Friday, January 15, 2021

How to Live a Count Fosco Lifestyle in the New Year


I’m back, following an extended social media break. I read A LOT while I was away. Among the many tomes I’ve enjoyed in the last several months was one of my old favorites, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Rereading this pure joy of a Victorian thriller, I was reminded that one Count Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco is quite possibly the best villain in all of literature. I know what you’re thinking, reader: short of conspiring to cheat a beautiful and vulnerable heiress out of her fortune and joining an international network of aristocratic spies, how can I be more like Count Izzy Ottavio BADASS Fosco? Well, you’ve come to the right place:

  1. Add a second middle name, if you don’t have one already. Sounds aristocratic. I recommend “Baldassare,” regardless of your gender. Be sure to use all names when you introduce yourself, but you can go by just one thereafter, like Cher or Dante.

  2. Choose an unusual pet and get a few dozen of them. You’re a person of mystery now, so you can’t have the human entourage you deserve. What you can do, however, is find yourself a group of friends who will never talk. Mice work well, but if you don’t pull it off just so they might give you a kind of Cinderella vibe, which is not what you’re going for, so you might also consider exotic birds and/or a few small monkeys. 

  3. Whenever a musical instrument is at hand, offer to explain and demonstrate to your companions the superiority of your favorite composers. Actually, don’t offer, just do it. Then ask them if they agree, but make it rhetorical. Of course they agree. You’re Count Badass. 

  4. Learn to play the concertina. An accordion will do, too, but do choose one of the two and master it because this is very important. No other instrument has quite the same quality of vague and pleasant surprise. Recognizable yet eccentric, exotic yet familiar. Play opera on it. 

  5. Learn to sing and do it completely unapologetically in borderline inappropriate situations. I don’t mean that you should burst into song whenever you want, like a character from a musical or something. I do mean that your crush’s morning walk should be punctuated by your performance of Figaro.  

  6. Eat dessert first. And second, actually. Hell, make a meal of it. You’re Count Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco. Who’s going to tell you no?

  7. Dress extremely well, but loudly. Invest in some quality formalwear, but not your standard rental variety. You’re going to need a collection of waistcoats in the finest fabrics and in colors that scream “this look works against all reason.”

  8. Impress your crush with your gentle and generous heart by telling them about all the times you could have murdered someone but didn’t. Bonus points if love of them stayed your hand. Expect credit for this! Not every villain/spy/all-around BAMF has a tender weakness to do them such credit. 

  9. Become very mysterious about your reasons for leaving your hometown. You don’t want to come out and say you were exiled, but a longing sigh here or there would not be misplaced. If you haven’t left your hometown, I’m sorry but you’re going to need to pretend that you have. A subtle accent might help. 

  10. Be both discreet and totally conspicuous. Look, you’re going to have to have your secrets, and if you don’t, you’re going to have to pretend like you do. But at the same time, never under any circumstances should you blend into a crowd. If your booming tenor doesn’t give you away, it might be your purple velvet cravat or the cockatoo on your shoulder. Stand out!

  11. Find a solid sign-off for emails and other communications. Receive these fervid lines. They are worthy of the occasion and of

Friday, August 21, 2020

Great Teachers from Books Go Back to School for Fall 2020

 We’ve all watched universities around the U.S. go through the five stages of COVID prep:

  1. Denial: Our return to campus is perfectly safe! Our students have all signed the Social Distancing Because We Care Pledge, and therefore there is absolutely no chance they will behave like other 19-year-olds. We’re better than that.

  2. Anger: Send out a stern video in which the president and maybe the football coach share how disappointed they were to learn about last night’s 4-keg maskless party in the field house. You guys aren’t supposed to behave like teenagers, remember?

  3. Bargaining: Or, you know, threats. Threaten faculty and staff with layoffs and pay cuts instead of bargaining (whew, good thing you crushed the union!). Look, sometimes we all have to sacrifice our safety and health for the greater good, ok? And by “the greater good” we mean “to keep the ten-figure endowment intact.”

  4. Depression: Lay people off anyways.

  5. Acceptance: Fine, we’ll go online.

So, as teachers write wills and colleges scramble to roll back their fall plans in the face of completely predictable COVID clusters, let’s escape for a minute by imagining how some notable teachers of history and fiction would be handling this, shall we?

