Slumber, Awakening, and Sylvia Plath

I don’t know what snapped within me, but I’ve undergone a sea change over the past week or two. Approaching the one-year anniversary of this pandemic shite raising its ugly head, looking back over almost 365 of the worst days of all our lives, there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is here, it appears to be working. Is that precipitating the seismic shift?


Could also be running out of Xanax.

The phase I’m in is decidedly hypomanic: a period of increased interest and activity following a Disney-princess slumber – the duration of which I don’t even know, truthfully. I don’t keep track of moods. Maybe I should. I don’t.

When did books last provoke a lustful response beyond “that sounds mildly interesting, perhaps one day I’ll care enough to read it,” I have no answer. When was my last big Amazon book binge? Half Price Books trip?

Before this week, no idea. I haven’t given a shit in the longest time.

American poet Sylvia Plath with that absolute dick of an English poet, Ted Hughes.

Could be Sylvia Plath what done it. I picked up a bio of her at random and started reading. Astonished by the extent of her outrageously out-sized battles with mental illness, suddenly there was a spark where there hadn’t been in so, so long. I felt for her, in her crushing depression and suicidal ideation, her dark nights of the soul leading to multiple and nearly-successful attempts at self-destruction.

Her story resonates.


Sylvia Plath lead, if not a wild life, at least one filled with love affairs and experimentation. While pursuing her education and building her CV, she swung from man to man looking for an appropriate husband. The one thing she held sacred in her soul was writing.

Then, god help her, Ted Hughes. I’m not sure I mentioned he was a bit of a prick? Because he was a bit of a prick. A genius poet, but a bit of a prick.

Who doesn’t know Plath committed suicide by asphyxiation, sticking her head in a gas oven? Distraught over that prick Ted Hughes (fight me) and his inability to keep his pants zipped, the blatant flaunting of his affair shattered whatever sanity she had in reserve. Left back in England with two small children to care for, while Ted was off in Spain screwing German poet Assia Wevill (who, and this is supremely ironic if you don’t already know, in turn committed suicide the exact same way Sylvia had, tragically taking their four-year-old daughter with her) Sylvia cracked in half for the last time.

Of course, this is all gross simplification of Sylva Plath’s life, influence, and what shoved her off the cliff. The point is, she made me care. Her life was short and she suffered terribly. But she left behind so much beauty, didn’t she?

I’m going to finish this biography, dip into her journals and poetry, and most likely read another recently-released biography of Sylvia Plath recommended by a friend. Then, if I’m still in the mood, read The Bell Jar, her thinly-fictionalized novel about a suicidal woman gone mad.

Then, I may read something else.

Good morning.

Sylvia Plath Quotes On Death. QuotesGram

News Release: My Official Good Work News

Okay, it’s not a promotion, not a new job and not a raise in pay… But I still find it pretty dratted exciting. And now that it’s officially confirmed, I can safely open my mouth and tell the world. Believe me, it was tough keeping this one mum, even for just a day. But I just couldn’t say it then have it turn out not to happen. That would be very unprofessional. But mostly, embarrassing.

Janiskearney_2Yesterday morning I sealed the deal for a booking with Janis Kearney to come speak at the library. Who, you ask, is Janis Kearney? Well, I’ll tell you. She was the official White House diarist for President Bill Clinton.


I had no idea “official White House diarist” was a position until I saw an article about Janis Kearney in a newspaper. Who knew? Imagine the things she must have heard and seen about former President Clinton. Think about the prominent figures she must have met, and the experiences she must have had. And I’m NOT, I tell you NOT, talking about Monica Lewinsky she who must not be named. I’m not, as they say, going there…

When I saw Ms. Kearney was in the Chicago metro area, it seemed silly not to at least TRY to see if I could book a program with her.  What’s the worst that could happen? She could say no, but what harm would that really be? But, what do you know, my fears were for naught. She was interested. Not only was she interested, but she let me know public libraries hold a very special place in her heart. I like her already.

A few emails later we had our date set. She’s coming here on Tuesday, March 13.

Ms. Kearney is the author of two books, Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton From Hope to Harlem and Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir. She’ll be presenting  a talk and book signing at the library. If I don’t pass out dead on the floor from the excitement it should be a great event. Of course, if I do pass out dead it’ll make even better newspaper copy.


