‘The Red Chamber’ revives characters from epic tale
In her foreword to The Red Chamber, Oberlin author Pauline A. Chen acknowledges that the “daunting length” (2,500 pages) and more than 400 characters of Cao Xueqin’s 18th-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber likely are among the reasons the book is unfamiliar to most Western readers. She has taken three female characters from the monumental work and placed them into her own satisfying, juicy family saga.
“It’s a strange household,” Uncle Zheng tells country mouse Daiyu when they arrive at Rongguo Mansion, where she is to stay after the death of her mother. She first meets Xifeng, her cousin’s controlling wife who runs the entire household, and Baochi, with whom she would like to be friends, but the relationship dissolves.
Rongguo Mansion is the home of the aristocratic Jia family, in civil service to the Manchu princes. The richly appointed apartments are teeming with gossip, intrigue, concubines, adultery and betrayal.
Don’t let the unfamiliar names and setting keep you from reading this lush portrait of a civilization. Though it may not inspire you to read the entire monumental original, it is a fine substitute.
The Red Chamber (381 pages, hardcover) costs $26.95 from Knopf.
Delightful story for children
Tricia Springstubb, whose What Happened on Fox Street is one of the best recent books for young readers, has a delightful new storybook, Phoebe & Digger.
Phoebe, a little girl whose mama is always busy with her new baby, gets a new toy to help entertain her. The toy is Digger, a bright yellow descendant of Mike Mulligan’s beloved Steam Shovel. One day Mama takes the children to the park — a park with “real dirt.” Phoebe and Digger are building a castle when a bigger girl comes along and takes Digger away!
Phoebe seems to be about 4 years old, just old enough to try to reason with the mean girl, but not quite old enough to succeed; she’s grateful for Mama’s quiet intervention. The facial expressions in the illustrations by Wisconsin artist Jeff Newman are masterful, like that of a squeamish boy at the park who’s “allergic to worms,” and in Phoebe’s pretending to die of boredom when Mama takes so long to get ready.
Phoebe & Digger is a large-format 32-page hardcover, in a quality binding. It costs $16.99 from Candlewick Press. Tricia Springstubb lives in Shaker Heights.
Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N. Main St., Hudson) — Kent State University doctoral student Shelly Krajny reads from her new storybook The Chubby Grasshopper and His Two Friends, 2 p.m. today.
Barnes & Noble (28801 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere) — Cleveland native Austin Ratner, now a New York physician, signs In the Land of the Living, 7 p.m. today; Mariel Hemingway (in town for the Cleveland International Film Festival and the premiere of the documentary Running from Crazy, about the history of suicide in her family) and Bobby Thomas sign The Willing Way: Stepping into the Life You’re Meant to Live, 5 p.m. Tuesday; Renee Mateo signs her romance Break Your Heart, 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Medina County District Library (Brunswick branch, 3649 Center Road) — Terry Gordon discusses and signs No Storm Lasts Forever, 7 to 8 p.m. Monday. Registration requested; call 330-273-4150.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Beachwood branch, 25501 Shaker Blvd.) — Rilla Askew discusses and signs her comic novel Kind of Kin, 7 to 9 p.m. Monday. Register at 216-831-6868.
Stark County District Library (Lake Community branch, 11955 Market Ave. N., Uniontown) — Gail Ghetia Bellamy, author of Cleveland Food Memories, speaks from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Independence branch, 6361 Selig Drive) — Lisa Ryan, author of The Upside of Down Times, speaks on “Got Gratitude? Your Key to Happiness,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Register at 216-447-0160.
Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights) — Arabella Proffer debuts her art book The National Portrait Gallery of Kessa, 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights) — Poets Lee Chilcote and Brad Ricca (American Mastodon) read from their works from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Ricca is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, The Creators of Superman, coming in June.
Twinsburg Public Library (10050 Ravenna Road) — Beacon Journal food columnist Lisa Abraham signs Famous Chefs and Fabulous Recipes, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Barnes & Noble (198 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake) — Somalian activist Hawa Abdi discusses and signs Keeping Hope Alive, 7 p.m. Thursday.
Akron-Summit County Public Library (Highland Square branch, 807 W. Market St.) — The Friends of the Library brunch features Terry Pluto, sports columnist and author of books including Dealing: The Cleveland Indians’ New Ballgame, 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday. Free, but reservations required; call 330-376-2927.
Kent Free Library (312 W. Main St.) — A Book Expo features more than 15 local authors, 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. See the list at www.kentfreelibrary.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Southeast branch, 70 Columbus Road, Bedford) — Author and nature photographer Ian Adams hosts an afternoon tea and talks about A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio, 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Registration required; call 440-439-4997.
— Barbara McIntyre
Special to the Beacon Journal
Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.