Friday Book Club and the Weird Life of Edgar Allan Poe

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to Friday Book Club!  Every month we’ll be focusing on a particular book and author, and will have a post about this book for the first three Fridays of the month.  This month we’ll be looking at the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe.  If you live in the Sacramento Area, you can meet up with the Book Club crowd in person at Arden Dimick Library, at 2PM on September 22nd.  Meanwhile, leave your comments as Book Club goes virtual!

Poe’s life was almost as bizarre as his writings.  Here’s some things to ponder:

Poe’s family was plagued by consumption.

Many of Poe’s books feature a character, usually a woman, who gradually grows pale and thin and then dies young.  This is not a coincidence.  Poe’s mother died when he was only two years old, from consumption.  His foster mother died when he was an adult – from consumption.  His wife died from consumption at the age of 24, which is the same age at which Poe’s mother had died.  It seems likely that his brother also died from consumption, as did two other lovers.


Poe had a strange marriage and an active love life.

Poe married his first cousin, Virginia, when she was 13 (or possibly 14) and he was 27.  He told several people that they did not consummate the marriage for the first two years.  Some biographers speculate that they never consummated the marriage at all, claiming that the “maiden” Annabel Lee refers to Virginia.  While Virginia was alive, Poe became friends with Frances Sargent Osgood.  A mutual frenemy, Elizabeth Ellet, claimed that Poe and Frances were having an affair, which caused horrible distress to Virginia. The fallout from Elizabeth’s accusation included Poe buying a gun for self-defense and getting in a fist fight.

After Virginia’s death, Poe pursued a relationship with Sarah Helen Whitman, but she eventually broke it off because of his erratic behavior and drinking.  He then courted his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster.  They had been seriously involved when they were teens, but her father disapproved of them marrying.  Poe renewed his relationship with Sarah one year before he died, and his death occurred before they could be married.



Poe achieved fame during his lifetime, but not riches.

Everybody loved “The Raven”.  Nobody paid much for it.  He died well-known and popular, but poor.



Want to know how Poe died?  So does everyone else!

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found delirious, in the streets of Baltimore, dressed in what seem to have been another man’s clothes.  He died in the hospital on October 7th.  No one knows how he ended up in that condition, what his final days were like, or what caused his death.  Got a theory?  Over the years theories have included:

  • consumption (of course)
  • alcoholism
  • rabies
  • cooping (click on the link for a definition)
  • cholera
  • murder
  • suicide

Next week:  I tackle ‘Ligeia’, one of Poe’s strangest short stories.  See you then!

My sources about Poe come from all over the Internet, but you might enjoy the following sites:  My Wordly ObsessionsMental Floss, and the ever reliable Wikipedia (if it says it on Wikipedia, it must be true).

Review: Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey

It’s my great honor to kick off my book reviewing features with a thoughtful analysis of the most frequently challenged book of 2012 (according to the just-released list of 2012’s challenged books by the American Library Association).  Ladies and Gentlemen I give you…CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS!

Captain Underpants

My Hero!

The Captain Underpants series tells the stories of George and Harold, two boys who (sort-of accidentally) have caused their principal to turn into the super hero “Captain Underpants” whenever anyone snaps their fingers in his presence.  Their adventures are endlessly convoluted and hilarious and yes, pretty gross.  I’ve been a huge fan of the series ever since my daughter got her first Captain Underpants as a prize from the library, and for the first time, but not the last, got in trouble for secretly trying to stay up all night to read.  It was a proud moment at our house, I tell you.

This website will generally focus on books that involve some mix of science fiction, fantasy, or other geeky goodness, and romance.  Just to be clear, there’s no romance in Captain Underpants.  Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants promises romance on the cover but immediately adds (“Just Kidding”).  There sure is a lot of geeky goodness, though.  The most recent installment, Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-boxers included the following elements:  time travel, a pet pterodactyl, a robotic hamster, an explanation for the extinction of dinosaurs, the Big Bang, and the Ice Age, clones, and a giant squid.  Top that.

Captain Underpants is justly famous for its potty humor, but it’s a very clever series.  It contains all kinds of wacky fun and some surprisingly sharp satire, as when Mr. Krupp spends some time in prison and discovers that it is remarkably similar to elementary school but with a bigger budget (Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers).  George and Harold make fun of adults, but they make sure that no one gets hurt, and one of the messages of the books is that teasing people can make them evil – so don’t.

How I love Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds) with its villainesses, Zorx, Klax, and Jennifer.  If this doesn’t make you laugh, your soul is dead:

“And where did that super evil rapidly growing dandelion come from?”  asked Captain Underpants.

George and Harold gasped.  They looked at each other with the sudden panicked realization that only children who have created a giant mutated garden nuisance would know.

Here’s what gets me:  the reasons listed for challenging the Underpants series are:  “Offensive language, unsuited for age group”.  I hope I’ve made it clear that the Underpants series is more than poop jokes.  But seriously, this is a series in which an entire book revolves around people being eaten by talking toilets (The Attack of the Talking Toilets, natch).  What audience would anyone think this series is appropriate for?  Here’s a tip – kids love potty humor.  Adults (usually, OK, sometimes) don’t.  When I think of a target audience for a book about wedgies, I don’t think “CEO of a major corporation”, although that would explain a lot about the state of finances today.  No, I think:  “Ages 5 – 10”.  I did ask my handy nine-year-old consultant if she thought these books encourage her to disobey and disrespect adults and she said, and I quote, “They encourage me to disobey adults that are evil and crazy”.  Sounds fair to me.

