Leisure Learning: January 2023

by Melissa Haas
published in Community

Happy New Year, dearest word nerds! Now that we are heading into the second month of 2023, I hope you have found a footing in projects spun from your wildest dreams.

For some of us here, I know that means starting to write a romance novel or even a series (aka that thing everyone else hopes you’ll get out of your system so that you can move on). Here at DIY MFA, we say GO FOR IT! 

Below you will find a hodge podge of easily digestible literary links to carry you through the month of February. Whether you are writing a romance, reading a romance or simply in love with life, I promise that everyone has something to learn from the selections below.  

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Wild Gatherings 

Illustrated Book by Matt Sewell

A Charm of Goldfinches is my family-friendly pick of the month. It’s a cheerful, illustrated assortment of collective nouns one can deftly employ when spotting an entire group of the 55 animals mentioned within. You might think you’ve gotten this down by now, with your parliaments of owls, pods of dolphins and murders of crows, but when was the last time you utilized sleuth of bears? A harem of otters? 

Author and illustrator Matt Sewell has been hailed as the Banksy of the bird world and shows that he is equally capable when it comes to animals of land and sea. Give yourself permission to be a kid again and investigate this repository of words that are downright fun, sometimes silly and in danger of not being used.  

Gatsby in Connecticut


The Great Gatsby stands as a testament chronicling one of America’s most elegant, swoon-worthy times. The classic wouldn’t be the same if set in any location other than Jazz Age New York and for years, tourists have visited Long Island peninsulas Great Neck and Sands Point, believing them to be the inspirations for West and East Egg. This idea became firmly rooted in readers’ minds by Fitzgerald dictator scholar Matthew Bruccoli. Now, the work of two literary detectives and independent filmmakers are overturning that idea, with unprecedented support from contemporary F. Scott academics. 

Where is the location of this new West Egg? (Hint: it’s where the Fitzgeralds made moonlight skinny dipping a thing.) Yes, it’s that raucous locale known as Westport, Connecticut. This truly eye-opening documentary is given credence by support from the Fitzgeralds’ granddaughter, Bobbie Lanaham, and provides a captivating introduction to what might be the actual West Egg.

A Curious Invitation: The 40 Greatest Parties in Fiction 

Book by Suzette Field 

Suzette Field is a sought-after event planner for some of the coolest events in London. Now, she is also an author of A Curious Invitation, which makes the reader a V.I.P. to some of the most unforgettable fêtes in literature. Put on your most comfortable pants and party with Jay Gatsby, Queen Alice or Poe’s Prince Prospero. You can even score a seat to Bilbo Baggins’s Eleventy-First Birthday, with time left over to make McMurphy’s Ward Party. 

(And yes, things do get weird at that last one.)

A Curious Invitation is a solid reference to have when writing spirited ensemble scenes representing a group of people at a particular point in time. In addition to the book’s unique subject matter, Field’s experience creating Cirque de Soleil level gatherings gives her the authority to contextualize scene specifics such as food, drinks, dressing and venue.

While there are many chapters depicting the civilized society literature is famous for preserving, please note that not all get-togethers found within these pages are well-mannered affairs. You will find liberal doses of debauchery and ribaldry throughout. After all, literature does draw from real life. 

A Curious Invitation is a glittering read for both pleasure and research. How else can one party in the company of immortals?

Love Between the Covers


Love Between the Covers is a documentary about one of the most successful yet least respected genres: romance. This documentary gives credit to the very real, very engaging reading experiences that romance authors continually conjure.  

In romance, the relationship between the reader and author is particularly important; this documentary gets at the heart of that intimate bond. Part of that bond exists because this is such a vulnerable part of a person’s psyche that an author can help nurture or even bring out. 

Another part of that bond is forged by both authors and readers having their literary tastes dismissed by spouses. Hear how first contracts weren’t greeted with champagne, but treated more along the lines of, “So, can you get a real job now?”. 

The funny thing is, in a billion-dollar industry, the joke is on the ones who dismiss the behemoth genre. 

Aside from that, this documentary includes African American author Beverly Jenkins absolutely killing it, what Nora Roberts thinks contemporary writers should do with their time and profiles a queer surgeon who wrote three books a year while also working full time at a hospital, before giving that vocation up for full-time romance writing. 

This partially crowdfunded documentary is delightful to put on for Valentine’s Day, as it isn’t only about romance. While you might learn some things about the romance genre, this documentary is really about being in the company of fellow writers. 

(Note: If you are a romance author and would like to go for a considerably deeper dive, this presentation by the Library of Congress tackles Romantic Fiction in the Digital Age.

Medieval Romance, Trash Fiction and Rebel Women


So, it turns out that literary snobbery towards romance isn’t a recent invention. In fact, this attitude goes all the way back to medieval times, when women were supposed to be reading virtuous religious texts, even if they preferred to be slaying dragons and corrupting their minds with the outlandish notions that they actually could slay dragons. 

Dr. Lydia Zeldenrust presents the bulk of this BBC/University of York lecture and is followed by a discussion with “trashy romance author” Dr. Pamela Harshorne (aka Jessica Hart), who used her romance writing to fund her Ph.D. 

If anyone dares dismiss your romance reads or writes, just sit them down and make them take notes from these well-educated women that few people are qualified to argue with. 

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at www.MelissaHaasCreates.com.

Enjoyed this article?