Sunday, October 19, 2014

Edgar Allan Poe

All About Edgar (Classics)

Edgar Allan Poe is an American icon in literature. He’s known as the “America’s Shakespeare” or “The Master of Macabre” for his genius in poetry and spinning tales of suspense and horror. Most notably recognizable works include “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and the poem “The Raven” among others.

Poe was born on January 19, 1809, the second of three children.  Sadly, within three years of his birth, both of his parents died, and Poe was sent to live with a tobacco merchant while his older brother and younger sister were
sent to live with other family members.  The Allans took Edgar in as one of their own.  They even sent him to college, sort of.  Poe attended the University of Virginia with less than one-third of the funds he needed.  Soon he was hitting the gambling tables in an attempt to pay his debts—just like Justin Timberlake in the movie Runner, Runner.  Unlike Justin, he didn’t turn to the drug trade to support his educational habits.  Instead, he published his first book, Tamerlane (which plays a significant role in the recently published novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry).  Tamerlane, unfortunately, did not enjoy a mass following like Fifty Shades of Grey, most likely because there wasn’t an Internet yet to spread the word.  Time for Plan B.  Though Mr. Allan skimped on tuition funds, he pulled some strings and got Edgar into the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Poe lasted eight months.  This added another wedge between foster father and unruly Poe.   In fact, Allan resented him to the end, leaving Poe out of his will.

Poe continued publishing his short stories and eventually landed a sweet gig as an editor for the Southern Literary Messenger. Career and personal life both took an upturn and he married his cousin, Virginia.  While his reputation grew, his wallet did not. Finally, in 1845 he struck gold with the publication of his poem “The Raven.” The publicity allowed him to draw larger crowds to lectures and obtain more money for his stories.

Nothing lasts forever, however, and the good times stopped when Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847. Poe was heartbroken.  He couldn’t write for a long time.  Two years later, Poe died under mysterious circumstances at the age of forty.

Poe was originally buried in an unmarked grave in Westminster Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.  A marker was later erected.  Eventually his body was moved to a more prominent spot in the same cemetery, where his
wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law Maria (who was also his aunt) were laid to rest with him. Starting in 1949 an unknown person left three red roses and a glass of cognac on Poe’s grave every January 19th. This mysterious stranger was known as the “Poe Toaster.” The year 2009 was the last time Poe Toaster paid homage to Edgar—then nevermore.

Need mo’ Poe? Plan your trip to the Museum of Edgar Allan Poe in Richmond, Virginia. – A site dedicated to Poe and his writings.

Here Are Three of My Favorite Poe Tales:

The Cask of the Amontillado – A man seeks revenge on a friend in a wine cellar.  

The Oval Portrait – A man learns the truth behind an intriguing painting of a young woman.

The Fall of the House of Usher  - A man visits an old friend who is caring for his gravely ill twin sister.

How much do you know about Poe?

  1.    Edgar Allan Poe was born in:
a.    Scotland
b.    Massachusetts
c.    Ireland

  2.    How old was Poe’s cousin, Virginia Clemm, at the time of their wedding?
a.    17
b.    13
c.    37

  3.    Which actor starred in numerous films based on Edgar Allan Poe’s writing?
a.    Bela Lugosi
b.    Boris Karloff
c.    Vincent Price

  4.    Which of these is not written by Edgar Allan Poe?
a.    The Tell-Tale Heart
b.    Hop-Frog
c.    The Monkey’s Paw

  5.    What was the name of Roderick’s twin sister in The Fall of the House of Usher?
a.    Madeline
b.    Annabel
c.    Eleonora

  6.    Edgar Allan Poe died of:
a.    Dysentery
b.    Alcoholism
c.    Opium overdose

The answers can be found in the “Quiz Answers” top tab of my blog.

Happy Reading,   

What’s your favorite Poe story? Post a comment or email:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

Ghostcapades (Classics)

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde is an amusing short story about a brash American family that knowingly moves into a haunted English house.  They’re not afraid, no siree.  The ghost, Sir Simon de Canterville, wastes no time in starting his tricks the moment the family of six moves in. But, this time, he’s the one in for a shock, as this American family proves more difficult to scare.  In fact, his tenured position as head horrorfier is no match as the Otis gang has their own tricks up their sleeves. Instead of fainting at a blood stain that continuously returns on a rug, the elder son quickly pulls out Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent to clean it. When the rattling chains prove to interrupt Mr. Otis’s sleep, he opens the door and insists the apparition uses Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator on his manacles.  Even the mother is tough as nails.  The ghost is getting frustrated and demonstrates his most demonic laugh, only to have Mrs. Otis offer him a bottle of Dr. Dobell’s tincture for his apparent indigestion problem. To his consternation, Sir Canterville’s solid reputation of 300 years of haunting is laughable to the Otis twins who make his un-life a living hell with all kinds of pranks. So, what happens to silly Simon and the Otis opponents?  You’ll have to read it.  It’s very short and like most classics, you can find it online.  Visit   to read this 30+ page story.

