January 2022 Leisure Learning

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Hello and welcome to a new column for DIY MFA. As some of you may know, my name is Melissa Haas, and like most of you reading this, I love to learn! In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that I write: to ensure that I will always keep learning.  

However, as much as I truly value and enjoy this continual pursuit of knowledge, sometimes I need a break. We all need downtime while working on long projects, in between manuscripts, or even from just life in general.  

As such, this column will give you a handful of books, movies, and podcasts that are enjoyable enough to qualify as entertainment, yet still expand your base of literary knowledge. The items that will appear here are great for when you need a break from the world, lazy Sundays, or hanging with your (soon-to-be?) culturally inclined friends and family.  

Finally, I would like for you to know that, as a children’s picture book author, I am making it a point to include at least one item that is family-friendly or that can be enjoyed with school-age kids. This month’s pick masquerades as a children’s book but tells the remarkable story of the couple behind Curious George.  

That gem was found during my latest session of literary-cool-hunting, and so were these others: 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer 

How did anyone pull this off? How did everyone pull this off? are the questions you’ll ask while reading through the escapades covered in this true story. 

Bad-Ass Librarians tells the harrowing story of an unassuming government archivist who, along with a network of citizens, became one of the world’s greatest smugglers of literature, saving over 350,000 Islamic and secular manuscripts from Al-Qaeda. 

This book should make all writers take pause, as it documents the undeniable evidence of just how important the written word is to a society.  

The Booksellers (1 hr 38 mins; Amazon, Apple TV, among other streamers) 

If you love bookstores, then this is the movie for you. 

It is a documentary released in 2020 and narrated by Parker Posey. This indie film gives the viewer an inside look at New York’s antiquarian book market. Watchers are given access to labyrinthine bookstores and book sellers who reside in apartments-turned-bookshops. Of course, the books themselves are objets d’art. 

Swooning is guaranteed.   

The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden 

Did you know that the manuscript for Curious George escaped, along with the author-illustrator couple, from Paris under Nazi Germany’s advancing threat? 

The husband-wife duo fled France on bicycles, traveled by train through Spain and Portugal, eventually taking a boat to Brazil. This extremely well-illustrated biography is styled as a lengthy picture book and worth checking out for the visuals alone. 

Although this book is listed as appropriate for ages 8-12, it truly makes for an interesting adult read.  

The Madman’s Library: The Greatest Curiosities of Literature by Edward Brooke-Hitching  

The Madman’s Library is a lushly illustrated collection of odd literary ephemera. It’s kind of like the Mutter Museum of books. From the chicken poet of Massachusetts to a book made of American cheese slices, this sometimes macabre compilation is wonderful to pick up and wander through if you have a few moments. 

It’s a personal favorite to consult when I need something interesting to write about and it has yet to let me down. 

WARNING: May cause excessive texting, OMGs and furious communication with other book lovers. 

Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Trip (1 hr 23 mins; iTunes, Amazon, YouTube) 

It is my absolute pleasure to share this documentary with fellow DIY MFA word nerds. Muse of Fire started out as a grassroots project to explore Shakespeare’s works in contemporary times and garnered enough of a reputation to include Tom Hiddleston, Ewan McGregor, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and several other names you will recognize. 

From students required to learn Shakespeare, to prisoners needing something that sparks their humanity, to the formidable list of award-winning actors, they all come together for this film has it all: two friends, one crappy car, and a review of iambic pentameter.     

(If you don’t mind a movie broken up into 4 parts, you can view it for free on YouTube: Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4 Courtesy of the Ewan McGregor Vault

Tell us in the comments: How are you going to start your Leisure Learning this month?

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among other books. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat or download a free coloring page at www.catulathebook.com.

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