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austen fan gambles on locket

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 by kate

A lock of Jane Austen’s hair (well, not definitely her hair…but that’s what they think) sold for £4,800($9,478) at an auction house in England.

The hair – inside a locket – is shaped to look like a weeping willow that hovers over a gravestone bearing Jane Austen’s name.

It’s well known and documented that Jane’s sister Cassandra cut off some of Jane’s hair after she died, according to the Dominic Winter Auction House. But they can’t prove that this is in fact Jane’s hair.

“Of course, the lock could have been cut from the head of another Jane Austen as the name is not uncommon and Jane even had a cousin named Jane Austen,” according to the auction house. “It's easier to believe this is the Jane Austen than not.”

Image paying almost $10,000 for hair that might be from the head of a famous writer, but might also just be some random dead woman’s hair? Hairwork was popular in England during the Victorian era, according to Dominic Winter. However, this was an expensive endeavor, so not just any Joe could have hairy jewelry.

“The lock of hair was more of a gamble as in spite of research we could not prove its authenticity,” auctioneer Chris Albury said. “It's definitely of the right period and as a sophisticated piece of hair artwork incorporating Jane Austen's name on balance we and other specialists think it most likely that this is the Jane Austen rather than another of the same name. If we had been able to prove it conclusively I'm sure there would have been a lot more bidders and a much higher price. The truth may never be known and at the end of the day I don't think it was an expensive gamble for a serious Austen collector used to spending five-figure sums."


an unpleasant pheasant experience

Thursday, June 19, 2008 by kate

John Price explains the title of his book “Man Killed by Pheasant”:

“Well, it’s based on a unique experience – nearly being killed by a pheasant. While I was still in graduate school, when my wife and I were living in a small Iowa town, I was driving down a rural highway when a pheasant flew in my open driver’s side window, flapped around in my face and nearly caused me to dump the car in a ditch. Luckily I knocked it back outside and was able to safely pull over, where I remained for a long time, trying to recover myself.

The surrounding landscape was also experiencing some dramatic surprises that summer. It was the summer of 1993, during some of the worst state-wide flooding on record. The rural countryside along my commute had become nearly unrecognizable, a mixture of massive destruction and surprising natural beauty. Flooded cornfields were full of wild birds, and the unmown ditches erupted with native grasses and wildflowers.

For most of my life I had thought of my home landscape and its wildlife as ordinary, overly-familiar and predictable – that wayward pheasant and the floods changed my thinking. I got a brief glimpse of what Iowa used to be, a rich ecology of wetlands and prairies, a place of surprises and danger … and it transformed me and my relationship to the place in which I had been born and raised.

Having spent most of my life wanting to leave home, I was now longing for a deeper relationship to what remains of wilderness here, a new sense of kinship with place. … This memoir is about those kinds of transformative experiences. But we don’t usually recognize their significance until much later. At the time of the pheasant incident itself, I was just frightened out of mind and embarrassed – who expects their obituary to read ‘Man Killed by Pheasant?’”

Read my review of this book.

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a midwestern meditation

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 by kate

John Price's Man Killed by Pheasant
I was going to write a bad review for “Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships”. Up until page 109 I mechanically turned pages and read words, but couldn’t absorb anything. John Price’s memoir about growing up in Iowa is rich in subtlety and is completely ordinary, which means you have to work harder to appreciate it. (And since I’m a devout New Englander, it was hard to connect with his Midwestern mentality.) I struggled trying to pay attention to Price, and I almost gave up several times. But once I reached the meat of the memoir (around the time he marries Steph) I got caught up in Price’s tone and mindset, and the rest flowed.

The problem is the title of the book tricked me. “Man Killed by Pheasant” sounds like a quick, quirky book about life’s absurdities. It’s not. It’s a book about a man. An ordinary man. From the Midwest. It’s not groundbreaking, especially heartbreaking or shiny. (And it’s definitely not some summer fluff for the beach.)

Price’s words are quiet and soothing and comforting. His conversations with his hallucinating grandfather are especially touching and are what won me over.

This book may resonate better with regional readers, but that’s not to say coastal connoisseurs can’t embrace Price’s perspective on prairies:

“The grasses were in fall glory, the rich russet of the little bluestem, splashed with golden nests of buffalo grass, blue grama, needle-and-thread. …The place was loud with birdsong – meadowlarks, warblers – and a goshawk shot across the sun and over a distant ridgeline.”