Professor Bhaer (Little Women)

  • Extremely into your school’s new motto about community

  • Wants to teach in person because he doesn’t think you’re Zooming “from the heart.”

  • That one time when you accidentally screenshared your Netflix queue he got really judgy about the “sensation stories” in it

Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre)

  • Volunteers to teach in person because she kind of hates herself

  • Walks that decision back after your classmate Adele’s dad starts showing up on her webcam. 

  • Caught murmuring when she thought her mic was muted: “The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Ms. Frizzle (The Magic School Bus)

  • Wears the best masks. They match her dress and have like planets and DNA on them. 

  • Always one to read the room, she's teaching in space this semester

  • You’re number 435 on the waitlist for her class

  • “As I always say, class, you’re out of this world.” <3 <3 <3

Syrio Forel (A Game of Thrones)


  • That’s kind of a weird ritual chant to start your statistics class with every Tuesday, but ok. 

Socrates (real, but also in Plato)

  • Caused a bit of a commotion in that Zoom town hall with the dean. The man is a master of the art of the comment-phrased-as-question. 

  • Made a will. It just says, “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Pay it and do not neglect it.”

Virgil (real, but also in The Divine Comedy)


  • Did someone call for a guide through hell???

Friday, August 7, 2020

On the Fidelity of Adaptations: When the Movie Changes the Ending

Recently watching the new Emma (it was good; you should see it) and reading Far from the Madding Crowd (the 2015 film adaptation is good; you should see it) got me reflecting a bit on film adaptations. Now, you may assume, dear reader, that I’m one of those purists who thinks the book is always better than the movie, but you’d be wrong. Well, half wrong. I only usually think the book is better than the movie (but probably because I just prefer reading to watching as an experience). I’m not a film expert by any means, but for me as a reader, successful movies based on great books make artistic choices that highlight the most compelling elements of the book (be they plot, character, themes, etc.). However, every now and then a director, screenwriter, actor, or all of the above takes a big gamble and drives the story off-road. So today I’d like to discuss a few film adaptations that truly took a road less traveled by actually changing the ending.

Yes, spoilers will abound. But you’ve probably seen these movies anyways.

The Shining (1980), Stanley Kubrick

The Book: 

Though one of Stephen King’s earlier works relatively speaking, the horror legend had already made a name for himself with his 1974 Carrie and its 1976 film adaptation when he published The Shining in 1977. It was Kubrick’s film and Jack Nicholson’s performance, however, that would make Jack Torrance haunt our nightmares. 

You know the story. Writer Jack Torrance takes a seasonal job at the isolated Overlook Hotel as caretaker over the winter, while the hotel is closed and virtually inaccessible. He moves in with his wife, Wendy, and psychic son Danny. And then...well, it is a horror story. 

The Gamble: 

The actual change in the ending is less significant in this one than a shift in focus. In the book, Wendy and Danny are rescued from a homicidal Jack by psychic chef Dick Hallorann. The Overlook burns down with Jack inside. In the movie, the hotel survives intact but poor Dick does not, and Wendy and Danny escape alone. 

But if there’s one thing you remember about this movie, it’s probably not that the hotel remains standing, or even Dick’s rather unceremonious murder. It’s probably Jack Nicholson’s eyebrows. 
Sure, those twins in the hallway and that lady in the bathtub and the tide of blood were all pretty freaky, too, but in the movie Jack himself is at least as terrifying as the ghosts that are possessing him. Frankly, Kubrick leaves us to guess to what extent the Overlook even is possessing Jack and to what extent we’re simply watching him devolve into a psychopathy foreshadowed from his first appearance. 

King’s Jack Torrance is more a victim of malevolent forces than he is their embodiment. The spirits of the Overlook first attempt to possess Danny for his gift, then move on to Jack when they are unsuccessful. Jack’s descent is a gradual fight for his sanity. He’s not a psychopath; he’s a tragic figure overcome by evil. His fiery death represents a final, dramatic loss of control, in stark contrast with his freezing death in the film. 

The Verdict: 

Well, there’s one viewer who gave Kubrick’s adaptation a decided thumbs down: Stephen King. The author bemoaned Nicholson’s Torrance as a flat character who never truly struggles to save his sanity and Shelley Duvall’s Wendy as a misogynistic caricature. 

