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Available from Amazon November 1. 2014.

Tagged on Facebook this week by Sophie Masson, co-founder of Christmas Press Picture Books, this is my take on the “Ten Books That Have Stayed With You Since Childhood” post that has been making the rounds. This one is about ten PICTURE books that have stayed with you–whether from childhood or after (as in my case)… (more…)

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Little Suzie, with probably her first book. Circa age two?

Little Suzie, with probably her first book. Circa age two?

I have a long-standing relationship with books. It’s really more like a love affair actually, with a passion that has never cooled. Sure, the Internet is a vast source of information right at my fingertips and only a question, word or phrase away…but it is the deliciously slow unfolding and divulging of a book’s treasure that keeps me coming back, forever in love.

Books find me–the perfect books–like an answer to a heart’s call. I keep a Wish List on Amazon and often within months those same books show up in my life, whether through the funds out of nowhere to buy them new, through a gift or loan, or through a thrift store or yard sale. Magic!! Other people have this kind of attraction with parking places or money, I hear…

  1. Here’s just some of the things I love about books:
  • Books let me fondle their creamy pages, feel their delicious weight, and stroke their shiny or textured covers without ever once feeling used or abused, at least to my knowledge.
  • Books are content to be themselves, unique and not needing any reassurances from me.
  • Books don’t complain or care about wrinkles, sagging or aging. Indeed they often become more valuable with age. Good role models, yes?
  • Books don’t need me to make an appointment to see them.
  • I can laugh out loud, disagree, reject or walk away from a book, and there are no apologies necessary. I can even throw a book at the wall, though I wouldn’t ever. I don’t have to watch my P’s and Q’s or be tactful. I don’t have to give a book a certain amount of attention and time in order for it to feel loved. They are always there waiting patiently, and a book never holds a grudge.
  • I don’t have to clean myself up in any way to have a face-to-face with a book, no matter how expensive that book was.
  • I can ask endless questions of their pages and indexes, wear out their paper with thumbing…and they never get irritable or say, “Times up!” A book freely offers me entertainment and the full depth of whatever wisdom it possesses, and with no apologies. Unconditional love at its finest.

I, in turn, admire, appreciate and respect them immensely, turn to them often, praise and recommend them, lavish money on them when I should be paying bills, and give them an honored place in my home.

Relationships with people, on the other hand, are harder. Why can’t people be more like books, I sometimes wonder…

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul.

“There Is No Frigate Like a Book”  by Emily Dickinson

SusanHillAnd ten points to the person who can identify the title of that book I’m holding in the photo! (My memory is not that good…) Click the image for a larger view.

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is tail. I love a happy ending. Perhaps that is common to my fair sex, or perhaps it is simply an antidote to the Trials and Tribulations of life. I have my stash of Chick Flicks in the closet and a series of favorite novels that I read repeatedly for their comfortable reassurance that, despite the aforementioned T & T, people can triumph or at least find some version of happiness in the end. I need that reassurance regularly, and since conventional Religion doesn’t do it for me, I’ve found my solace in stories. I’ve been wanting to write a post on the subject of Why I Love Fairy Tales for a while now. As I’ve been updating websites, writing artist statements and over and over mentioning ‘fairy tales,’ I’ve watched myself, at the same time, cringing. I think it’s because I fear that Fairy Tales are getting a bad, or at least diminished, rap these days, and I am a little wiggly about associating myself with them…as if it were somehow shameful or childish, or a death-knell for my career as a Serious Artist. But then I stop and remember, thankfully, that fairy tales have been around a lot longer than Disney, Saturday morning cartoons and the brightly-colored art on lunch pails and school notebooks. Fairy tales, according to scholars, have been around since the beginning of humankind. They are the repository, in story form, of the wisdom of our species about Life. They are the archetypes of human behavior (to use the Jungian term), morals and consequences, hopes and dreams, and simple humor at our follies. Originally, they were meant to entertain (as the cleaned-up versions still do today), but they were also meant to instruct, and sometimes to warn about consequences. They were told to audiences of all ages, and children were raised with the grimmer versions of the predecessors of the Grimms’ fairy tales, and took it in stride. No coddling or dumbing down needed there. Terry Windling and Ellen Datlow, in the introduction to A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales write,

