Tag Archives: Christmas

How Is It Possible that Close to Half of College Graduates Don’t Read?

23 Sep
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“I’m not as big of a reader as you,” my brother said to me over the phone.
Dismissive of his reading habits as he was, my brother is a reader. He was telling me about a book he by a woman he’d heard about on a podcast. Felicia Day‘s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). This wasn’t a once-in-a-blue-moon event. He’s not a prolific reader by any means, but he loves a good book. When I’d asked him the year before what he wanted for Christmas, he wanted a Malcolm Gladwell book. Back when he lived in Greece, he asked me to bring him books. He always wanted Dr. Pepper, but I couldn’t bring that on the plane.
These days I sent a lot of books to my mother since it’s difficult for her to get books in English where she lives in Greece. She reads them slowly, savoring them. My father, on the other hand, reads like I do: if he likes a book or thinks it’s important, he will sit and read it until he’s done. My sister, too, reads regularly. It’s a family trait. I come from a family of readers. A long line of readers, perhaps. My grandmother always had biographies laying about her home.
Last year a report came out that said that 42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate. Forty-two percent! I don’t know how that’s even humanly possible. I can certainly understand that there is a percentage of college graduates, depending on what they studied, who might not read literary fiction or nonfiction again. I can imagine some might read graphic novels or chick lit or Tom Clancy novels or self-help books, low-brow books.
The fact that close to half of college graduates don’t read books seems impossible to me. It seems like a deliberate, adamant choice not to read. It seems like they’re anti-book. Are they never, not even once, curious about a bestseller? Not even Harry Potter, Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey? Do they not feel the least bit embarrassed if they haven’t read classics like The Great Gatsby? Do they feel no shame in not being able to answer what the last book they read was? Or do their friends never mention books? Do these people never step inside bookstores? Do they never read a business book to advance their careers?
I just don’t get it.  
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Christmasy Photos 2014

4 Jan

I love New York City during the Christmas holidays. Everything just sparkles! I spent a lot of time walking around the city this winter, taking in all the shop windows. It’s just about time to tackle the new year, and I’m fully convinced 2015 will be a great one, but I couldn’t resist posting a few photographs from the holiday season.

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Clip: O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi”

24 Dec

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Do you have a favorite Christmas story? Burnside published one of the most beautiful stories of sacrifices — and irony — I’ve ever read. The O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi,” is published with a short introduction by me.

Kerouac’s Hometown Inspires Charles Dickens

23 Dec

p112sIllustration (not of Mill Girl, fyi) by Marcus Stone, R.A., from Charles Dickens’ American Notes for General Circulation

Many authors have penned Christmas stories, but perhaps the most celebrated is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which has spawned Broadway musicals, a Disney cartoon, a Muppet retelling, a United Nations special by Rod Sterling, a Star Trek version, among so many others.

Is it possible that the inspiration for this Victorian novella came from Jack Kerouac’s hometown?

Natalie McKnight, a dean at Boston University, conducted research with student Chelsea Bray that suggests Dickens was inspired by the stories of the Mills Girls when he visited Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1842.

On one of my trips to Lowell to research Kerouac, my friend George Koumantzelis had given me a stack of newspapers, magazines, and flyers to aid in my studies. Among these was information on UMass Lowell’s seven-month-long celebration of Dickens’ trip to Lowell. I had edited new editions of the British author’s stories including his work American Notes for General Circulation, about 1842 trip to America. About to turn thirty years old, he had traveled from Liverpool (later home to the Beatles!) aboard the RMS Britannia and arrived in Boston, where he then visited mental hospitals, orphanages, and prisons around the country and visited with President Tyler.

Among the dots on his map was Lowell … also known as Mill City. Lowell was founded about twenty years prior to Dickens’ visit, as a center for textile manufacturing. Dickens came about two years after the height of the Industrial Revolution, when there were about 8,000 women working in factories in Lowell. If Dickens was inspired by their stories, it should go without saying that their existence was one of strife. About 80 women were packed into a noisy room from 5 am to 7 pm, working under the direction of two men. However, Dickens actually seemed to think well of the mills.

Dickens wrote:

These girls, as I have said, were all well dressed: and that phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness.  They had serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls; and were not above clogs and pattens.  Moreover, there were places in the mill in which they could deposit these things without injury; and there were conveniences for washing.  They were healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment of young women: not of degraded brutes of burden.  If I had seen in one of those mills (but I did not, though I looked for something of this kind with a sharp eye), the most lisping, mincing, affected, and ridiculous young creature that my imagination could suggest, I should have thought of the careless, moping, slatternly, degraded, dull reverse (I have seen that), and should have been still well pleased to look upon her.