Conversationsclinton Cottondreams After the program photos and a complete transcript will follow, have no doubt of that. I may even break out the BRAND NEW camera for the occasion, the one I’m still half afraid to touch because it cost nearly as much as a month’s mortgage.

In the meantime sign me,

Thrilled to Bits

Bluestalking Reader: The Folksy, Home-spun Side

I didn’t realize I had so much home-grown in me before. I saw traces of it pop up occasionally, most notably when I’m able to flawlessly imitate the southern accent (no, don’t ask me to do it, inspiration must strike me first). The fact is, I’m starting to gravitate a little toward Appalachia. Not literally or anything, but in the sense I’ve recently booked two programs here at my library based or inspired at least partly by things Appalachian, awakening me to the fact I must have some sort of latent interest in this subject.

Who knew?

For those outside the U.S., you may not fully realize what Appalachia means. To people inside, you may not actually, either, to be fair. Generally, when  you mention Appalachia one pictures the garden variety of hillbilly, people with bad (or no) teeth swinging off porches built on houses that sit precariously on the sides of wooded hills. Generally these people are connected with home-brewed alcohol, and the picture’s completed when you add a whole-grain “still” to the mix.

If you’ve been in the Smoky Moutains area you’ll have seen the cabins/shacks I’m talking about, but even if you haven’t I’ll bet it’s not hard to picture huge, overall-clad families sitting on shaky, wooden porches blowing into empty jugs to make music. While that’s really neat and all, I also think we shouldn’t get too blinded by the stereotype. And I don’t just say that because my paternal family line filtered through Appalachia, specifically the Carolinas. I may not be quite as personally fired up to stress the need to balance otherwise, but even without that I’d like to think the culture would still interest me.

Okay, possibly.unitedstatesofappalachia

I’ve recently  booked author Jeff Biggers to come speak at our library. Jeff wrote a book titled United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America. The man has a string of credentials about as long as my arm, but what probably sealed the deal was the fact he’s been an NPR (National Public Radio) commentator. The quality coming out of NPR is just huge, so there’s no doubt in my mind Mr. Biggers will be a stellar speaker.

On his website there’s information on the book he’s coming here to talk about specifically, In the Sierra Madre (Mexico’s Copper Canyon). While here he’ll talk about travel writing, as well, and other matters he knows an awful lot about. While this is pretty far away from the subject of Appalachia, his other book lands him squarely in that realm.
The other Appalachian-related/inspired program I booked will happen in May. This one centers on the music of that region and will feature video accompaniment and clog dancing.

Yes, clog dancing. In the Chicago suburbs. Won’t you be sorry you missed

We’ll be a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ that day, at least as much as one does so in a library setting. And, if you’re wondering, I will bring my camera. so keep on the lookout.

Edgar Award Winning Author Theresa Schwegel

I haven’t mentioned lately that I have a really great (day) job for a book lover. I think it’s time to rectify that.

I had the pleasure of hosting Edgar Award-winning author Theresa Schwegel at the library last evening. Theresa came for a reading, book signing and Q & A. She’s making a lot of local appearances at the moment, while on a book tour promoting her second book Probable Cause. We were absolutely thrilled she was able to stop by the library while she’s in the area.

Probable Cause was reviewed in the New York Times this past weekend, if you’d like to take a look at that. It’s been getting huge attention all over the place. If Theresa keeps up at this rate she’ll be a household name in no time! Here in her hometown we couldn’t be more proud of her.




Theresa grew up in Algonquin, Illinois, graduating from the local high school in 1993. Her first novel, Officer Down, won the Edgar Award for a first mystery novel.
Theresa’s genre is crime fiction, and from her track record so far I think we can safely say she has that one pretty well mastered. Winning an Edgar Award right out of the starting gate is just about the most auspicious start anyone could hope for in the mystery genre.

If you’d like to know more about Theresa, or see her appearance/book signing schedule, check out her website.

Now that I have signed copies of both her books I’m going to get down to business and read them. I’ll report back, you can be sure of that. From what I’ve heard from other readers these are very much “put life on hold” books. Once I’ve started I have a feeling I’ll be glued to them, so I’ll have to clear the schedule and turn off the phone before I start!

Congratulations to Theresa on all her success, and we’ll look forward to more opportunities to be proud of her in the future. To say her career is promising is an understatement. As far as success goes, she’s already there.



