by Erin Mawn
One thing that I have always loved about the beginning of summer, besides the obvious answers like the smell of fresh cut grass, warm breezes and flowers in full bloom, is that it is dance recital season. I started dancing when I was three years old, and I continued all the way through college. I loved the excited murmurs and shouts of joy in the dance studio when the costumes finally arrived. We couldn’t wait to try them on, and imagined what we’d look like on stage performing in front of all those smiling faces. The weeks leading up to the performance were hectic in a wonderful way: frenzied mothers asking about tights, little girls parading around in adorable costumes that made them look like dolls come to life, older girls practicing their routines around the clock, and harried dance instructors frantically trying to corral their students. Being on stage was, and is still is, one of the greatest feelings, but it was also a little disappointing to know that dance classes were over until the fall.
by Erin Mawn
I recently came across a “Choose Your Destiny” young adult novel at a thrift store. I always look at the children’s book section in all thrift stores, hoping to find an old favorite or something I’d heard about, or even something completely new to read and add to my collection. This book is titled “What if Everyone Knew Your Name” and it is one of the books in the “Choose Your Destiny” series that follows Haley Miller, an average teenager who has lots of adventures (and misadventures) during her high school years. Of course, she does not have any particular adventure unless you choose for her to have it. These books are modeled after the now-outdated "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.
I remember those type of books from my childhood, and it never really occurred to me that an author might choose to re-vamp the style for today’s young adult audience. But that is exactly what Liz Ruckdeschel and Sara James have done in these books which are quickly gaining popularity among teenage girls. There are currently seven books in the series, but even a single book can be read several different ways depending on the choices the reader makes.
by Erin Mawn
One of the first books that I remember loving- not just liking, but loving- is Wait Till Helen Comes. This book was so wonderfully frightening that it fueled my young imagination to create and write my own ghost stories. They were, of course, very crudely written because I was only eight years old at the time. I was just beginning to learn how libraries work, and so I went to the same shelf to see if I could find any more scary stories by the author. There was another book, which I read an enjoyed but it was not a ghost story, so I went to the librarian and promptly asked for her help. Being an elementary school librarian, she probably expected me to describe the story or the cover art on the book, but when she asked if I remembered the author’s name so she could look it up in the card catalog, I promptly answered “Mary Downing Hahn.”
(She was impressed that I remembered the author’s entire name.)
Ever since then, that name has stood out to me as I browse books. In bookstores, library book sales, tag sales, and even online, I could never resist scooping up a book by Hahn because I knew it was guaranteed to be a good read. Even now, twenty years later, I continue to read and collect these books.
by Erin Mawn My name is Erin. Erin comes from the word Éirinn, which is a form of the word Éire. Éire, of course, is the Irish word for the country of Ireland. When I introduce myself to people, they sometimes ask “Are you Irish?”. Sometimes it’s a tongue-in-cheek comment, but sometimes it seems to be an honest question, as if the person asking it wants to confirm that I am of Irish ancestry since I am using the name of an entire country to represent my own little self.
Although in March, everyone can be Irish, right? St. Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated in America by Irish and non-Irish alike. Why? Because it’s fun! Watching parades, singing folk songs (if you know them), having a drink (or two). What’s my favorite part of being Irish?- the dancing! (It certainly wasn’t the Catholic school uniforms I wore for years). Irish dancing is one of my favorite things to do, and instead of just getting to do it on the 17th, I get to do it this entire month!
I am teaching an Irish dance class at nearby Chesapeake College all through this month. After learning just a few basic steps, such as the 1-2-3 and the 7, you’ll be able to learn an entire set dance. Irish dancing is great fun, and a great work-out as well. The music is very catchy, and before you know it, you’ll be doing 1-2-3’s in your sleep!