The rooms in which they worked, were as well ordered as themselves.  In the windows of some, there were green plants, which were trained to shade the glass; in all, there was as much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort, as the nature of the occupation would possibly admit of.  Out of so large a number of females, many of whom were only then just verging upon womanhood, it may be reasonably supposed that some were delicate and fragile in appearance: no doubt there were.  But I solemnly declare, that from all the crowd I saw in the different factories that day, I cannot recall or separate one young face that gave me a painful impression; not one young girl whom, assuming it to be a matter of necessity that she should gain her daily bread by the labour of her hands, I would have removed from those works if I had had the power.

Though he clearly recognizes that the girls work long and hard, he describes the mills as well as the girls’ dorm rooms in a somewhat positive light, mentioning pianos and libraries.

It would seem that the mills girls were of a literary mindset. Beyond just mentioning the library, Dickens goes on to say:

Of the merits of the Lowell Offering as a literary production, I will only observe, putting entirely out of sight the fact of the articles having been written by these girls after the arduous labours of the day, that it will compare advantageously with a great many English Annuals.  It is pleasant to find that many of its Tales are of the Mills and of those who work in them; that they inculcate habits of self-denial and contentment, and teach good doctrines of enlarged benevolence.  A strong feeling for the beauties of nature, as displayed in the solitudes the writers have left at home, breathes through its pages like wholesome village air; and though a circulating library is a favourable school for the study of such topics, it has very scant allusion to fine clothes, fine marriages, fine houses, or fine life.

What Dean McKnight and Bray suggest is that Dickens lifted ideas from these girls’ stories. Kevin Hartnett at The Boston Globe writes:

Now, new research is suggesting that the book may have borrowed—quite liberally—from the amateur writings of the millworkers he visited.

After reading an obscure literary journal published by Lowell textile workers and comparing it to Dickens’s novella, a Boston University professor and student are arguing that some of the most memorable elements of Dickens’s story—the ghosts, the tour through the past, Scrooge’s sudden reconsideration of his life—closely resemble plot points in stories by the city’s “mill girls” that Dickens read after his visit.

They propose that the ghost trope of A Christmas Carol stems from several selections in The Lowell Offering. Comparing the Mills Girls’ stories with Dickens’, they have found several parallels that they believe go beyond mere coincidence or literary tradition.

Their research has created quite a stir online, and they haven’t even written their paper yet, let alone published it.

It’s well worth visiting The Mill Girls and Immigrant Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center to find out more about the fascinating lives these factory workers led.

The Morgan Cultural Center also happens to be where one of Kerouac’s typewriters reside. While Kerouac began writing about a hundred years after Dickens’ visit, he too was inspired by the Mill Girls. He didn’t want to be a mill rat. He wanted to get out of Lowell, to do something more with his life. As a struggling writer, he did eventually end up working for a short time at a mill in America, but he continually worked on his writing. While Dickens had come over to Boston by ship from Liverpool, Kerouac went to Liverpool as a merchant seaman. Like Dickens, Kerouac toured America, writing his own travelogue full of social commentary.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Clip: 12 Christmas Trees That Will Blow Your Mind

20 Dec

Burnside published my art post “12 Christmas Trees That Will Blow Your Mind.”

…Because nothing says Christmas like cats?

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

My Clothes Still Smell Like My Grandma

4 Jan

When I was growing up in Closter, New Jersey, there was beautiful blue fir right outside my balcony window. I can only recall one white Christmas. The snow blanketed the pine needles, turning the outdoors into a winter wonderland. It was even more fantastical than anything Hollywood could produce.

Over the years, my mother suggested we go on vacation for Christmas. I was dead set against this. I don’t recall ever believing in Santa Claus, so it’s not as if I was afraid Santa wouldn’t find us to drop off the gifts. Rather, I knew that if we went on vacation that would mean less gifts because the money would go toward hotel rooms.

Also, even as a young child I felt it important for my family to be all together in our home. My father was usually working so we didn’t spend a lot of time together as a whole family. Holidays represented a time for us to come together, and it seemed like for something as holy as Christmas we should   be in our house instead of each running off in different directions on the beach and distracted by landmarks. We’d done enough traveling for me to know that trying to please children with seven years of age difference and parents with dissimilar interests never worked.

Once the last of the children had flown the nest, we stopped spending Christmas as a family altogether.

Nine years later, we reunited for Christmas in Florida. Instead of a blue fir, there was a palm tree outside my window.

I remember the first time I ever saw a palm tree in real life. I was in fifth grade and had gone with my family to Florida to see my grandma and go to Disney World. We got off the plane, and pulling out of the airport I saw the many palmed leaves of a palm tree against the backdrop of a blue sky. It looked like a cheerleader’s pom-pom or a wig on a Muppet. I was enamored.