Edgar Johnson on Charles Dickens: Maria Beadnell

Mariabeadnell_1 Could this sweet face be that of the original for Estella? After finishing Johnson’s chapter on Dickens’s ultimately heartbreaking relationship with Maria Beadnell I find myself asking that question.

Charles Dickens met Maria Beadnell when he was 17 years old. He got along famously with Maria’s family from the start. He and all the Beadnell girls had a marvelous time together, laughing and singing and generally carrying on as much as Victorian teenagers were allowed. Charles fell head over heels for the lovely Maria, and he fell hard. She, in turn, was apparently smitten with him, as well. Either that or she played the part very convincingly.

Unfortunately for him, Charles wasn’t a good catch.  As a lowly court reporter with no clear expectations for more on the horizon, he was not at all the sort of man the Beadnells wanted to see their daughter marry. After the Beadnells found out John Dickens had been incarcerated in Marshalsea for a time that was apparently the last nail in that coffin. The Beadnell pater sent Maria packing to the continent, to cool things off a little. When she returned Maria was a different sort of girl. She was cold and aloof to Charles, making him feel very hurt and puzzled. Though he’d nursed his flame for her the entire time she was away, she’d apparently moved beyond him. After a few attempts to reconcile, Charles ultimately had to give up his hopes for Maria. He slunk away, heartbroken.

Cold, aloof, beautiful and trifling with a man’s affections. Sounds like Estella to me. Though it’s rash to jump to conclusions, I would really not be surprised to think this defining episode in his life ultimately made it into Dickens’s fiction. Was Dickens thinking of Maria when he wrote Great Expectations? Hopefully I’ll find an answer to that somewhere.


More Edgar Johnson on Charles Dickens


  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (February 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140435808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140435801

Before Dickens was a novelist he was, hold onto your bonnets, a reporter with a truly masterful grasp of shorthand.

(Okay, not really surprising OR earth-shattering. I’m just having a very slow day and am looking for any bit of sensation I can get.)

After the blacking factory Dickens did, as I think I already mentioned, return to school. He was known as a chubby, animated boy who loved laughing best of all.

He finished his schooling and very soon decided to try his hand at journalism, becoming lightning fast at writing shorthand. Not only was he fast, though, he was more importantly accurate. And, not just accurate as far as taking down dictation, but he wrote very, very well. People began to take notice of this. Most importantly
, employers began to realize here was an exceptionally gifted writer.mariabeadnell

That’s as far as I’ve gotten with the Edgar Johnson bio. Dickens is just now earning a name for  himself in journalism and making friends with abandon. He’s met and fallen in love with his first love, Maria Beadnell (PHOTO at right of the pretty thing), but I haven’t gotten into that very much just yet. I already know how that romance ends, but I’m looking forward to learning the details, cheeky gossip that I a

I’ll soon be taking a pause from the Johnson bio to read the selected journalism of Dickens, published by Penguin. I’ve had my copy of this book for years, and now seems as good a time as any to finally read it. I’m very curious to read these early writings, to compare and contrast with what I know of Dickens the novelist. Are there hints of his later, distinctive style in his reportings? I’ll soon know.

Edgar Johnson on Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens: His Tragedies and Triumphs by Edgar Johnson

When Charles Dickens was a young boy, as the story goes, he and his father strolled past a house called Gads Hill Place. The young Charles was smitten by the house, and longed to one day live in it. His father, John Dickens, told him if he worked very hard all his life and applied himself to his work, he just may be able to achieve that dream.

And, of course, Charles Dickens did just that. He worked very hard, became extraordinarily famous, and for the last twelve years of his life he lived at Gads Hill Place, dying there in 1870.

Edgar Johnson’s two-volume biography of Charles Dickens is considered by many to be the definitive work on the life of the great author. After having spent last evening reading the first four chapters of this work I think I understand exactly why that is. Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph reads more like a novel than a straight biography. It’s written in a style that seems to have been influenced by Dickens himself, and this very high quality of non-fiction prose likely has a lot to do with the fact the biography is still so highly recommended today.

charlesdickenschildIn the first four chapters of this book I got a very good picture of what Dickens’s early life must have been like. Though I knew the basics of it, I didn’t fully realize the extent of how much his years in the blacking factory really impacted him.