If you missed out on this course, then don’t fret; the Irish dance course is going to be offered again in July. Just check the Chesapeake College Continuing Education course catalog.
by Erin Mawn
I suppose every nationality takes immense pride in its food; each St. Patrick’s Day my father insisted on having a traditional Irish dinner complete with corned beef, potatoes and cabbage. As a self-described ‘foodie’, one of my joys in life in trying new foods. When I was young I visited Australia and actually tried shark meat, kangaroo meat (it’s equivalent to Americans eating venison) and the pride of the Aussies: Vegemite. In college I went to England, and I was more than happy to go out each night to a different pub and try the fare. However, rather than spending all the dough to travel to a foreign country every time I want to try a new food, I have learned to look for local venues that offer interesting dishes. My newest experience though, is a do-it-yourself one.
Persian cuisine, or the cuisine of Iran, is deliciously diverse and also very health conscious. Many of the dishes use rice as a staple ingredient, and almost all of them have fruits and vegetables either as main ingredients or as sides. I realize that most people would have no idea how to begin cooking a Persian dish, and so to make the process easier, here is the book to lead the way: Simply Persian Cuisine. The book is presented in a very straight forward manner, so that anyone, even those whose free time is at a premium such as working mothers or college students, can pull together a healthy and delicious meal.
by Erin Mawn
This past Friday night, I was one of the many people who saw “The Lovely Bones” on its opening night. I was surprised at how many young people there were in the theater, but that was probably due to the fact that the movie is rated PG-13, so no parents are required. I must admit that I was concerned about the quality of the movie; beforehand, I could not resist looking up some reviews of it and the majority of them seemed disappointed that the movie did meet its potential.
It is true that the movie takes some liberties, but I was relieved that it leaves the more important things alone. For example, the reader and movie go-er are not surprised at what happens to Susie Salmon because both the book and the film tell us immediately that something horrible befalls the young narrator. I was worried that perhaps the film would focus on that one terrible scene in order to increase the drama and horror of the story, but like in the book, the terrible incident is merely the catalyst for the story, not the focus of it.
Since I already talked about the story when I reviewed the book a couple months ago, I’ll focus on the film aspects of it: I was impressed with Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of George Harvey. I did not even realize that it was Tucci in this role when I saw the movie trailers because he looks like the quintessential creep. (I am used to Tucci in more likeable roles, such as “The Devil Wears Parada” and the Kit Kittredge American Girl movie.) His performance almost overshadows that ofSaoirse Ronan, who plays the protagonist Susie Salmon because the audience is so horrified by his character. Not to say that Ronan is not ideal for the role of Susie Salmon: her adolescent beauty (caught perfectly between a girl and a woman) is striking and she emanates an innocence so endearing and believable that the audience is truly saddened when she is robbed of it.
By Erin Mawn
Hello readers (and editor)! I apologize not posting again sooner, but I have adopted the popular mantra that everyone seems to be saying lately: “life’s crazy right now”. If anyone is curious, I HAVE been doing a ton of reading lately, I just have been lax in the writing part. Sometimes when I read a book, I think “I cannot wait to write a blog about this incredible story!”. Other times, I enjoy the story but it just does not motivate me to write.
As my best friend said to me recently, I have had quite a literary year. First, I attended a talk at my local library hosted by Joshua Wolf Shenk regarding his insightful book “Lincoln’s Melancholy”. I used this book for two of my projects in graduate school and I was very excited to finally meet the man who wrote it. Then, over my summer vacation, I traveled to Colorado where I was able to meet my favorite illustrator, Michael Hague. (I did write a blog about him; it is one of my earlier posts.) This was a very special experience for me because I grew up reading his books and those pictures have always stayed in my mind. Most recently, I drove to Newark, Delaware to see Laurie Halse Anderson “speak” (if you don’t get my little joke yet, you will in a minute.)