We spent Christmas this year in my grandma’s condo. I remember playing out in the backyard with my little sister, taking photographs of us with the exotic palm trees. The same palm trees still shake their confetti heads into the coastal breeze. But so much has changed…. My sister, for one, is no longer little. She is a woman with a life of her own. She has a career in which she speaks about resolutions and treaties to delegates from around the world. She will one day, maybe before I’m even ready for it, have her own family.

For every new beginning, there is also an ending.

Many years ago, my grandma died. She died on the day of my sister’s high-school graduation.

That was more than a decade ago, and her immaculate white condo still reeks of the cigarettes she smoked that caused her lung cancer. The cigarette smoke is in the white chairs and in the white sofa and seeped into the white carpet. And when I flew back to New York City, I realized my grandma’s smell had clung to my black puffy jacket. A part of her came with me.

I miss my grandma a lot. It was hard for me being back in her place without her even though I’d been there only two other times since she passed away. Various members of my family have spent significant time there, but it’s still her place to me. Her presence lingers so strong that even all these years later her smell is still a part of her  home.

In another day or so, the smell of cigarette smoke will leave my jacket, but for now I want to hold onto it. I want to hold onto her.

If you would like to stop smoking, here is a free resource.

Merry Christmas! …Or Something Like That

25 Dec

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~Luke 2:14

From the bottom of my heart, I want to wish you all a merry, merry Christmas!

May your holiday be bright, full of merriment, and whimsical!

In the past few month, I’ve heard from friends and fellow writers who find the holidays a difficult season. Some people have lost loved ones, and no matter how much time has passed, they still miss spending the holidays with them and grieve over their loss. Some have experienced recent tragedy so great due to Hurricane Sandy, the Newtown school shooting, gang rape and violent protests in New Delhi, and air strikes in Syria that the holidays may be far from their minds. Some suffer quietly with extreme poverty that doesn’t make the news because it’s no longer news. Some come from broken or dysfunctional families, and being altogether for Christmas just brings out the drama. Some wish to see their families but cannot afford the time or money to travel, and some are thankful for good friends to spend holidays with but wish they had a spouse or children to share it with. My heart goes out to all of you who feel dejected, stressed, depressed, scared, and lonely. May you find peace, may you spread good will toward others who may also be experiencing a difficult holiday season, and may you find hope.

This is the first year my immediate family and I will be all together in more than five years. I don’t even remember the last time the five of us were together for Christmas. It must’ve been the year before my parents moved to Greece, my sister to France, and my brother to Boston, while I remained in New Jersey. Since then, there have been other moves within the family, and we’ve sometimes missed each other at a destination by just a week. Some of us have spent holidays together, and most of us have experienced Christmases where we were on our own, spending the holiday with extended family, significant others, friends, or even colleagues. Sometimes I feel sad that life is so full of changes and that I’m not the one deciding and controlling all the changes. I’d like to scoop my family up  and put them in a snow globe, freezing us in a moment of joy and togetherness. But life’s not like that. Part of the beauty of a snow globe is turning it upside down, shaking it up, and watching a great torrent of snow swirl throughout the globe.

Maybe that’s why the Christmas story means a lot to me. As a child and an animal lover, I loved the picturesque scene of gentle-eyed barnyard animals looking ever-so-tenderly at the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloth. As I’ve gotten older, though, the story really does seem more like something ripped from the headlines or something out of Law and Order: SVU. A young unwed Middle Eastern woman finding herself pregnant. Her fiance not a wise man but some dude who builds things with his hands. A politician systematically having babies killed. A weird natural phenomenon (the star of Bethlehem). It’s a really dark, strange story in many ways, and when you view it from that perspective, it kind of messes with the idea that Christmas is the “season to be jolly.” When you think of God not as some puppet master who isn’t doing a good job of spreading peace on earth but of this God sending “His only begotten Son” to be born into this mess of a world, it really makes you think. Maybe life isn’t all Christmas cookies and eggnog. Maybe it’s not even just a sweet story of angels and a baby born in a manger. Maybe hope isn’t simple. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe just because it isn’t simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Christmas with Jack Kerouac

24 Dec

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I spotted this festive train outside the National Streetcar Museum when I was in Jack Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Mass., earlier this month.

Looking for a Kerouac-related Christmas story? Here’s a snippet from the scroll version of On the Road in which Kerouac describes his Christmas:

“At Christmas 1948 my mother and I went down to visit my sister in the South laden with presents. I had been writing to Neal and he said he was coming East again; and I told him if so he would fine me in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, between Xmas and New Year. One day when all our Southern relatives were sitting around the parlor in Rocky Mount, gaunt men and women with the old southern soil in their eyes talking in low whining voicss about the weather, the crops and the general weary recapitulations of who had a baby, who got a new house and so on, a mud spattered ’49 Hudson drew up in front off the house on the dirt road….”

