Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin: Wondering about Wonderland

What fun it is to be selling this book!

First of all, Melanie Benjamin is a local author and friend of The Bookstore. She's gotten some great press over the last couple of weeks, so a lot of people come in already planning to buy the book. Then there are those who see our fun Alice In Wonderland window display and come inside to ask about it. And finally (these are my favorites) there those who just saunter in to browse. Next thing you know, we've handsold the book and they've signed up for our book signing party! (Details below.)

In our chat-ups with our customers, we love sharing the story behind this book. Melanie Benjamin says she was inspired to write Alice I Have Been when she went to an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. (This is when our customers smile. Isn't a train ride down to the Art Institute just the best way to spend a day?) Anyway, several years ago there was a photo exhibit that featured the photos of Lewis Carroll. Melanie saw a photograph of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Melanie says that the photograph haunted her and made her uncomfortable. It sparked her imagination and made her wonder about Wonderland.

I used to wonder about Wonderland myself. As a child, I'd found it unsettling, a little creepy. Alice was always shrinking and growing and getting into these nightmarish situations. Kind of like Kafka for kids. (But of course, I was a pretty wimpy kid. I was also freaked out by the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.)

As an adult, however, I read Alice in Wonderland and I see Alice, not the craziness that surrounds her. I see a curious, independent young girl who defies stereotypes, exercises her powers of reason, and speaks her mind. She learns how to adapt to her surroundings and seeks to establish order out of the chaos. And to think that Lewis Carroll created such a strong female character nearly 150 years ago - in the middle of the Victorian era. It gets curious and curiouser!

So who was the real Alice and what exactly was her relationship to Charles Dodgson, the real Lewis Carroll? We'll never know, but we do know there was mystery and scandal. Was the scandal the result of an overprotective Victorian society, or was their relationship inappropriate? The photo at the Art Institute (shown in the book) really makes you wonder.

Thanks to that day at the Art Institute, Melanie's curiosity and imagination were sparked. She knew it would be great raw material for a book. There was mystery, scandal, a literary icon, and a rich story begging to be told. With an innate talent for writing historical fiction and a sense of womanly wisdom, Melanie imagined Alice's story. And not only what happened when Alice was a child, but also what kind of young woman she was and how the scandal changed her life forever. As Alice becomes an older woman coping with loss and regret, we feel like we've aged and suffered with her. Melanie has created a wonderful character, just like Lewis Carroll did so long ago.

We hope you agree that Melanie and her new book deserve a party! Please join us at The Bookstore on Thursday, January 28th at 7pm for a signing and celebration. Melanie will speak about the book, and we'll toast to her success. To register, please call (630) 469-2891 or e-mail justbook475@yahoo.com. Purchase of the book or an equivalent gift certificate is required. You can stop in and pick up the book early, as long as your book has our sticker on it, you'll be welcome to join in the festivities!

Finally, we've decorated our window in honor of Melanie and Alice I Have Been. Come downtown and check out our own Alice in Wonderland, who seems to be enjoying Melanie's new book!

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