Myself, I see King’s point. I think he’s right about Wendy at the very least, and I even see his point about Jack. But as much as I enjoy reading King, I’ve never found his strength to be psychological realism. I like King’s books because of the way he builds tension. His stories start calmly and careen towards their conclusions with a momentum that sometimes even leads him to inelegant endings bordering on the ridiculous (see: Pet Sematary), but boy, was the ride that got us there fun. 

The Shining is an excellent example of King doing what he’s best at: dialing up the terror bit by bit until it explodes. The thing is, that’s exactly what Kubrick captures in his film adaptation. King does it from within Jack’s mind, and Kubrick does it from the outside. King has us experience the evil of the Overlook with Jack, whereas Kubrick makes Jack himself a source of that evil. Both work. 

The Conformist (1970), Bernardo Bertolucci 

The Book: 

Alberto Moravia’s Il conformista (1951) came at a strange moment in Italian history and art. After two decades of fascist dictatorship followed by a world war, the allied invasion, and a civil war, Italy was rebuilding politically and economically. Moravia himself had faced censorship under the regime both for the content of his work and for his Jewish heritage. Though neorealism now dominates discussion of postwar Italian literature and cinema, Moravia’s work was surreal, psychoanalytical, and dense with symbolism. 

The novel follows a fascist bureaucrat, Marcello, who wants nothing more than to be “normal” (a conformist, get it?), even at the cost of suppressing his own desires and inclinations. The prologue opens with a child Marcello killing lizards for sport. It goes on to narrate his abduction, near-assault, and shooting of his would-be abuser, a stranger named Lino. The rest of the novel narrates perhaps an even stranger scenario: Marcello is grown-up and on his honeymoon in Paris, where he is to find and kill his former professor, Quadri, now an antifascist dissident. But wait, there’s more: Marcello’s mission becomes even messier when he develops an intense attraction to Quadri’s wife, Lina (called Anna in the movie), an attraction made even more complicated by Lina’s attempted seduction of Marcello’s own bride, Giulia. 

The Gamble: 

In both book and movie, the story ends several years later. Marcello has achieved what he has always wanted, an outwardly unremarkable life as a paper pusher, husband, and father, when the regime falls and Marcello is faced with a probable reckoning for his own culpability in the deaths of Quadri and Lina/Anna. And in both, he has an unexpected encounter with Lino, who, as it turns out, is not dead. Now, in the book this encounter takes place in secluded woods, and what follows is a conversation about the loss of innocence. Later, Marcello and his wife and daughter are caught in an air raid as they flee Rome. The reader can presume that Marcello dies. 

In the movie, Marcello happens upon Lino in a public park, and they don’t have a conversation that leads to any insight or clarity regarding Marcello’s character. Rather, Marcello makes a scene, calling the attention of passerby to Lino—the man he thought he himself had killed, remember—and accuses him of having killed Quadri and Anna. He then frantically turns on his friend, Italo, denouncing him, too, as a fascist. 

The Verdict:

I have long felt that Moravia’s The Conformist and Bertolucci’s are essentially about two different things. That is, both are about the period of Italian history lived by their creators, but those periods are different. Moravia lived both decades of the regime as an adult, while Bertolucci was a toddler when Mussolini was driven from Rome. It’s a no-brainer to read the novel as a reflection on Italy’s recent, dark past. Drawing on psychoanalysis, Moravia seeks to show how the people around him transformed their secret sins and desires (Lino and Lina couldn’t possibly have almost the same name by coincidence) into the most cold-blooded of crimes.

However, I do not believe that Bertolucci’s film is ultimately about fascism. Rather, it’s about the struggle for power and political identity that followed it. Bertolucci’s Marcello never reckons with any of the violence of his past. Rather, he buries it under others in a chaotic conclusion that comes on fast enough to leave you wondering what happened. At the time when the film was made, a country that had still not fully confronted its fascist past was just bubbling over into what would become the more than a decade of violence known as the “years of lead” or anni di piombo. Lingering fascism was about to show itself in domestic terrorism, and in fact recently had with the Piazza Fontana bombing, with a fallout that makes the JFK assassination look straightforward. It’s easy to imagine that Marcello’s desperate and facile yet successful lies would have resonated with viewers in 1970, who had just months earlier watched police scramble to accuse, kill, and cover up the death of an unlikely suspect in a horrific crime.

