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Posts Tagged ‘Concord’

mother daughter book club series heather vogel frederick

I discovered the Mother-Daughter Book Club series by accident, stumbling onto the first book at Books-a-Million in West Texas. I was in the mood for light summer reading, and the cheery pink-covered paperback promised just that: a tale of four middle-school girls and their mothers in Concord, Massachusetts, who form a book club and read Little Women (my childhood favorite!) together.

The daughters are wary of their mothers’ project at first, but they end up loving the book and each other’s company so much that they decide to keep the club going. Five books later, they’re smack in the middle of high school, and with their sixth adventure hitting shelves next month, I decided to visit them in Concord again.

Narrated in turn by the girls (bookish Emma, farm girl Jess, fashionista Megan and tomboy athlete Cassidy), the books give us several perspectives on the authors and books the club reads. The literary musings (and “fun facts” collected by Emma’s mother, who is a librarian) are interwoven with the daily dramas of middle and high school, life in small-town New England with their families, and each girl’s private struggles and dreams.

These girls (even snooty Becca, who joins the club in seventh grade and finally gets to share in the narration in tenth grade) are innocent, perhaps a little naive. There are no drugs or curse words, and very little rebellion, in the books. But their sunny simplicity matches their club’s classic reads, and keeps the focus on the books rather than on any serious teen angst. (After Little Women, they move on to Anne of Green Gables; Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs; Pride and Prejudice; and my beloved Betsy-Tacy series.)

All five daughters have mostly intact families and loving relationships with their mothers, even though (like all teenagers everywhere) they are embarrassed by their parents sometimes. Despite being rather sheltered, they are thoroughly modern, with cell phones and crushes on boys, and a disastrous fashion blog plays an important role in Pies & Prejudice, the fourth book.

I love these books partly because the characters and setting (not New England, but a friendly small town) remind me of my childhood. I grew up with two parents who loved each other (and me) deeply; I fought with my sister sometimes, but she was always one of my best friends; and we could hardly go to the grocery store without running into someone we knew. I navigated the insecurities and drama of adolescence with the help of my parents, a handful of close friends, and my beloved books.

And that is the other reason I love these books: they embody the idea that literature can change your life, or at least infuse it with more joy, more sparkle, more zest for living, more courage.

None of the girls, except Emma (daughter of a librarian, and an aspiring writer) care much for books when the series begins. Jess loves animals and singing and science; Megan designs and sews clothes, and loves to shop; and Cassidy is a hockey nut who’s still grappling with the death of her father and a cross-country move. They don’t expect to enjoy Little Women (or Anne, or Daddy-Long-Legs), but all of them eventually fall in love with the heroines of these classics, realizing that despite differences of time and geography, Jo March and Anne Shirley and Elizabeth Bennet face the same struggles they do.

The book club motif gives the characters plenty of chances to discuss the books, which means they not only gush about the heroes and heroines, but learn to appreciate the minor characters, from Mrs. Rachel Lynde to Mr. Collins, and Betsy Ray’s merry crowd of friends. Similarly, the minor characters in this series are great fun, from the girls’ parents and siblings to their boyfriends, a couple of grandparents, teachers and friends. It’s a pleasure to revisit Concord (even more so since I’ve now been there myself), and spend time with not only the five narrators, but the whole cast of characters.

If you’re in the mood for some frothy, literary fun, I highly recommend these books. The girls are tackling Jane Eyre next, and I can’t wait to visit England – and hang out in Concord – with them.

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A few weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage I’ve wanted to make for years – possibly ever since I picked up Little Women and fell in love with it. (It’s been my favorite book since first grade.) On Columbus Day, Abi, Shanna and I headed to charming, literary Concord, and to the Alcott home, Orchard House.

You can’t take photos inside the house, which still contains many of the Alcott family’s original furnishings and possessions, including Jo’s (Louisa’s) “mood pillow,” Beth’s (Lizzie’s) little piano, a copy of Meg’s (Anna’s) marriage license, books belonging to several family members, and Amy’s (May’s) drawings on the fireplace, the breadboard and even the windowsills. (I was in heaven – it was literally like walking through the book!) Anyway, here’s a view of the exterior:

Also on the property is the Concord School of Philosophy, opened by Louisa’s father in his last years. It’s unheated and chilly, but beautiful:

We had a fabulous time touring the house (kitchen, parlor, dining room, bedrooms and Mr. Alcott’s study) and browsing the gift shop (where I could have spent sooo much money). Since the Alcotts supported the suffrage movement, the gift shop sells mugs and teacups with “Votes for Women” printed on them. Abi and I each bought one, and I think Louisa, Jo March and Mrs. Banks (from Mary Poppins) would all be proud.

We drove into Concord proper to seek out some lunch and explore Main Street, which has adorable shops and a few monuments:

(This is the Civil War monument, which figures prominently in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series – the girls are always riding their bikes past it. And the leaves are so gorgeous right now…)

We all took about a zillion photos of the beautiful little church on Monument Square, complete with windswept leaves and cloud-brushed blue sky:

We all felt like we were walking through a storybook all day…the whole town is just so charming, and quaint, and pleasantly bustling. And since I have idolized Jo March for years (though I’m also part Meg) and read Little Women so many times that my old, orange-covered Yearling edition is quite tattered…well. There aren’t even words to describe how it felt to finally tour Orchard House.

I love living in New England: everywhere I go, I walk through history (political, literary and otherwise), which then becomes a part of my personal history. Or in some cases, I get to see the places where parts of my personal history were born. I get to close the loop, so to speak, and then keep writing my own story in a place that teems with so many voices, so many histories…and infinite possibilities.

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(Editor’s note: I met the lovely Erin Blakemore via Twitter and blogs a few months ago, and have been eagerly awaiting the release of her book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf – on sale last week. She’s doing a book signing at Wellesley Booksmith this Wednesday, as well as a panel discussion at the Boston Public Library on Thursday. I’m so excited to finally meet her! Read on for some surprising facts about one of her – and my – favorite authors.)

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Louisa May Alcott

When I started writing The Heroine’s Bookshelf, I knew I was excited to find out more about the lives of the women behind my favorite literary heroines.  What I never expected was to become even more fascinated (okay, semi-obsessed) with one of American letters’ most irascible and intense figures.  Here are six things I was surprised to hear about Louisa May Alcott: 

1.  She hated fame.  When Little Women hit big, Louisa hated the public outcry for information on their favorite new author.  She resented the people who felt it was okay to knock on her door, interrupt her life, and demand her attention.
2.  She might have been a drug addict.  Racked by pain from the time of her ill-fated stint as a Civil War nurse, Louisa turned to morphine and opium for pain relief and sleep.
3.  She didn’t just write girls’ stories.  In fact, Louisa penned some scandalous stuff — racy stories full of sex, violence, and unsavory characters.
4.  She didn’t love being a little woman.  In fact, Louisa railed against her role as a daughter and a woman her entire life long.
5.  She was an adoptive mother.  When Louisa’s sister May died tragically young in Europe, Louisa inherited her daughter, Louisa (“Lulu”).  She also legally adopted the son of her sister Anna, willing him the rights to her work.
6.  She was a runner.  Only about a century ahead of her time.

Want to learn more about Louisa and eleven other fascinating authors?  The Heroine’s Bookshelf finds life lessons in some of literature’s most enduring books.  Visit http://theheroinesbookshelf.com to learn more.

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