Price may not have converted me to a life of prairies and pheasants, but he has quietly painted a beautiful ordinary life.

fashion critiques from the campaign trail

Thursday, June 12, 2008 by kate

Meghan McCain
Sen. John McCain’s daughter Meghan is writing a children’s book about her father which is set to be released in September—just about the time of the Republican National Convention. What better way for the 71-year-old to reach a different demographic – diapers in daycare. It also sounds like a smart way to sway parents.

Aladdin Books, of Simon & Schuster, will publish the biographical picture book, and some of the proceeds will go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

“This book will offer children the unique opportunity to see the character building events that happened over his lifetime, experiences that led up to his current bid to become the future President of the United States," said Meghan, the oldest of the Junior McCain Clan of four.

Meghan, who has interned at Newsweek and Saturday Night Live, also has a blog http://www.mccainblogette.com/, which covers the campaign through the eyes of a 23-year-old.

“Yesterday, Dad gave a speech to the FL Society of Newspaper Editors in Orlando ... Mom is back on the trail and is having a blast.” It’s not often that “campaign” and “having a blast” are linked together, but that’s what you get when you visit Meghan’s blog. She also posts loads of pictures that show the senator from a more personal perspective.

While her site isn't politically poignant, you can catch “Dad” grilling, “Mom” grinning and fashion critiques from the campaign trail.

Side note: McCain's wife Cindy also agreed to write a book earlier this year, but changed her mind and the deal was canceled.

dickens' desk not quite a deal

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 by kate

Charles Dickens desk
Charles Dickens’ desk, which he used to write A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, has been sold for £433,250 (about $850,000) – not quite the deal you’d expect for used furniture.

The mid-Victorian mahogany desk and walnut chair were sold at Christie's auction house, and the money will go to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, which was founded by a friend of Dickens.

While the desk set was expected to sell for between £50,000 and £80,000 ($100,000-$160,000), bidding turned “extremely fierce,” BBC reported. Irish collector and tarot card tycoon Tom Higgins had the winning bid, but has no plans to craft anything more than a letter or two on the desk.

If you’re looking for a place to write your great work, you don’t have to shell out a fortune. Skip Christie’s and check out Jordan’s, which has plenty of desks for sale that give off that same retro vibe.

not your typical mommy memoir

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 by kate

Accidentally on Purpose
With an honest, clear voice Mary Pols uses “Accidentally on Purpose” to tell the true story of how a one-night stand gave her a purpose in life at the age of 39 – her son Dolan. Pols’ parenting partner became Matt – a 29-year-old unemployed man she met at a bar that definitely did not meet her soul mate standards. Pols learns to reprogram her parenting expectations and revel in the fact that whoever Matt was, Matt was in love with their son.

“Where or how your child comes to you doesn’t matter. How you feel about the resume of the father of your child should not matter at all. All that’s relevant is what’s written on his face when he looks at his son.”

Whether you want, have or hate kids, Pols entices you with intimate, simple and sweet moments with her son:

When we are cuddling at bedtime Dolan says, “I like you forever.”
“And I love you,” I say back.
“I love you too,” he says. I kiss him ferociously, on his forehead, on his cheeks, again on his forehead. He kisses me back, the same way.
“I have to go,” I tell him.
“No,” he says. “I’m keeping you.”
I soften. “One more minute,” I tell him.
“Two minutes,” he tells me.

But Pols doesn’t sugarcoat motherhood. And she doesn’t paint herself as an angelic mother – even with a name like Mary. She makes mistakes, and she owns up to them. Her imperfect life is so attractive because it works, and we can identify with it.

“When I went to see the movie Knocked Up, I laughed so hard I could barely hear some of the dialogue. It was our story in so many ways, except that Katherine Heigl was way prettier than I and Matt was way cuter than Seth Rogen. Also, we didn’t fall in love the way they did, which would have made everything so much easier. We were messier because we were real. And our story didn’t end on the day our baby was born.”

“Accidentally on Purpose” is a smooth, witty read that will fly by. You don’t have to be a mother or a chronic baby cooer to enjoy this book.