Dav Pilkey is no stranger to the most frequently challenged books list.  However, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first year that he’s made the top of the list.  Congratulations Dav!  You’re number one!  You have joined the ranks of some amazing books, including To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and The Lord of the Rings.  May your underpants always remain soft and cottony and free from the evils of starch.  Thanks for turning my kid into a reader!

Library Quotes from Science Fiction and Fantasy

It’s library week here at Geek Girl In Love, and here’s ten quotes about libraries in science fiction and fantasy.  I meant to make this a list of quotes by fictional characters, but the authors had such great things to say in their own voices that I let them have a say, too.

1. “She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people.”

Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

2. “I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a

Ray Bradbury and cat

Ray Bradbury

six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.”

– Ray Bradbury

3. “Rule number one: Don’t fuck with librarians.”

Neil Gaiman

4. “Interlibrary loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.”

book cover

Among Others

Jo Walton, Among Others

5. “I was a hugely unchaperoned reader, and I would wander into my local public library and there sat the world, waiting for me to look at it, to find out about it, to discover who I might be inside it.”

Patrick Ness

6. “…bookstores, libraries… they’re the closest thing I have to a church.”

Jim C. Hines, Libriomancer

7. “We are the only species on the planet, so far as we know, to have invented a communal memory stored neither in our genes nor in our brains. The warehouse of this memory is called the library”

Carl Sagan

8. “Once again I’m banished to the demon section of the card catalog.”

Willow and giles

“If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um… smelly.”

– Willow, Buffy The Vampire Slayer

9. “The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned by no later than the date shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.”

– Terry Pratchett, Guards, Guards

10.  And the most Badassas of them all:

“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner,

Let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him.

Let him be struck with palsy and all his members blasted.

Let him languish in pain crying out for mercy,

Let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink in dissolution.

Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the worm that dieth not.

When at last he goeth to his final punishment,

Let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books

Soooo…okay then.  I guess I better go turn in that overdue book that I just found under the couch.  Thanks to Good Reads for the quotes!

Happy National Library Week

Happy Monday, Geeks!  This week is National Library Week.  In honor of the occasion, here’s a list of ten free services and programs that you might not expect to find at the Sacramento Public Library (but you will).  I’m guessing that your library offers similar services – what’s your favorite?  What’s the most unexpected?

1.  Fitness classes:  Heavy Metal Yoga?  Punk Rock Aerobics?  Tae Kwon Do?  Yoga for Kids?  There’s an awful lot of activity happening in the stacks, these days.  Darn you, skinny people, keep it down, I’m trying to read!

2.  Ebooks, Ereaders, and laptops:  Not only can you check out eBooks now, you can check out an eReader to read your book on.  You can check out a laptop if you want one.  No fully functioning TARDIS’s available, though.

3.  CDs:  Thanks to the library, I haven’t bought a new CD in years.

4.  DVDs:  As long as you don’t crave instant access to new releases, the library is a great source for free TV shows, movies, and documentaries.  Recently I checked out Community Season 3 and Chronicle.  Unlike Redbox, I get to keep the DVD for three weeks – more, if no one is behind me in the hold line.

5.  Audiobooks on CD and Mp3 player:  You may notice that I’m very excited about free entertainment.  My daughter loves listening to audiobooks in the car and we go through a new one about once every other week.

6.  Advice on:  How to invest for retirement, how to speak Swahili, how to fix your car, how to fill out legal forms, what to ask your doctor, how to find out who your ancestors are…if you want to know about it, they probably have it here.

7.  Sensory storytimes for autistic children.  we all remember story time, right?  Well, they still have that – for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, but now they’ve added special programs to meet special needs.

8.  Classes and Events:  Here’s some random titles of free classes and events held in various Sacramento Library branches recently: Bad Art Night, Magna Cafe, Knitting and Nattering, Family Movie Night, Classic Movie Night, Introduction to Excel, Teen Poetry Competition, eBook Help, One-on-One Job Coach Assistance, Persian Book Club, Lego Madness…now my fingers are tired.

9.  Adult Literacy:  A lot of people expect a library to have literacy programs, but you may not know that the Sacramento Public Library offers the only basic literacy program for adults in Sacramento.  There are several other Adult Education organizations in the area, but they tend to focus on things like helping people pass a high school equivalency exam.  If you want to learn to read from scratch, you’ll need the library’s help.  For more information about adult literacy programs in Sacramento, click here.

10.  Geeky Joy:  For example:  Zombie Scavenger Hunt, Haunted Stacks, Edgar Allen Poe Film Project, How to Write Using the Tengwar Alphabet, Mad Science, Science Fiction Book Club.  This is Geek Central. On top of all this, the library does a damn fine job of fulfilling its original purpose – loaning people books.   So, whether your librarian is handing you a free book to read today, teaching the aerobics, or fighting crime with a secret identity, tell them “Thank You” this week.