Literary Hunger

The Telegraph’s imagining of what Alice’s tea party might have looked like.

After seeing a link in PW Daily to this wonderful slideshow of the ten best literary meals on The Telegraph, I started thinking of literary grub myself. It’s not that I disagree with The Telegraph’s choices. (Okay, maybe I do. Thin gruel? Really?). It’s just that I’ve been known to cook, and eat, based solely on the literary merit of a particular food or drink. Heck, I’ve been known to take entire vacations on literary merit alone.

So here’s a small sampling of some of the foods and drinks that books have inspired me to try.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneButterbeer: I tried this for the first time ever a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a good friend and fellow Harry Potter enthusiast, and admit that it was kind of a thrill. Very, very sweet. But still kind of a thrill. Now, would I also want to try Chocolate Frogs? Why yes, I would. Every Flavor Beans, however…not so much. I like to think I’m an adventurous eater, but yet still am not eager to sample anything that claims it tastes like earwax.


Anne of Green GablesRaspberry cordial and/or red currant wine: When Anne Shirley inadvertently gets her bosom friend Diana Barry drunk on red currant wine (all the while innocently thinking it’s raspberry cordial), I admit that my interest was piqued. I wanted to try both. And many years ago, on a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island, I tried raspberry cordial. Only very recently, I had some red currant wine. The verdict? Like Diana, I’ll go with the wine, thanks.


The Secret Garden

Porridge: On our honeymoon in Scotland, I determined that if porridge is good enough for Mary Lennox, it was good enough for me. I’ll never want a bowl of regular old oatmeal. Hearty enough to support one in traversing across moors with boys who talk to animals—or at least my husband, who only talks to our guinea pig—it’s tasty as all get-out as well.


The Tale of Peter RabbitChamomile tea: Inspired by Peter Rabbit’s post-McGregor stomach ache, I sought out this soothing herbal tea. Turns out that drinking a hot beverage made from steeping tiny flowers is not the wisest idea for someone with allergy issues. As soon as my throat began to swell shut, I knew that relying of naughty rabbits for inspiration as to what to eat or drink was a terrible, terrible mistake.


The waters at Bath: Here’s a tip that no one in Jane Austen’s Persuasion ever tells you: if it smells like sulfur it will, in fact, taste like sulfur. And while I don’t regret trying taking the waters (in Bath and in Cheltenham—I am a sucker for 19th century spa towns), I can’t say I felt anything but mildly ill after having done so. But when you’re in the Pump Room pretending to be Anne Elliot, who really cares?


Despite the occasional miss (or, you know, inability to breathe), I’m always up for trying something new. Got some literary food obsessions? Do share!

The Recipe for the Perfect Romantic Hero

Every good baker knows that a recipe is really just a jumping off point. You might like nutmeg, while I prefer cinnamon. You’re all about cocoa powder, while I favor melted dark chocolate in my brownie. It’s all a matter of taste.

The same holds true for literary romantic heroes. You might like them dark and brooding, I’m all about funny and charming. But as I write and rewrite not one but two different YA stories, I’m thinking about what ingredients make up my idea of a romantic hero—and how best to create a fella that appeals not just to me, but to (hopefully) a larger audience at some point.

So what makes a good romantic hero in my book? It takes equal parts of the ingredients below


When it comes to creating a hero with humor, Jane Austen might have fashioned something akin to perfection in Northanger Abbey’s Henry Tilney. He’s got a great sense of humor—so much so that occasionally it’s hard to get him to be serious. But when the going gets tough, Mr. Tilney rises to the occasion. Even if he might joke around as he’s doing it. Never was there a more delightful literary clergyman, or one with whom the reader can more readily share the heroine’s completely obvious affection.



And not just of the romantic variety (though clearly that’s a must as well). The ideal in this category for me is George Elliot’s Will Ladislaw, the young man who ultimately captures the heart of Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch. Even when Will is idling his time away on his cousin’s dime, he’s passionate about art, beauty—and his cousin’s wife Dorothea. Ah, youthful enthusiasm. But even Will settles down to a real pursuit and career at last, and he’s got politics and reform on his mind. His zest for the downtrodden and ignored—as well as for the best heroine in all of literature (yep, I said it and I meant it)—make him pure romantic hero gold.


On a certain level, rare book seller George Friedman in Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector seems completely wrong for Jessamine Bach. He’s too old, too set in his ways, too cultured, and too much of a carnivore for the twenty-something tree-hugger. But theirs is a love affair born of books. And any man who goes about wooing with a perfectly ripe peach and a T.S. Elliot reference is a man worth keeping. Never has eating a piece of fruit been laden with so much sexual and intellectual tension.