So, which is it? While the movie is stylistically stunning and its frenzied ending a powerful expression on the anxieties of its own time, I personally am ultimately more compelled by Moravia’s struggle to understand fascism. The power structure he portrays is deeper and more sinister and his examination of it is more committed, even if to a modern reader the psychoanalytic understanding may fall flat.

Jurassic Park (1993), Steven Spielberg

The Book:

 In 1990 Michael Crichton wrote a very decent science fiction novel that would go on to inspire the greatest movie ever made (don’t fight me on this one; I will die on this hill). You know the story: billionaire John Hammond and a very secretive team of scientists have managed to clone dinosaurs, and he’s about to open a theme park to showcase them. That goes about as well as you would expect. Our favs are all there: paleontologist Alan Grant, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, and, of course, chaos theorist Ian Malcolm.

The Gamble:

The film changes the opening but otherwise follows the first half of the book quite closely and then veers gloriously off the rails. After that, the book plot involves a second power outage, wild raptor eggs, a river rafting experience (in which Universal Studios clearly saw the park ride potential), and rather more major character deaths than in the movie. The movie sticks with a more straightforward building of tension and keeps enough main characters alive to keep from scarring its younger viewers for life. 

If I could sum up the main differences at the end of the day, they would fall into two categories: the deaths and the dinosaurs. Crichton spares few characters in the book. Grant and Sattler escape with the children, and pretty much everyone else gets eaten by something or other, including Hammond, lead scientist Dr. Wu, and—most tragically—everyone’s favorite chaos theorist. Crichton even kills a T. rex. As for the dinosaurs, the book’s story is largely driven by the small and chaotic Procompsognathus, whereas the movie focuses its attention on the vicious Velociraptor. (I’d suggest that kids’ pronunciation may have been a motive for this change, but who am I kidding? Children who can’t pronounce their own names can rattle off six-syllable dinosaur appellations like they learned them in the womb.)

The Verdict:

I think I’ve already made my bias clear here. The book is fine. It’s good. Had Spielberg never adapted it, it would now probably be a cult classic of sci-fi horror. But the movie is a masterpiece. Come on, don’t you remember how you felt when you first saw the T. rex? After all the allusions, after the ominous footsteps, after watching that glass of water tremble on that dashboard?
The lead-up fully prepared you to be terrified, and damn if that scene didn’t deliver. I don’t think the differences in deaths made the difference, either. Surely the producers saw the sequel potential and found it advantageous to rescue the park’s creator, its lead scientist, and Jeff Goldblum. But they could have killed them and still made the best movie ever. The choice to downplay the Procompsognathus is more interesting. The movie does not set the scene with the little rogue dino-demons wreaking suspicious havoc. Rather, the movie withholds our first full dino sighting until it has properly set the stage, and then it goes big. However, in a way the movie does with the Velociraptor what the book does with the Procompsognathus. It takes a dinosaur no one had heard of (unless you watched Dino Riders) and made it the stuff of nightmares (with certain liberties). The Velociraptors are certainly a dangerous presence in the books, as well, but in the movie they climb from an ominous verbal description early on to a starring role in that scene that made you jump every time someone turned a doorknob for weeks.

So, while I generally prefer the experience of reading, I hope I’ve made a compelling argument for evaluating film adaptations on what they accomplish rather than pure fidelity. What do you think? What other film adaptations have made discussion-worthy choices? I’d love to hear your take in the comments (unless it’s an anti-Jurassic Park take; such heresy will not be tolerated).

Friday, July 24, 2020

Guess These (Almost) Universally-Beloved Books by Their 1-star Reviews

You can’t please everybody. Even if you’re Shakespeare. See if you can guess whose manager these unhappy customers want to speak to.

The book cover collage above will serve as your “word bank.” Each cover pictured here is one of the books described below, so you just have to figure out which is which. Answers and commentary at the bottom.

It should go without saying that these reviews do not reflect the views of this author.

Let's begin.