I happen to have a soft spot for Oscar Wilde.  If you have read some of my reviews in the past, you may know that I loved his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as his play, The Importance of Being Earnest October 16 is Wilde’s birthday, and in honor of that I have included a short quiz below for other Wilde fans.  The answers can be found in the “Quiz Answers” top tab of my blog.

   1.  In The Picture of Dorian Gray, who was Dorian’s love interest?
a.    Sibyl Vane
b.    Catherine Barkley
c.    Zeena Frome

    2.  Oscar Wilde was born in:
a.    Massachusetts
b.    Ireland
c.    Scotland

    3.  Oscar Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years hard labor for:
a.    Plagiarism
b.    Embezzlement
c.    Gross Indecency

    4. In The Canterville Ghost, the Otis twins were affectionately known as:
a.    Rock’em and Sock’em
b.    Heckle and Jeckle
c.    Stars and Stripes

    5.  In his lifetime, how many novels did Oscar Wilde publish:
a.    1
b.    17
c.    85

    6.  Which of these is not written by Oscar Wilde?
a.    The Metamorphosis  
b.    A House of Pomegranates
c.    The Ballad of the Reading Gaol

    7.  Which museum displays the painting “Picture of Dorian Gray” by Ivan Albright which was used in the 1945 film “The Picture of Dorian Gray” starring Angela Lansbury?
   a.    The National Gallery in London
   b.    Art Institute of Chicago
   c.    Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The answers can be found in the “Quiz Answers” top tab of my blog.

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Headless Horseman Horror Story (Classics)

In the spirit of Halloween, this month I will suggest some creepy, ghostly short stories by famous authors.  Don’t worry. I’m not into the ghastly chilling scene. I don’t like horror movies and rarely read scary books, with an exception of some Stephen King novels.  I don’t really care to be scared senseless by watching dolls come to life or people inversely crab crawling up a staircase.  I prefer my ghosts to be friendlier, like Casper.  With that said, Washington Irving’s classic short story about a headless horseman chasing a scared school teacher, is a milder kind of fright. 

You can read the short story first, available online at

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is a short story about a gangly, superstitious, nerdy school teacher named Ichabod Crane, who comes to teach in the small village of Sleepy Hollow.  It isn't long before he is smitten by the coquettish Katrina Van Tassel.  Unfortunately, big and boisterous Abraham, aka Brom Bones, also has his eye on this flirty daughter of a wealthy farmer. 

Brom is a prankish bully, kind of like Biff Tannen in the movie Back to the Future. He pushes people around and plays jokes that only he and his gang consider funny. One night after a fabulous harvest party hosted by the Van Tassels, Brom thinks of an ingenious way to scare Ichabod away from Katrina. 


This fun and spooky short story made Washington Irving into a legend of his own.  It was first published in a book of short stories called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent in 1820.  Almost 200 years later the story still enchants people of all ages.  It’s taught in school and every American knows (or probably should know) about it.  

Sleepy Hollow Towns
Did you know that North Tarrytown, NY, the inspiration for Irving's Sleepy Hollow setting, officially changed its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1997?  There’s also a Sleepy Hollow, Illinois where the streets are names after characters in the story, and a Sleepy Hollow, Marin Co, California to name a few. 

Want to see the beautiful home called “Sunnyside” which Irving bought in Tarrytown, NY after living in England for seventeen years?  You aren’t the only one.  Even Charles Dickens visited Irving here on his U.S. tour in 1842. Visit for more information.

Rip Van Winkle
Washington Irving is also the author of Rip Van Winkle, about a man who awoke after twenty years of sleep.  You can read about hen-pecked Rip and his epic escape at


Washington Irving was mentioned numerous times in the book Catch-22, where Captain Yossarian haphazardly censors enlisted men’s letters, sometimes crossing out articles or verbs, and other crazy variations of nonsense.  One time he blacked out everything but the letters “a,” “an,” and “the.”  With each censorship, the officer had to sign his name on the letter, but  on these crazy censored letters, Yossarian signed Washington Irving or Irving Washington depending on his mood. 

Happy Reading,


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