The Ability to Change and Grow

When Brigan meets the titular character in Kristin Cashore’s Fire, he’s not able to like or even remotely trust her. And when you have ugly family history of epic proportions between his father and hers, who can blame him? Unlike some folks, though, he’s open to seeing who she is as a person (or in this case, a human-monster hybrid) and eventually to trust her. That he falls so deeply in love with the one person he most despised speaks not to some weird “opposites attract” plot device, but rather to depth of his character. Which makes Brigan something of a dream come true, romantic hero-wise, and Kristin Cashore downright brilliant for creating him.

So does identifying all of this make it so much easier to write a wonderful romantic hero (or two, as is the case right now)? Alas, no. But it does give me some key ingredients off of which to base my recipe. And take it from George Friedman: it’s fun to experiment in the kitchen.





Show Me the (Jane Austen) Money

Bank of England

So, there’s this little bit of good news this week: Jane Austen is going to be the new face of the Bank of England’s £10 note. There are many wonderful things about this, the most obvious is—hello—it’s Jane Austen. Who doesn’t love Jane Austen? And, honestly, if you are one of the holdouts or haven’t read her yet, perhaps you need to rethink your stance.

But I digress. There’s more wonderfulness than there mere fact of her being chosen. Digging deeper, there’s the fact that the Bank of England was concerned that there weren’t enough women on their bank notes. This concern was certainly aided by the fact that people protested the lack of a female presence on their money. There was an online campaign. There was a petition. And it worked.

This left me thunderstruck, as it’s certainly not a concern here in the U.S. The Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea dollar coins went quickly by the wayside to be replaced with…more dead presidents. It’s not that I have a beef with some dead presidents. But seriously: you’re going to choose Andrew Johnson over Susan B. Anthony?

The other part of this that I love is simply the fact that the Bank of England chooses to celebrate writers and artists and thinkers and scientists on their money. Jane Austen is going to replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note.  They’ve had the likes of Shakespeare, Sir Christopher Wren, Charles Dickens, and Florence Nightingale. And why not? Why not celebrate the people who’ve shaped the culture of your nation?

Is it time to start a campaign here in the states? Anyone for Mark Twain or Emily Dickinson? Georgia O’Keefe or John Singer Sargent?

Literary Summer Camp

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is, quite frequently, on my mind. So, when I saw this “diary” in the Paris Review—a diary of Ted Scheinman’s time at “Jane Austen camp” (aka the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Jane Austen Summer Program—it sounded, well, pretty awesome.

After all, who wouldn’t want to go to lectures, drink tea, and attend the Meryton Assembly all in one fell swoop?

I certainly would.

The whole thing also got me thinking about other possible “camps” surrounding the work of other classic authors.

Dickens Camp: Everyone begins their time at camp in debtors’ prison, where they’re made to do hard labor in order to pay back their camp fees. If you’re lucky, a newly wealthy (former) convict will thrust you out of poverty and into a more respectable “sphere.” Moldy wedding cake is served each night.

Edith Wharton Camp: They say that the heart of fools resides in the house of mirth, but at this camp, parties abound and there’s an enviable amount of time spent at the opera. The downside? The camp rules are restrictive to the point of despair. Not for the faint at heart or determined nonconformists.

Tolkien Camp: All campers are divided up in groups of men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits—the last of which is clearly preferable due the leisurely lifestyle and plentiful grub. Beware of anyone offering to play at riddles, and know that the theory of “finders, keepers”—especially when it comes to jewelry—is a dangerous one here.

E.M. Forster Camp: Country house or journey to Italy? Bohemian or aristocrat? The choices for campers are endless, but if any of the counselors offers you a tour of a cave—or indeed a delightful trip to India—do yourself a favor and politely decline.

Okay, so maybe these don’t sound incredibly appealing. But I’d still like to go to Jane Austen summer camp. Maybe—just maybe—my family will send me next year.

And now, inquiring minds want to know: what literary camps (classic, contemporary, or anything in between) would you love—or loathe—to be a part of?

Giant Colin Firth Haunts My Dreams (Not in a Good Way)

London's Hyde Park

Now don’t get me wrong: I love Colin Firth as much as the next lady (perhaps even more). And his performance as Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice has made all other Mr. Darcys pale in comparison. But this statue is just…well…frightening.

It just sort of smacks of Godzilla, or similar monsters, rising up somehow in Hyde Park to swallow London whole. A regular-sized Colin Firth is delightful. A twelve-foot-tall Colin Firth is something only the swans in the lake could love (and according to The Guardian, the local swans are quite fond of it). And it’s apparently going to tour around England, so it can swallow up other whole towns and villages on its way.


On top of its monstrous appearance, you’ll forgive me if I get all Jane Austen on you for a moment: this moment isn’t even in the book. It’s a creation of the movie. And, honestly, it’s not one of my favorite creations of the movie. Who would choose the Mr. Darcy wet tee-shirt contest over him gazing at Elizabeth with intense love in his eyes at Pemberley? Or them dancing together for the first time?

All I’m saying is, badly done, folks. Badly done indeed. (And special Jane Austen points to anyone who recognizes the reference in that last line.)