1. “This was worse than a textbook. This was a textbook that came with the annoying, opinionated professor built in! [...] This book is so bad it has two epilogues. That right there should be warning enough to you to stay far, far away from [title]. I wish I had never picked this up. I am an angrier, more cynical person for it. If [author] wasn't already dead, I would wish him so.” (Goodreads review)

2. “Though I know, logically, that he [main character] really is in a pretty awful situation, it's really hard to feel bad for him when all he does is whine. The plain truth is that there are plenty of non-fictional people who have dealt with more difficult things with much less complaining. [...] It did get easier to bear once he started pretending to be crazy, though.” (Goodreads review)

3. “I give this book as a gift to people I hate.” (Goodreads review)

4. “Ok...this guy needed help…” (Goodreads review)

5. “It's an awful and depressing story with no redeeming qualities. And don't forget the drunk driving! Pfft.” (Amazon review)

6. “There is no conflict in this book. There's no personality. There's nothing interesting that compels me to read more. [...] As soon as I am done with this sorry excuse for a book, I am either going to tend to my fireplace using the pages as kindling or stash this book in the far corners of my basement where it will live out the rest of its days in darkness..” (Goodreads review)

7. "I read the first few pages and they weren't too bad then I was listening to the audio version & kept rewinding b/c I thought I wasn't getting it b/c it was weird so I went back to reading it, well it was still too weird for me." (Goodreads review)

8. “Instead of reading this book, drink vodka in a dark room and think depressing thoughts. That will give you about the same experience and you'll have a better time.” (Goodreads review)

9. “For several pages a lady remarks to a man about what wonderful handwriting he has. Not exactly gripping material.” (Goodreads review)

10. “Then there are all those epic mandudes doing long-winded yet epic mandude things at an excruciating pace.” (Goodreads review)

11. “Why must this book be so vomitous? It even starts off in this fashion - let us give our dinner to the poor, because we are so wonderful! Fuck off. Just... fuck off.” (Goodreads review)

12. “Symbolism, symbolism, symbolism, but no story, story, story.” (Goodreads review)


1. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. Geeze, what did Tolstoy ever do to you.
2. Hamlet, William Shakespeare. Um, “pretending”?
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison. Reviewer, let’s become frenemies.
4. The Complete Stories of Poems of Edgar Allen Poe. Ok, this one is not incorrect.
5. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I guess you stopped at the drunk driving and didn’t even get to the murder.
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. No conflict? Did we read the same book?
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez. I feel like "Too weird for me" should be one of the reviewer quotations they put on the back cover.
8. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I’m guessing this person won’t be checking out The Brothers Karamazov, then?
9. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. Look, whomst among us, ok?
10. The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien. I love this book, but I don’t think I can refute that.
11. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Ok, first of all, it was their breakfast.
12. The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison. I mean, did you think he was going to be literally invisible? (If so, I guess you might try the H. G. Wells.)

So, how'd you do?

Friday, July 10, 2020

Quiz: Which Ferrante Man Is Your 2020 Personality?

It feels like it’s time for an Elena Ferrante post, as we await the English language release of her new book. (I'm one of the assholes who has already read it. If you’re looking for the tl;dr review: It’s good, and fans of the Neapolitan Novels will enjoy it, but the series is better.) So let's have some fun with this: the men of Ferrante. We love them, we hate them, we probably mostly love to hate them. If you're a straight woman, you feel like you've met most of them and dated half of them. (Don't lie; you've def dated a Nino.) But as 2020 slowly encroaches on your sanity, I have the answer to the question you've never asked: which of them ARE you?

Let's get started, shall we?

1. So. How’s quarantine with your family going?

A. Fine, I mostly just focus on my work.
B. They can be a lot sometimes, but I love them.
C. Eh, at least I have places to go when I get sick of them.
D. Like, the legal one or the secret one?

2. Would you break quarantine for a lover?

A. No, I’m far too busy for that.
B. There’s only one person I’d break quarantine for, and they’re right here with me. <3
C. Lol yes
D. For the right one, I’d break a lot more than quarantine.

3. Have you been masking up and following all social distancing guidelines?

A. Yes, of course.
B. Anything to protect those I love.
C. Yes, mostly, except for when I need to, like, smile winningly at someone.
D. Rules don’t apply to me.

