Commonplace Book, 16

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Pesto bread in the bread machine, using the last of my kale pesto and served with the roasted garlic compound butter, both of which I made a week or two ago.
  • Pizza — with the help of J, of course.

What I’m reading:

  • We are still on a fairy tale kick and things have gone smoothly, with the exception of the time we had Zelinsky’s Rapunzel from the library and got to the part where the prince is blind and wandering the woods and Rapunzel is a banished single mother and…that was the end of the book. A page was missing. I called the library and (cheerfully, I hope) suggested this might be a good candidate for weeding. Anyway, I was pleased to come across this list of picture book versions of fairy tales.
  • I’m finally really getting into the Throne of Glass series my sister in law loves, three books in. Besides the obvious similarities to the Graceling series, they kind of remind me of the world of His Dark Materials: dark and sprawling with ominous shadows around the edges that suggest a real, living universe. Get this:

“Across the White Fangs and the Ruhnns, all the way to the Western Wastes and the red-haired queen who ruled from a crumbling castle. To the Deserted Peninsula and the oasis-fortress of the Silent Assassins. Hooves, hooves, hooves, echoing through the continent, sparking against cobblestones, all the way to Banjali and the riverfront palace of the King and Queen of Eyllwe…”

I mean, it’s no Middle Earth, but I’ll take it.

  • Maybe I’m prejudiced because this is my book club, but I loved Abbey’s recent post on making time for a book club and tackling the hard stuff in capital-L Literature.
  • I spent last week staying with a friend who’s got a two-month-old at home and also just started homeschooling, and so this piece on not equating the cleanliness of your home with your success or self-worth rang especially true. Also, I am writing this while surrounded by boxes and unopened mail and half-emptied suitcases from our trip. So.
  • The Dog Stars, which I finished finally, and I’m glad I did. It’s terribly violent and lacks punctuation in a way that makes it almost garbled to read, but it’s also so lovely and wistful and ultimately hopeful. (Hang in there!) It’s the story of Hig, a man living a decade after the collapse of society, in a mostly empty landscape, flying the countryside in an old plane, his dog beside him:

“Squint and I can imagine someone in the yard. Someone leaning to hook a spreader to the tractor. Someone thinking Damn back, still stiff. Smelling coffee from an open kitchen door. Someone else hanging laundry in a bright patch. Each with a litany of troubles and having no clue how blessed. Squint and remake the world. To normalcy. But.”

autumn dreaming, with orchard-picked apple, last week in MA, where it’s almost properly cool now

On the Scary Stuff in Fairy Tales

The other day when everyone was sick we watched Shrek and I realized Pippin was getting zero of the fairy tale references, except maybe the Gingerbread Man, because it turns out we haven’t read him any fairy tales.


The kid’s a Grimm, for heaven’s sake. But I do a lot of child-led book selection and so it’s been all trucks, all the time for the most part, though at least he got some fractured nursery rhymes, which he looooved, from The Big Book of Truckery Rhymes.

And you know, it turns out reading fairy tales to your kid is kind of scary business. For the parent, I mean. Pippin doesn’t bat a lash at Little Red Riding Hood getting gobbled or Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandoning their own children, and he enjoys knight/dragon battles with a relish I frankly find a little unseemly.

The truth is, I don’t think he’s encountered a lot of darkness in his own life yet, beyond his own not inconsiderable fears and anxieties. Two years ago at Holy Week we started to talk about the crucifixion, but when NPR talks about the latest shooting, we change stations, and we skip the Mr Rogers episodes about divorce, because it hasn’t come up in Pippin’s life yet.

Reading him this sad and scary stuff hurts me a little, as if I’m destroying his innocence, but his excitement and solemn focus suggest that these stories are telling him something he needs to know, and perhaps has long suspected. I’m reminded of that bit from G.K. Chesterton:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

So I’m letting him know now there are dragons in our world, and someday sooner than I’d like we will give them names: playground bullies and neglectful parents and police brutality and all the other ugly things in our broken world. But I hope by reading him these old stories, I will help him learn to find the heroes and to maybe, someday, become one himself.

(What are your kids’ favorite fairy tale versions?)

Baby Pip made a pretty adorable Little Red Riding Hood, right?