Monday, October 17, 2011

Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway Is the Perfect Gift for Book Lovers and English Teachers

One of my weaknesses is books about books. Not necessarily literary criticism, although I sometimes enjoy that, as well. But what I really like is books about authors and their writing. I own several literary-minded cookbooks, both by authors and compilation cookbooks that relate recipes to specific stories or characters. (I can think of The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Patricia Cornwell's Food to Die For and Adriana Trigiani's Cooking with My Sisters off the top of my head.)  I also like travel books that feature literary locations (such as Scarlett Slept Here by Joy Dickenson), as well as other more general books.

Celia Blue Johnson's Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway: Stories of the Inspiration Behind Great Works of Literature fits perfectly into this niche because it is a book about books -- specifically their backgrounds. In her new book, Johnson tells the story behind the stories, from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven."

The wonderful thing about Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway is that it can be used in a myriad of ways. For book lovers who would like to browse, the book is laid out perfectly. Johnson organizes the stories perfectly so that browsing is easy. The table of contents lists books by title in sections that connect the background stories to one another. For example, authors who began great works by first telling them aloud are collected in the "In the Telling" section.

Dickens' pet raven Grip
I had great fun simply browsing Johnson's book and reading whatever caught my fancy at the moment. I didn't read the entire book from cover to cover; instead, I read those chapters that described the background of books I had read and enjoyed. I learned via Johnson that Poe's raven was inspired by Charles Dickens' actual pet raven Grip, which he later had stuffed. (The bird can still be visited in the Rare Books department of the Philadelphia Free Library.) I also learned that L. Frank Baum named his land Oz after looking at drawers labeled alphabetically (the O - Z drawer, of course).

As an English teacher, this book holds a special place in my heart, as I can think of a million ways to use it in my classroom. My students and I will be reading and learning about Edgar Allen Poe in the next couple of weeks leading up to Halloween, and I am planning to read the chapter about him to them as extra background information.

Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway is the perfect book for any book lover, especially with the holidays quickly approaching. Reading and English teachers will also appreciate this book for the little something extra it can add to their lessons.

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