Originally published in 1941 by English professor John Hodges as the Harbrace Handbook of English, this book has since evolved into one of the richest English writing resources available today. The contents are organized into seven parts:
- Spelling and Diction
- Effective Sentences
- Research and Documentation
Parts are subdivided into chapters and color-coded for your convenience (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Also included are a preface by the authors outlining new features and revisions for the current edition, a glossary of usage, a glossary of frequently used terms, and an index.
The first thing one might notice upon opening The Hodges Harbrace Handbook is the table of contents printed right into the back of the front cover and the first pages. At a glance, it’s clear how thorough this manual is, covering as many topics as possible from grammar and mechanics to proper usage of English in college-level writing. The table provides a quick guide to different sections and chapters, which are colored and numbered for easy reference.
As for the actual content, I find the explanations easy to understand, bearing in mind that the book is geared toward college students and above. To add to the educational experience, practice exercises are included within chapters, as are checklists for certain cases that come up in the editing process. Other notable features are the special boxes interspersed throughout the book: “Thinking Rhetorically” invites writers to consider the impact of their writing choices on their target audience; “Multilingual Writers” notes common areas of confusion for English learners, especially those for whom English is not a first language; and “Tech Savvy” provides helpful tips for using word-processing software, a useful feature for writers of the digital age. The last pages of the handbook include indexes for “Multilingual Writers” boxes, checklists and revision symbols.
One of my favorite details about the most recent editions of The Hodges Harbrace Handbook is the update for writers of modern times. As of the 17th edition, a new chapter titled “Online Writing” is included in the “Writing” part of the guide, and revisions reflect updates to MLA and APA guidelines and an expansion to a chapter on using writing software for business. Because of these updates, I would strongly advise against purchasing any edition of this handbook earlier than the 17th, published in 2009.
Honestly, this list is pretty short. In fact, the first issue I found with this handbook may have been due to error on my part. There were a couple of questions for which I couldn’t find answers in the handbook, either because I was searching for them in the wrong chapters or because they simply weren’t there. Also, the preface mentions some supplemental materials that are only available when bundled with the handbook at an additional cost. Not exactly a downside, but just a point to keep in mind if you’re looking for a complete learning experience to go with this guide.
Oh, and of course there’s the matter of price. A new latest-edition hard copy goes for over $80 on Amazon, which may seem steep to a student who only plans on using it for a semester. On the other hand, a prolific writer who needs to constantly edit and revise their work would probably find any price under $100 quite reasonable. As with any product, it’s all a matter of whether or not you feel you’d be able to get your money’s worth out of it.
- Versatile and thorough guide to the English language
- Well-organized contents
- Easy to understand
- In-chapter practice exercises
- Special boxes for “Thinking Rhetorically”, “Multilingual Writers” and “Tech Savvy” tips
- Extra indexes for “Multilingual Writers”, checklists and revision symbols
- Updated edition for writing in the modern age
- Possible missing information
- Supplemental materials available at additional cost
- Price ($80+ new on Amazon)
I highly recommend this handbook to any writer who puts as much effort into editing as into writing, if not more. Though I purchased my copy as a requirement for a class two years ago, I have since found it quite helpful when revising my work, and continue to use it today. Whether you’re looking for a complete guide to basic grammar or a full learning experience in the English language, The Hodges Harbrace Handbook is a great resource to keep handy, as much for the student writing for college as for the creative individual writing for life.
Since the 9th century, the legend of King Arthur has been a well-known and popular one, spawning several myths and original retellings around the world over hundreds of years. Today, modern adaptations of Arthurian legend are hardly in short supply, from fantasy fiction portraying tales of the Knights of the Round Table to historical nonfiction seeking the truth behind the myths. Among the Arthurian fantasy novels that stand out the most, however, is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s celebrated four-part saga: The Mists of Avalon.
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The novel series was first released in the United States by publisher Alfred A. Knopf in January 1983, for a targeted audience of adults, particularly women of any mature age. The Mists of Avalon tells the story of the rise and fall of King Arthur Pendragon in Britain during the late 5th and early 6th centuries, spanning across generations to narrate events from a little before his birth to sometime after his death. While it still encompasses many of the legend’s fantasy elements so well known today, the saga has a creative twist in that it relates the entire Arthurian legend from a completely different perspective: that of the female characters.