Laurie Halse Anderson has written both young adult novels and picture books; her first YA novel, titled “Speak” was a New York Times Best Seller, as well as a Printz Honor Book, and National Book Award Finalist. It was also made into a movie for television starring a now-uber-famous Kristen Stewart. Her other novels include: “Catalyst”, “Prom”, “Fever 1793”, “Twisted”, and “Chains” (another multi-award winner). During the event, she read an excerpt from her most recent novel “Wintergirls” which is available now. She the welcomed questions from her live audience as well as from readers across the country who were able to view the event through a live internet feed. Afterwards, she was available to sign books for her adoring fans, who ranged from middle-aged adults to little children. My favorite fan was the little eight-year old girl clutching a copy of one of the Vet Volunteer books, a series written for children about children who work in a veterinarian’s office.
The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultra-Violent Zombie Mayhem!
I have a confession to make: I have never read a Jane Austen book to the end. Believe me, I have tried. I feel I owe it to the world of literature that I love so much to not just ‘get through it’, but to actually enjoy reading it, too. I know the stories of Austen, especially when they are reimagined in modern cinema. For example, one of my favorite 90’s movies is “Clueless” which is loosely based on Austen’s “Emma”. (“What-ev-er!“)The book and movie “Bridget Jones Diary” is based on “Pride and Prejudice”; the sequel to this smash success (both book and movie) was titled “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and was based on “Persuasion”. I have seen the mini-series “Pride and Prejudice” as well as the more recent movie starring Kiera Knightley, and I dragged my boyfriend to the theater to see “Becoming Jane”, a biopic starring Anne Hathaway. I love Jane Austen’s stories, I just could not get through one of her books. Well, not until the zombies came, anyway. . .Seth Grahame-Smith’s hilarious parody of Austen’s most well-known work has been exalted by readers and critics alike; you get all the goodness of social intrigues and blossoming romances, but there’s also a ton of zombies wandering around the English countryside that need to be dealt with before anyone can live happily ever after. Luckily, Elizabeth Bennet is an expert at weapons and martial arts. If you’re already familiar with the real “Pride and Prejudice” (either seen the movies or actually read it) then you pretty much know how the story goes. But that’s not really the point in this book; the point is to laugh at the ridiculous dialogue which follows early 19th century formality, but refers to battling the living dead:
“Mr. Collins tells me that you are schooled in the deadly arts, Miss Bennet.”
“I am, though not to half the level of proficiency your Ladyship has attained.”
“Oh! Then — some time or other I shall be happy to see you spar with one of my ninjas.
Are you sisters likewise trained?”
When asked what inspired him to re-write the Austen’s famous love story, Smith replied, “I just thought it’d be really funny to desecrate a classic work.” He seems like one of the geniuses with an off-beat, dark sense of humor that I’d love to meet sometime, if only to pick his brain. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the zombie pun.) Ever true to the modern literary discussion circle, Smith includes thoughtful questions for discussion at the end of the novel, such as:
by Erin Mawn
I was introduced to this book by one of my students while I was teaching literary terms. I was discussing the different points of view that literature has and when I was discussing the idea of the omniscient narrator, one of my students asked “Like in “The Lovely Bones”?” . Not having read the book myself, I asked her to explain the story to me. My student went on to explain that the story is being seen, literally from above, by the narrator of the story. However, “The Lovely Bones” differs from the usual type of omniscient narrator because unlike the majority of them, who are unnamed and who never reveal HOW they know the story or how they are significant to the story in any way, this dilemma is cleared up on the very first page of the novel:
“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”
by Erin Mawn
I am a fervent fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I own the whole collection of Little House books, all of her nine original books from “Little House in the Big Woods” to “The First Four Years”. I also have in my vast collection of books all of the prequels and sequels to her stories; the stories about Martha (her great-grandmother, Charlotte (her grandmother), Caroline (her mother, Ma Ingalls) and her daughter Rose. The prequels and sequels are written in the same simple style that made Wilder’s books so easily accessible to generations of readers. The stories possess the wholesome values that made these generations’ parents comfortable and able to enjoy the books alongside their children.