Friday Reads: Folk Tales

Friday Read: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

I’m still (still!) reading Dombey and Son, so I thought I would recommend another book to you that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about lately: The Children’s Book. Loosely based on the life of E. Nesbit, the novel focuses on the family of Olive Wellwood, a writer of children’s fairy tales in late nineteenth and early twentieth century England. I like and have returned to this book many times since I read it six years ago for two main reasons: its portrayal of the intersection of art, politics, and the domestic realm – the Wellwoods are Fabians – and its successes (and failures) in telling the stories of an incredibly large cast of characters. Also, Byatt is really the best at interpreting folklore and applying it to her own fiction, and reading her characters’ grappling with the tellings and retellings of fairy tales fills me with a weird kind of joy that I’m finding difficult to put into words. The Children’s Book isn’t considered one of Byatt’s best, but I think I learned more from it – as a writer, storyteller, and history student – than I did from her best-known and -loved novel, Possession. If you’re in the mood for the opposite of a beach read, this might be worth tackling.


And here are some other things I read this week:

“The Tampon: A History” (The Atlantic)

Anne Helen Petersen on Stitch Fix and fashion tech (BuzzFeed)

“What Silicon Valley Can Learn From Seoul” (NYT)

Why being happy at work might not be such a great thing (Science of Us)

Laura Snapes’ takedown of Mark Kozelek (The Guardian)

Sean Fennessey on Chance the Rapper and A$AP Rocky (Grantland)

A country festival comes to New York City (SPIN)


Also, Jean Ritchie, Appalachian folk singer, died this week at the age of 92. She had one of my favorite voices of all-time. If you’ve never heard her before, here are two of my favorite recordings:

“O Johnny’s On the Water”

“Barbara Allen”

A little melancholy for a Friday afternoon, but I think they’re beautiful.

Five Things I Liked This Week

1. Shake Shack’s Smoke Shack Burger, my lunch on Tuesday and the last meaty thing I’ll  eat until the end of Lent

2. ‘Ben’s My Friend’ – Sun Kil Moon

I heard this song a while ago, but started listening to the whole album, Benjithis week.

3. This interview with former Quiverfull members and advocates for homeschooling policy reform on The Hairpin.

4. ‘Barbara Allen’ – Jean Ritchie

I rediscovered this one while thinking about future folk songs to write about.

5. Martha Stewart’s Reddit AMA

I also really liked the whole John Travolta/Adele Dazeem thing but uhhhh so did everyone so I’m not counting it as one of the five things. For the record, my ‘Travoltified’ name is ‘Harley Fitzgerald,’ which I think is fantastic.