4. Have you been to a protest?

A. No, but I donated and wrote an article in support of the cause.
B. A few with my partner.
C. Haven’t you seen my protest selfies?
D. Nah I don’t care about anyone lol

5. So, this year’s been rough. How are you holding up?

A. Why, is something going on?
B. Just trying to be supportive to the people I care about
C. It’s not my best year, but I tend to land on my feet.
D. Why, what have you heard? You ask a lot of questions.

6. How are you passing the time at home?

A. In my office, mostly.
B. Spending quality time with my partner and learning a new skill.
C. Sex. Also instagram.
D. Hatching devious plans.

7. Are you homeschooling your kids? How’s that going? (Or how would it be going if you had them?)

A. My partner is taking care of it, I think.
B. Yes, and providing fun coloring pages to help them learn fractions.
C. Which ones? Idk, they’ll figure it out. I’m busy.
D. Lol no.

8. Pick a mask.




D. Idc, I’m gonna be one of those assholes who complains about it and takes it off.


Mostly As: Pietro Airota

You’re hardworking and serious. But all work and no play makes Pietro kind of rough to quarantine with, tbh. Live a little. Watch a movie with your wife or something.

Mostly Bs: Enzo Scanno

The quarantine buddy everyone dreams of: loving, supportive, and with, like, a sexy curl that falls seductively just above your intense and smoldering eyes.

Mostly Cs: Nino Sarratore

Quarantine is cramping your style; you only have like half as many lovers as usual. You’re dealing with this loss by posting lots of selfies and pseudo-intellectual content on social media for your adoring fans. You count the likes.

Mostly Ds: Michele Solara

*shakes head* I don't know what to tell you.

Friday, June 26, 2020

What Plague Literature Has Taught Me About Surviving 2020

There are two kinds of readers in a pandemic: those who seek escape from our plague-ridden reality and those who reach straight for Camus. I regret to inform you that I am kind of the second kind. So I thought I'd share with you what Camus and company might have to tell us if they were alive today. Ok, fine, several of these authors ARE alive today and I'm sure someone's asked them. They've probably even tweeted about it. But that's ok; have a little fun with me anyways. If we don't laugh, we'll cry.

The Plague, Albert Camus

  • Enact mass quarantine, but leave the opera house open.
  • Doctors keep very thorough diaries.
  • Maybe the plague is an allegory or maybe THE ACTUAL F***IN PLAGUE IS BAD ENOUGH WITHOUT ALSO BEING ABOUT WAR OR NAZIS, OK?

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio

  • The best way to survive is simply to have enough money to wait it out in your country villa with nine of your best friends while the whole thing blows over.
  • If this plan fails because you cannot afford to procure a country villa, try to become one of the nine best friends of someone who can.
  • Invent a new game to pass the time.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

  • We’ve been afraid of the wrong Shakespeare play all along. It’s King Lear, not Macbeth.
  • And while we’re at it, theater’s going to be big in the future.
  • Airports can be repurposed.
  • Avoid cults.

The Stand, Stephen King

  • What did I TELL you about cults?!

Zone One, Colson Whitehead

  • They will have to invent new terms for the way this shit will mess with us.
  • Look, at least no one’s UNdead yet.

The Last Man, Mary Shelley

  • The end of the 21st century will have basically the same social structures and customs as the beginning of the 19th.
  • If you must die dramatically, do it on a Greek island.

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

  • This all may just be a dramatic backdrop to your love story. So get back on Tinder. And swipe right A LOT.

That's all for now, folks. Don't forget to wear your mask. Or, better yet, stay home and read if you can. What are your favorites of plague literature?

Friday, June 12, 2020

Quiz: Which Literary Fairy Tale Should You Read During Quarantine?

A guest post by Krista Rodkey

Note from Aunt Mary: Today I'm thrilled to bring you a guest post by a dear and talented friend. Krista wrote this fun quiz last month and I had it scheduled for posting last week, but decided it was not the right moment for the lighthearted mood and invited a discussion on the facebook page instead. This week I've decided to get back to scheduled posts. I enjoyed this quiz very much and hope you do, too; I had not read any of these, so now I have some fun new books to enjoy as (some degree of) quarantine continues! Without further ado, enjoy.

