Leisure Learning: Almost Spring!

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Hello, word nerds! Welcome to the Almost Spring edition of Leisure Learning. This month’s melange of experiences brings you the nostalgia of Beatrix Potter, the convoluted craziness of Ian Fleming’s role in British naval service, The Oscars (for books!) and a wealth of Irish tales, recorded by school children in their 1930s-era copybooks.

Whatever your pleasure, I hope that you will find inspiration, renewal and sheer delight among the following:

Beatrix Potter: The Secret Life Of A Victorian Genius

Documentary, 45 mins. (free)

May I have a moment of your time? I respectfully request that you stop your jam-packed day to take a minute and consider this question: have you ever met anyone – anyone in your life – who doesn’t like Peter Rabbit? I have yet to meet such a person. I wonder if such a person even exists. However, from the completely unscientific research I’ve gathered from friends and (mainly) Whole Foods customers, it seems conclusive to me that such a soul does not exist. For, it’s as if Beatrix Potter’s work represents a universal constant of charm.  

But just because Ms. Potter is remembered for Jemima Puddleduck and Peter Rabbit doesn’t mean that Ms. Potter’s days consisted solely of drawing and writing. As fellow authors, you understand the many layers of actual life and research that go into creating a well-formed work.  

In the documentary Beatrix Potter: The Secret Life of a Victorian Genius, famed thespian Dame Patricia Routledge leads viewers into the other facets of Beatrix’s life. Learn how this unintended author/illustrator was dismissed by scientists (“treated scurvily” by the Linnean Society), and therefore somewhat relegated to becoming a Victorian breakout star, whose work continues to sell at the worldwide rate of one book every 15 seconds.  

LitHub’s (Better) Version of the Oscars

List of Lists

On March 12, Hollywood’s most notable will convene for the 95th presentation of golden statuettes. Yes, The Oscars (aka my personal “How To Know What’s Worth Watching” guide). Now, I am all for the glitz and glamor of couture styled artistes, but I also know that I’ll be spending a good portion of my evening with my Kindle.

1 There is always one.
2 Accompanied by a suspiciously large rabbit, which simply must be a hare IRL.

If you are of the same mindset, I invite you to bookmark LitHub’s 2022 “If Books Were Given Oscars” article. From Best Documentary (Non-Fiction) to Best Cinematography (Setting), their take on The Oscars (But For Books!) will not only provide you with a smile, you will also be spending the night with some of literature’s most up-and-coming stars with all of their splendid, sparkling brains.   

Mountain Talk  

Documentary, 1 hour (free)

Everyone reading this knows how very important words are. When words become specialized into a specific dialect, they can expose layers of culture, values and history.

The documentary Mountain Talk chronicles some of the most frequently occurring yet unheard words and phrases spoken today. This film follows linguists and locals through the mountains of southern Appalachia to get at the heart of how words and stories can bind a people both within a region and throughout time. Moreover, you’ll be introduced to unforgettable, real-life characters like pro moonshiner Popcorn Sutton. This production is part of North Carolina State’s Language and Life Project, which seeks to document American dialects (including sign language). The Project invites you to view the entire film on YouTube for free. 

Operation Mincemeat


I’m sure you are familiar with those stories that are so outlandish, they could only be true. Like, if the British government used a real corpse to transport fake documents in the hopes of deceiving Hitler. What if that corpse needed a backstory? What if you could order the future creator of James Bond to write it as part of his service to Royal Naval Intelligence? While pitching such a story would probably get you turned down by agents and publishers, the true to life factors in Operation Mincemeat have made it intriguing enough to be turned into a full-length feature film, starring Firth. Colin Firth. 

Operation Mincemeat was an actual, implausible, yet successful military operation carried out in 1943, with the purpose of redirecting Hitler to invade Greece rather than Sicily. This movie is filled with the wry humor its actual story implies. Still, on a more serious note, it highlights just how very important not only writing but also implementation of the human imagination can be when used in times of crisis.  

Tales from the Emerald Isle

Spectacular website

Old wives’ tales are serious business in Ireland; so much so that in 1935, the National Folklore Commission of Ireland was formed by the government. The project aimed to formally collect the legends of leprechauns and fairies from the Emerald Isle. As oral histories, songs, and regional languages were added to the initial materials, these resources were turned over to academics at the University of Dublin and aggregated into the National Folklore Collection

In 2012, these materials began to be uploaded via The Dúchas project and has become a localized Heritage.com for the realm of Irish folk knowledge. The Dúchas project contains oral histories, fables, jokes, remedies and more passed down by the Irish, generation to generation, with just the right amount of magic.

Moreover, one of the primary methods of collection couldn’t be more endearing: stories, as told by elders in the community, were recorded by children which visitors can actually see handwritten in the striving penmanship of grade school

Finally, check out their extensive Folktale Index, as it is an excellent way for writers to compare what regional variations (ahem, dialect) may reveal about the rich life Ireland is known for.

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, getting some sparkle in your inbox every other Wednesday or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at www.MelissaHaasCreates.com.

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