As excited as any admirer of medieval fantasy fiction may be to start on a novel series with an Arthurian theme, the sheer length of this saga may prove daunting enough to warrant it a place on a summer reading list instead. This would likely turn out to be a wise decision, for one quickly discovers that Bradley’s elaborate plot, complex characters, detailed descriptions of medieval Britain, and fantastically original perspective of the Arthurian legend are capable of making the novels nearly impossible to put down for periods longer than are enough for basic necessary tasks, such as eating and sleeping. It’s arguable that enraptured readers would probably reach the end of the book well before the aforementioned list’s respective summer is over, and somehow feeling more conscious of – and respectful toward – the many possible interpretations of the story of King Arthur.
One of the most obvious themes that sets this novel apart from other Arthurian adaptations is feminism. The most widely known versions of these myths portray King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as the heroes of the story, while the women remain further toward the background as supporting characters with only a few key roles. In The Mists of Avalon, it’s almost exactly the opposite; Arthur and the other male characters sink into supporting roles, while the women rise up to become the protagonists in this original retelling. Readers are brought into the same world they know so well from the classic tales of King Arthur, yet at the same time, it becomes an entirely different world altogether, proving that vantage point really does make all the difference in the telling of a story.
The Mists of Avalon (2001 TV Movie)
The majority of the narrative is told from the perspective of Arthur’s half-sister: the Avalon priestess Morgaine (known as Morgan le Fay in other Arthurian tales). Many chapters are also narrated from the viewpoints of other important women, among them Arthur’s wife, Queen Gwenhwyfar (the Welsh spelling of ‘Guinevere’); Avalon High Priestess and Lady of the Lake, Viviane; and Arthur and Morgaine’s mother, Igraine. Not only are these characters graced with much longer periods in the center of the narration, but Bradley also does a wonderful job of pulling these women out of their original unidimensional roles and giving them true depth, making them worthy of protagonism. Morgaine is no longer just an evil witch or a simple healer, but a strong druid priestess with good intentions and a tragic destiny. In turn, Gwenhwyfar’s innocent Christian veil is not just a plain matter of faith, but a slow descent into fanaticism brought on by an inferiority complex, her inability to bear children, and her search for salvation from her not-so-innocent infatuation with her husband’s best knight.
Which leads into the next main theme of the book: religion. One of the basic historical aspects of the Arthurian legend is the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England, at a time when paganism was equally common. Again, a new light is shed on the story, as the conquering over dark pagan ways by Christianity becomes more of a struggle of rising tension and intolerance of the increasingly unstable balance between religions. The matriarchal society of Avalon is cast onto the defensive side against the overbearing patriarchal Church, eventually leading into a sequence of events in which Morgaine and the pagans strive to save Avalon and their native religion from disappearing from their country’s history altogether. Obviously, such strong religious implications – as is true of many novels with similar themes, notably Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – tend to spark equally strong criticism from religious groups, likely qualifying this book for a more “tolerant” audience.
Many might argue that it takes a certain kind of reader to enjoy a story like this, which boasts a generous share of heavy mature themes, such as sexuality and political radicalism. In light of such arguments, it may be best to recommend the series to readers deemed mature enough to refrain from dwelling excessively on these superficial themes (key as they are in many parts of the narrative) and truly appreciate the central concept Ms. Bradley intended to portray in her books: a story isn’t necessarily a simple matter of black and white or good and evil, but instead may hold several truths.
I first read this series when I was 14, after my mother gave me the single four-part volume as a Christmas gift. Since immersing myself in the world of Avalon, this saga has inspired me for its unique take on the legend of King Arthur, a story that has always fascinated me for its fantasy themes and insights into Celtic mythology. It was interesting to read this classic tale from the perspective of the women, and I quickly became entranced by the core theme of feminism present throughout The Mists of Avalon. Looking back, I’m glad my mom considered me mature enough to read the novels during my adolescence, for they introduced me to major political and religious topics during a key stage in my development as an independent thinker, and have thus become a great inspiration for the subtexts and themes that I like to write into some of my own stories.
The Mists of Avalon is, in my opinion, a classic work of art. Whether you’re an Arthurian enthusiast, a feminist, an intellectual with a fascination for religious debate, or simply a fan of well-written fantasy fiction, you will most likely enjoy this book. And if you happen to fit into every one of the above categories – as this writer likes to think she does – you will certainly devour it in no time, and still be left hungry for more.