By following Aunt Mary’s instructions you have already found out which 19th century classic tome and which modern brick you ought to be reading while in quarantine. But let’s be honest—the world is falling apart and you’d rather read something short, happy, and maybe a little bit escapist. True? Yep, so let’s find out which literary fairy-tale fits your mood.

1. You want our story to take place in…

A. Phantasmorania when Oberon was king of the fairies
B. The kingdom of Lagobel so long ago I have forgotten the date
C. The Grand Ducal house of Fugger-Babenhausen one hundred and twenty years ago
D. An unspecified Germanic kingdom in the 1890s
E. Euralia during its charming golden period so diligently chronicled by Sir Roger Scurvilegs

2. Should there be magic?

A. A little, but good advice and hard work is more useful
B. Magic sounds delightful
C. The magic hour is the best time to stealth-paint portraits
D. Only the magic of mathematics and true love—but you can have a prophecy so long as it is fulfilled naturalistically
E. Yes, give me invisibility cloaks, seven-league boots, magic rings, enchantments, the works!

3. Are you tired of christenings?

A. Never—that’s classic.
B. I’ll bet half the kingdom the king forgets to invite his own sister.
C. Like the kind of christening where you hope the archbishop’s eyesight is dodgy? I love it.
D. I’m down for a darker take on the christening—what if something is wrong with the baby?
E. Skip!

4. How do you feel about unusual health conditions?

A. Actually, perfect health was one of my christening gifts.
B. I’ll call in all my court metaphysicians and make a thousand puns about it.
C. Like, rosacea?
D. Let’s explore physical disability and the psychologically crippling effects of royal life.
E. Finding the right diet for your health condition is paramount—and surprisingly tricky if you have the, er, delicate apparatus of a lion.

5. What’s your favorite flower?

A. Lavenders blue, dilly dilly
B. Dandelions, but just the fluff
C. The slim, white lily
D. An ancient breed of roses that have smelled only of decay for a hundred years
E. Hyacinths

6. What’s your favorite color?

A. Amethyst
B. Gold
C. A sharp, steel-bright white
D. The color of crushed dreams
E. I wear green when the muse is upon me.

7. Are you hungry?

A. Bring me peacock, boar’s head, and an Italian cake so tall you need a ladder.
B. Give me wine and food by your own hand.
C. I am nourished by my sense of honor.
D. No food for the tortured soul, thanks.
E. Watercress sandwiches don’t suit the tail but they go with the ears.

8. How much forest do you need?

A. Give me all the moss, ferns, and flowers of the Forest of Faraway.
B. I hope the forest has lakes for semi-nude bathing.
C. You said there was a lake for nude bathing? Please make sure there is also space for military exercises.
D. I’m dying for an ecological side-plot about leaf mold.
E. Sometimes one tree where you go to be thoughtful is just as good.

9. Do you like poetry?

A. “Lavenders blue, rosemary green, when you are king, I will be queen”
B. I don’t mind a few incidental songs.
C. No poems, thanks.
D. Not really, but you can quote a line from The Magic Flute.
E. I’m a slave to light verse.

10. Do you like animals?

A. I like a variety of forest creatures.
B. No, thanks.
C. I’ll exercise the horses for you.
D. Pheasants, please.
E. The lion, the woolly lamb, the rabbit, anything strokeable.

11. What about letters?

A. Don’t read them to me, but tell me how many servants it took to address them all.
B. No letters, please.
C. I write long letters about art and seduction to my best friend, the countess.
D. I keep my feelings locked within—it saves postage.
E. I’m ready to write a Stiff Note to anyone who disturbs my breakfast.

12. How do you feel about undress?

A. Sitting by the window in a petticoat! Scandal!
B. Time to swim in my nightdress!
C. Who needs clothes?
D. I wear extra-long sleeves to cover my deformed hand.
E. I keep my clothes on, thank you….and I look fabulous.

13. How much do you want to hear about castle servants?

A. Lots! Who takes home party leftovers? How do kitchen maids feel about extra washing up?
B. I’m ready for the adventures of John, Susan, Jane, and Thomas.
C. Tell me all the gamekeeper’s son-in-law’s old grudges!
D. I could hear about one or two faithful retainers if it is relevant to the plot.
E. Only if it is funny; tell me of Wiggs dusting the throne and the Chancellor getting kicked seven leagues!