You can read the whole story beginning on page 212 of On the Road: The Original Scroll, published by Penguin Books in 2008.

 

Gift Guide for the Swedish Lover

7 Dec

With Santa living in the Lapland (the Finnish side), give a gift from Scandinavia is a wonderful way to make Christmas festive!  Here are a couple ideas from Sweden or inspired by Sweden.  If anyone knows any authentic Sami vendors, please add them in the comments section.

 For the person who loves Swedish crime literature:::

 

The Millennium Trilogy Series (starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson

 

The Inspector Van Veeteren Series (starting with The Mind’s Eye) by Hakan Nesser

 

The Kurt Wallander Series (starting with Faceless Killers) by Henning Mankell

 

The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson

 

Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom

 

Red Wolf by Liza Marklund

 

Bonus tip! – If you can afford it, give the whole set!  If you’re not sure the person will like the book, you may want to give one of the books plus a gift card to their favorite bookstore.  You can also accompany the book with a coffee mug and Swedish coffee, a book lamp, or a cozy blanket from Swedish chain IKEA.

Gift ideas for the Swedish food lover:::

 

Swedish Breads and Pastries by Jan Hedh

 

Sweet and Savory Swedish Baking by Leila Lindholm

 

Hash by Torgny Lindgren

 

Swedish coffee basket by Anderson Butik

Coffee and sweets gift box by Anderson Butik

Swedish pancake basket by Anderson Butik

Bonus tip! – Select a coffee and food product that naturally go together and give them as a pair.  The gift baskets make shopping and wrapping easier!

Gifts for the Swedish home:::

Swedish table prayer tile

Iron candle holder with hearts

Iron candle holder with wild horses

Swedish blessing

Algfamilj tea towel

Bonus tip! – A gift card to IKEA would go nicely with any of these.  A lovely handwritten message or something that is personal and has sentimental value is also nice to give with gifts for the home.

 

Gifts for people on the go:::

Carrie Swedish lace bicycle basket

A Volvo

Bonus tip! – A nice key chain would go well with either of these.

 

God Jul!  Merry Christmas!

Gift Guide for the Greek Lover

6 Dec

Whether you’re giving a Greek American a taste of their homeland when they can’t make it back for the holidays or satiating a Hellenophile’s interest in Greek culture, there are countless foods, books, beauty products, and jewelry that will suit your needs.  Plus, select a gift made in Greece and you’ll also be supporting the struggling Greek economy.  Here’s just a small selection of Greek gift ideas, some made in the States, some in Greece, and others elsewhere, but all unique and lovely.

Gifts for the Greek food lover:::

 

Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors by Janet Fletcher

 

How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking by Michael Psilakis

A selection of delicious dressings and marinades from Sophia’s Gourmet Foods

A selection of three different flavors of honey from Odysea Shop

Traditional Greek preserves (rose petal and pergamot) by Monastiri

Kalamata olive oil

Ouzo candies

Pavlidis Dark Chocolate

Pastelli with honey

Bonus tip! – Gifts appear so much nicer when they come as a set.  You may want to give a cookbook with some Greek spices.  A duo or trio of a certain type of product (such as honey or olive oil) is a great way for the recipient to try out a few flavors.  Or, you may want to give a gift basket of assorted Greek candies.

 

Gifts for someone who loves Greek literature:::

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antigonick by Sophocles, translated by Anne Carson, illustrations by Bianca Stone

The Greek Poets: Homer to Present by Peter Constantine

 

The Odyssey: A Pop-up Book by Sam Ita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holidays on Ice by David Sederis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bossypants by Tina Fey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Subscription to Greek America Magazine

Bonus tip! – Trying pairing the book with a book light, a notebook and pen, a bookmark with a quote by a Greek philosopher, or a coffee mug (maybe even with a bag of Greek coffee).

 

Gifts to make someone feel like a beautiful and pampered Greek goddess:::

Beauty products from Korres.  I would especially recommend Korres Wild Rose + Vitamin C Advanced Brightening Sleeping Facial. You can read my review here.

Olive oil body lotion by Olivia

Jewelry by Konstantino

Bonus tip! – Include a lovely handwritten letter.  A bottle of Greek wine (here’s my review of the Greek American wine Pindar) or some fine Greek chocolates (here’s my review of the Greek American chocolatier Chocolate Moderne) would also make someone feel loved and pampered.

 

As the Greek proverb says, “A gift, though small, is welcome.”