I also had a false idea of the sort of man I thought John Dickens must have been. A father who brings financial ruin to his family, and then sends his young son out to support himself by working in a blacking factory against his will, ending his schooling in order that the boy may support himself, doesn’t earn high marks from me. I assumed John Dickens must have been either a wreckless gambler or a hard-hearted man, but the reality seems quite different. Though it’s true he was a man who couldn’t manage money, and whose love of the finer things in life made it impossible for him to live within his means, he doesn’t seem like the black-hearted wretch I always thought he must be. According to Johnson, he was really a good man who just had problems managing his personal finances. When it gets to be really disastrous, though, is when you have a wife and several children you’re responsible for, as John Dickens did. To fail and go bankrupt is bad enough, but dragging your entire family into the poor house is another thing entirely.

So, whatever the judgment on John Dickens, young Charles wound up having to quit school and work in a the Warren Blacking Factory (right), doing menial wwarrenblackingfactoryork, at quite a young age. His little spirit was crushed, and his heart broken, partly because
this meant he had to separate from his family (who wound up in a debtor’s prison) and because he had to quit school. Quitting  school seems to have been the truly demoralizing part of the ordeal for Charles, who was driven to learn from an early age.When the day came he could no longer attend school it was a terrible blow for him.

As the story further goes, Charles was still in the blacking f
actory even after his father had managed to pay his debt and be released. Though he’d assumed he’d be returned to his normal life after that happy event, things continued much the same for him. The breaking point came when John Dickens walked past the blacking factory and found his son on virtual display in the window, demonstrating how quickly he could paste labels on blacking bottles and becoming somewhat of a sideshow. The humiliation of the public display apparently led him to protest to the manager, and the manager let Charles go. Charles, it seems, cried upon his dismissal as it was so abrupt he wasn’t sure if it was due to his own fault. Even though he’d gotten at least part of his heart’s desire, his sense of failure led him to break down. Such a sad image.

Dickens’s early years had such a huge impact on him he never felt comfortable telling anyone about his past, not even his wife. It was only after his death, when the first biography of his life came out, that his family even knew the details. Imagine the weight of carrying that secret shame around with him, and how difficult it must have been.  It really gives a more complete picture of the great writer knowing where he came from and what he experienced, especially in these crucial early years.

The Edgar Johnson biography is so wonderful I can’t even express it. I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

Tillie Lerner Olsen, 1913-2007

Tillie Lerner Olsen

Tillie Lerner Olsen

Tillie Olsen died two days ago, at the age of 94. Most famously, Olsen was the author of the short story “As I Stand Here Ironing.” Her only finished work of fiction, Tell Me a Riddle, is still on the curriculums of some universities.

Olsen had articles published in The Nation and The Partisan Review, articles detailing the labor strikes and political unrest she saw and participated in. She was on the front lines, fighting injustice and spreading the message about the plight of women. An early member of the feminist movement, she spoke out against injustice when she saw it. Somewhat of a radical, she belonged to the American Communist Party for a short time. Tillie Olsen was an American writer and political activist who worked for what she believed in at a time when it was considered very unfeminine for a woman to speak out at all.



“Literary history and the present are dark with silences . . . I have had special need to learn all I could of this over the years, myself so nearly remaining mute and having to let writing die over and over again in me. These are not natural silences–what Keats called agonie ennuyeuse (the tedious agony)–that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, in the natural cycle of creation. The silences I speak of here are unnatural: the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot.”
Tillie Olsen


One of her main concerns was working-class women, especially those with aspirations toward the arts. Like Virginia Woolf before her, Olsen felt empathy for the plight of women so caught up in maintaining hearth and home they had no time for themselves, much less time for creative expression. She famously noted that the women who, through the generations, were able to become famous writers either had no children or had housekeepers raising her children. Despite all her hard work, her brief flirtation with communism unfortunately put a taint on her reputation. Some critics were unable to forgive her short association with the communists, unwilling or unable to separate Olsen the radical from Olsen the social reformer.

Tillie Olsen’s death may not immediately set off a shock wave in the literary world, just as her own life didn’t create any huge ripples, but it does resonate. It helps us remember the road we’re on today was paved by hundreds of Tillie Olsens who came before us, fighting battles against prejudice and social injustice in the name of future generations of humanity. We all reap the rewards for her victories, and continue to fight the good fight against the same threats to the weak.

The world could use a lot more Tillie Olsens. She will be missed.