14. Your idea of a princess is...

A. Gray eyed, freckled, with a propensity for climbing down wisteria vines
B. Gorgeous and a total psychopath
C. I’m more interested in her Valkyrie-like maid of honor
D. A biracial American heiress who loves math
E. Polite, intelligent, and secretly mischievous in a small way

15. What about a prince?

A. Princes are tiresome. Is there a man-of-all-work I could date instead?
B. He is unfailingly polite no matter how dire the circumstance.
C. He’s a good chess player, but I have a prior engagement to my childhood friend.
D. He’s sensitive and damaged, but able to summon courage to pursue love and his country’s good.
E. I’m not keen on the name Udo; is his best friend available?

16. What sort of problems should your protagonists face?

A. Threat of engineered dragon-abduction, dirty dishes, tailoring
B. Physical and psychological in-firm-ity (a problem of real gravity)
C. A seduction plot and a kidnapped baby
D. The conflict between court aloofness the intimacy required by friendship and love. Also, national bankruptcy
E. A humorous bewitchment. War with Barodia! Also, embezzlement of the army budget to fund calisthenics and the fine arts

17. What’s your favorite weird motivation?

A. My motivations are weirdly ordinary.
B. The kind of boredom that makes you sail a baby like a kite
C. Obsession with the idea of making someone blush like the Alps in sunset
D. Aversion to dances through having been mocked at one as a child
E. Addiction to throwing largess

18. What do you consider the height of romance?

A. Ditching work to eat leftover ice cream late at night
B. Banter and physical contact in the swimming pool
C. Looking magnificent, saving your country, and forbidding your loved one to think of you
D. Engineering an economic bailout of your country together
E. Dropping pebbles in the stream with a thoughtful air

19. Should anyone/thing die?

A. No deaths, thanks.
B. If they do I’ll laugh like a hyena.
C. No, but please have ghost jokes about the fate of Abelard.
D. Anyone who can’t bear happy endings will be forced to commit suicide.
E. Death to bad facial hair!

20. Should there be pictures?

A. Yes—the author’s own beautiful illustrations

B. I’ll take a ballet version.
C. Yes, please have Herr Cazotte paint them.
D. I can picture it in my mind, thanks.
E. Like this??


What you should read if you got…

Mostly As: The Ordinary Princess (M.M. Kaye)

Prepare to enjoy M.M. Kaye’s delightful novelette of a princess whose curse (or gift) is to be ordinary. Climb down the wisteria vine and find true love with the handsome young man-of-all-work who is ready to picnic in the forest on his day off.

Mostly Bs: The Light Princess (George Macdonald)

What is to be done with a princess who has lost her gravity? Read this beautiful and whimsical tale of a floating (and unsettlingly cheerful) princess to find out. Macdonald explores his premise with a light touch, devastating (if humorous) logic, and ALL THE PUNS!

This one is in the public domain and available for free in ebook and audiobook.

Mostly Cs: Ehrengard (Isak Dineson/Karen Blixen)

Will Herr Cazotte succeed in his plot to make Ehrengaard, the general’s stalwart and no-nonsense daughter blush? And can the Ducal House of Fugger Babenhause keep its delicately timed royal pregnancy secret and safe? The last story by Dineson, author of Babette’s Feast and Out of Africa and one of her finest. It is considered her response to Kierkegaard’s A Seducer’s Diary.

Mostly Ds: Royal Highness (Thomas Mann)

The author who brought you plague-classic Death in Venice and tuberculosis-classic The Magic Mountain tries his hand at a naturalistic fairy tale. Will the crippled prince be able to overcome the toxic ideas of royalty that make love impossible? Only if he suffers first… but then it wouldn’t be a proper Thomas Mann novel if there weren’t some suffering!

This one is in the public domain and available for free in ebook and audiobook.

Mostly Es: Once on a Time (A.A. Milne)

Put on a green dress, dust off your diary, and mend your feather pens because after you read Milne’s favorite of his works you will be writing sonnets in praise of Countess Belvane! Never mind that she is the ‘villain’ of the tale. Also, prepare to enjoy breakfast-etiquette spats between Eurelia and Barodia, the discomfiture of Prince Udo, a lovely, understated romance, and Wiggs’ longing to dance like a fairy.

This one is in the public domain and available for free in ebook and audiobook.