“Most people think that fairy tales are stories meant for very young children, but hundred of years ago tales of magic were loved by folks of all ages. The fairy tales we know today–like “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Snow White,” and all the rest–used to be darker, stranger, and more complex, until this century. Then they were turned into children’s tales, banished to the nursery (as J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings once pointed out) like furniture adults have grown tired of and no longer want. The stories were changed and simplified when they were rewritten for very young readers. And it’s these sweet and simple versions that most of us know today.”

The Jungian scholar, Marie-Louise Von Franz (An Introduction to the Psychology of Fairy Tales) states,

“Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic process. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest and most concise form.”

This is all good, and material worth giving much attention to. And, as I said at the beginning, happy endings are always a welcome quality. But why I really appreciate fairy tales is the unspoken implication that there is much more going on down here on Planet Earth, in our everyday mundane lives, than we usually are aware of. There is a Magic much greater than the Little Me (Eckhart Tolle’s term for the personal identity) can understand or manipulate. There is Mystery, we are not alone and there is Guidance, if only we will look for and be receptive to it. These age-old stories say that there will always be cause for hope, and that the Journey is worth every ounce of courage it extracts from us. For a person, such as myself, who has always felt that I am ‘down here without a map,’ this reassurance is a balm, and a career’s worth of inspiration for imagery. Fairy tales as subject matter may seem trite in this day and age, but stories about the patterns of our human journey seems like a subject worthy of my continued attention. Who cares if it might be poo-pooed in the hoity-toity Art World? Ok, I’d like to have it all, but when it comes right down to it…I need fairy tales. Fairy tales tell me, same as this Cowboy Wisdom quote,

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

“Away”    (watercolor, pen & ink)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is book.

I don’t remember ever being read to, or seeing books around the house other than the prerequisite set of Encyclopedia Britannica, a Webster’s Dictionary, and several versions of the Bible. (This was the door-to-door salesman generation.) There were piles of Life, National Geographic and Ladies Home Journal magazines, plus a couple of cookbooks, but there were no novels, short stories or picture books. Thank goodness, the clarion call to the world of the book still found me.

I remember the consistent serenity of libraries in every town my father moved us to. (There were a lot of towns.) I remember the smell and feel of the books themselves, and the thrill of being able to borrow any book I wanted and pretend that I owned it for a while. (I still feel that.) But the real draw of libraries and books was that I could disappear–from family, from the neighborhood, from my own small life. Years later, when I visited Kennedy National Airport for the first time, I realized that that was exactly what a library and books felt like to me…all the directions that one could go in from a single spot. Magic!

Even more years later, when my maternal grandfather died, a good portion of his books came into my parent’s possession. There were hundred of books: technical manuals, philosophy, spiritual and some classic novels. They all went into the spare room at the bottom of the house and subsequently got damp and moldy. (A heinous crime in my opinion.) But the significance of those books, most of which were leather-bound and hand-sewn with fine quality paper, was the realization that the love of books had skipped a generation in my family. There was nothing wrong with me at all!

I had other hobbies. I liked to sew, cook and draw things. I liked to be outside with pollywogs, leaves and rocks. But the thing that kept me up late at night, after everyone else’s lights were turned out, was not a new dress or a painting. It was a book that I was ruining my eyes with, by flashlight under the covers. I must have been sleep-deprived most of my adolescent years…

Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, all the Black Stallion Books, Trixie Belden and Pippi Longstocking were my childhood friends. Books made up for a lot that was lacking in my suburban life, and introduced me to things that I never would have experienced in person. Books still do that for me. They are the glue that connects me to the rest of the world. I’m not a kid anymore, but if a fire was threatening my house, I know exactly which things I would throw into the car.  Most of them would be books.

“Read Me a Story”   (watercolor, pen & ink, pencil)     See it in the Etsy shop (including close-ups) here.

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