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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “Three Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

We are pleased to welcome Rob Gurwitt and Rob Mermim, the authors of Circus Smirkus: 25 Years of Running Home to the Circus. This book chronicles the story of Circus Smirkus, a special traveling international youth circus, created by Rob Mermin in response to his own question from long ago, “What would a society feel like,” he wondered, “in which there was humor without malice, laughter without scorn, decency in human relations, delight in sharing skills without aggressive competition?”

In 1987, after a long apprenticeship as a clown in Europe, he set out to create that society on a small patch of farmland in Greensboro, Vermont, and for the 25 years since, Circus Smirkus has been transforming the lives of its young performers – aged 10 to 18 ­ – and inspiring audiences wherever it plays.

CIRCUS SMIRKUS: 25 Years of Running Home to the Circus is the story of his vision.The authors will appear at the Norwich Bookstore on Wednesday, July 18th at 7 pm. Call 802-649-1114 to reserve your spot for this very special evening.

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This is the first time we’ve interviewed co-authors for 3 Questions so bear with us! Listed first are Rob Mermin’s responses and Rob Gurwitt’s immediately follow.

Rob Mermin, the founder of Circus Smirkus, ran off to Europe when he was nineteen to begin a 40-year career in circus, theater and TV. He trained in classical mime with Etienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau. He is also the former dean of Ringling Bros. Clown College. Rob’s awards include Copenhagen’s Gold Clown; Best Director Prize at the former Soviet Union’s International Festival on the Black Sea; and the Governor’s Award for Excellence, Vermont’s highest honor in the arts. Rob lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

 1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

Freddy the Pig” series by Walter Brooks were the first books I ever took out of the library when I was a kid. Freddy was at various times a detective, explorer, magician, politician, cowboy, poet, and daydreamer. He surely set me on the path to Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and others tales of worldly travel and grand adventure.

 2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Mark Twain, to laugh and complain about the human race.

 3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

About to open Hermann Hesse’s novel about the artist’s life, The Glass Bead Game, which I read when I was twenty.  I’m wondering about my response to it now, after 40 years. I love to revisit good books.

Rob Gurwitt is a freelance writer who lives in Norwich, Vermont. As a writer, he got toknow Circus Smirkus on a magazine assignment in 1999, and he and his family have been captivated by circuses ever since. His two children are performing with Circus Smirkus this summer. It is their second year on tour with the troupe.

 1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

When I was about 12, I discovered The Best of Gregory Clark on my parents’ shelves. He was a wry, observant columnist and storyteller for the Toronto Star between the wars, tapping out gems of emotion and truth in tight prose that felt roomy. I still read him. Same with Meyer “Mike” Berger, the first “About New York” columnist for the NY Times, who found little story bombs in what everyone else considered the humdrum and commonplace. Every writer should take lessons from him. Finally, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was the first book that made me go, “Oh my God, people can write like that!” Not that I ever could.

  2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Hands down, David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas). Though I think it would take more than one cup of coffee to figure out how such a protean, brilliant mind works.

 3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I know, I’m late to the game — but all of you who’ve already read it, don’t you envy me for getting to read it for the first time?

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Peter Money Interview (Click to Listen)

We were lucky enough to spend a long, rainy lunch hour with Peter Money, a Vermont poet who hails from such diverse places as Napa, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Cape Cod, Ohio, Dublin and currently Brownsville, VT.  The conversation was truly delightful (and eating Lisa’s pizza and sipping tea didn’t hurt either).

A favorite

Peter’s description of himself as a scavenger in life and in reading led our conversation through a diverse array of topics including:  reading for the purpose of writing, the power of a gift of a book, the Cape Cod Melody Tent, travel in India and Australia, the difference one person can make in the events of the world – in particular Rachel Corrie to whom Peter’s latest book Che is dedicated – the things we use and keep as bookmarks, empty spaces,  the difference email and the internet make in the serendipity of life and reading as a means of developing empathy.

Sprinkled throughout the conversation were quotes by a former teacher of Peter’s –  Allen Ginsberg (“ordinary is made extraordinary by your attention to it” or  the buddhist reminder “Ground Path Fruition” or thinking of writing as “funky independent thought“).   Peter also modeled a superb teaching technique of being able to circle around and tie seemingly unrelated thoughts together.

Speaking of circling back around: we end this episode by playing a little ditty by Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler that not only alludes to one of the themes of our discussion (beach combing) but also provides a mellow finish to a lovely talk.

Actual books we dicussed ranged from:

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses – First published in 1885, A Child’s Garden of Verses has served as an  introduction to poetry for many generations. Stevenson’s poems celebrate childhood in all its forms.

E.B. White’s works – A writer at The New Yorker and the author of many books of essays, E. B. White also wrote the children’s books Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Gregory Maguire’s Matchless – Every year, NPR asks a writer to compose an original story with a Christmas theme. In 2008, Gregory Maguire reinvented Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”.

Justine by Lawrence Durrell – Set among the glamour and corruption of 1930s and 1940s Alexandria, the novels of Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet” (Justine is the first) follow the shifts in allegiances and situations among a diverse group of characters. Peter carried a copy with him while traveling 30 years ago and had that copy with him when we spoke (complete with original bookmarks).

Iraqi Writer Saadi Youssef who has translated Leaves of Grass and Little Prince into Arabic and whose own work is carried by University of Minnesota Press.

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard – from the foreword by John R. Stilgoe – A prism through which all worlds from literary creation to housework to aesthetics to carpentry take on enhanced-and enchanted-significances. Every reader of it will never see ordinary spaces in ordinary ways.

Collected Poems of George Oppen – Oppen, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969, has long been acknowledged as one of America’s foremost modernists.  He was hailed by Ezra Pound as “a serious craftsman, a sensibility which is not every man’s sensibility and which has not been got out of any other man’s book.”

A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel – From tablets to CD-ROM, from book thieves to book burners, bibliophiles and saints, noted essayist Alberto Manguel follows the 4,000-year-old history of the written work whose true hero is the reader.

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde – The Gift defends creativity and of its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money. This book is cherished by artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers.

Hear Peter read some of his work set to original compositions.

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Listen now to NPL live classic books show – July 2010  or download here NPL classic books.

A mysterious classic

On July 12th, we had a lovely evening and a lively discussion with guests at the Norwich Public Library. This was our first jam cast in front of a live audience, and we must say audience participation leads the conversation in all sorts of interesting and thought-provoking directions.

The podcast lasted a record fifty-one minutes and covered lots of “classic” ground from Robert Louis Stevenson’s  Kidnapped to The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and then onto Hermon Wouk’s Caine Mutiny and Anya Seton’s Katherine and The Winthrop Woman. All this in just the first fifteen minutes.

A classic woman

While you have to listen to the jamcast to determine whether we are right, we believe most of the books mentioned were memorable because they were either superb adventures, coming of age stories or provided a distinctly atmospheric experience for the reader. Other books we discussed include:

Classic Truman

Great adventures: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Terror by Dan Simmons, Brave Companions, Truman and John Adams by David McCullough.

Atmospheric excursions: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, For Whom the Bell Tolls and the Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, Jane Austen’s works, Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.

Coming of Age Stories: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings, Heidi by Spyri, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Bluest Eye, (and then Zula, Beloved) by Toni Morrison.

There even ensued a spirited discussion of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (two fans/two passionate non-fans) and there was even a reference to the book Toilets of the World in connection with Rand’s The Fountainhead. You’ll have to listen to the actual jamcast to find out why and how.

We also mentioned Girl in Translation; Worst Case Scenarios Adventure GuideConfronting Collapse, The Tipping Point, Bill McKibben’s works and Collapse by Jared Diamond.

THANK YOU to our three guests from Norwich – Mary, Jody, and Chris and Roy from neighboring Wilder.  Thank you to the Norwich Public Library for the space, the cookies and lemonade and to Ms. Beth who kept the library open when we ran late.

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