The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Trisina Dickerson, Publicist at Blair

This is me:

Me and Not Me

Since joining Blair last fall as the Sales & Marketing Intern, I’ve graduated to Publicist. This is me publicizing:


Yes, I have two TARDISes at work, and though it may not look like it from this picture, I do in fact have two arms.

I hope you all have enjoyed The Book that Smacked Me Upside the Head seriesEveryone at Blair has been a great sport, and I’m so grateful to work with such easily suggestible people. And because they’ve been so honest about discussing their life-changing books, I think I should repay them by ‘fessing up to my own. So here it goes:

World, I’m a voyeur.

Ok, that sounds bad. Let me clarify. Not this kind of voyeur:

funny gifs

More like this kind of voyeur:

funny gifs

One of the first books I remember finding and buying on my own, a truly independent adventure, was Sharon Olds’s The Unswept Room. I was in junior high and was both shocked and enthralled by the intimate details she included in her poetry. I couldn’t believe she walked around in the world without a permanent blush! (For those who aren’t poetry nerds, Sharon Olds could be classified as a present day confessional poet in the vein of Sylvia Plath.) Bottom line, I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about everyone’s personal lives (including my writing professors who became completely different people in their books and the perfect source of gossip with my other writing friends).Olds and Didion

Eventually, I expanded my voyeurism from poetry to creative non-fiction, where I found another book that changed my life–The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. In this book, she recounts the year following the death of her husband and revisits the event again and again, sometimes with clinical distance and at other times with emotional desperation. She ties in their daughter’s illness, who at the time of John’s death was in a hospital, unconscious and suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. But the book becomes more than a portrait of Didion’s marriage or a cry for answers. She reflects on what it means to age, exploring how John’s presence changed the way she saw herself: “Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age.” In addition to coming to terms with his death, she must also reconcile herself as an older woman, not a girl in her twenties. And she finds herself with “magical thinking.” She writes, “We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”

I admit that it’s pretty dark to spend your nights and weekends reading about death and grief, but reading books like Didion’s helps me to understand myself and the human condition. It brings home poignant thoughts like “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” It’s admirable for an author to write this honestly; doing so makes reading an intimate experience, a chance for the reader to peer into the lives and thoughts of others. But to me, this very voyeurism is the reason why books are important. It makes us see the world and ourselves in a new way. Being #booksmacked shapes us.


This blog took a pretty hard right turn into seriousville so happy booksmacking!


The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Artie Sparrow, Office Manager at Blair

Artie and Psychotic ReactionsMy friend Phil Morrison gave me a copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung for Christmas one year when I was in college. Twenty-five years later, it’s the most dog-eared book I own. It’s a posthumously released anthology of writing by the legendary music critic Lester Bangs.

The important thing about Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung isn’t the musicians and songs Bangs writes about (even though it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who cringes whenever I hear “Carolina in My Mind”), but the life lessons he imparts while doing so:
Psychotic Reactions
Be honest,
Be kind,
Merely puking on yourself is not going to change anything,
It’s ok to change your mind about something,
Don’t be afraid to take chances and risk looking foolish,
Always be receptive to new things and experiences.

A particularly eloquent rant refuting the nihilism of Richard Hell got me through the angst-filled early 1990s, when I was an underemployed, love-struck, self-destructive hipster doofus. It’s too lengthy to reproduce in its entirety, but the salient point is this:  “There are glints of beauty and bedrock joy that come shining through from time to precious time to remind anybody who cares to see that there is something higher and larger than ourselves. And I’m not talking about your putrefying gods, I am talking about a sense of wonder about life itself and the feeling that there is some redemptive factor that you must at least search for until you drop dead of natural causes” (from page 267 of the original paperback edition).

Artie at Home

Note: Behind Artie is Phil Morrison’s first movie, Tater Tomater.

I don’t think Bangs intended to provide life lessons. I think he just wanted to get paid and have fun, which is another life lesson he almost subliminally imparted.

On a practical level, the book did change my life by indirectly showing me the easiest way to remove shrink-wrap from CDs. Its review of the Peter Guralnick book Lost Highway exposed me to the music of songwriter James Talley, who showed me how to open his CD when I bought one from him after a show. The trick is to slide your fingernail down the hinge where the case opens.

Thanks, Lester, and thank you, Phil.

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Margaret Couch, Accounts Payable at Blair

Margaret and Narnia

In many households, parents read books to their children. My clearest memories of being read to were after dinner and on car rides heading for family vacation or visiting distant relatives. For me, after-dinner reading time was especially magical. One of my first book memories is hearing C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series. We heard one chapter at a time after dinner. That meant that sometimes I had to wait a whole day to find out what happened next. Perhaps the surprises were leaked, but I don’t remember that part. I remember only the magic Narniaof listening to the written word and being shown the pictures so skillfully rendered by Pauline Baynes that accompanied the text. My mother was usually the reader. She instilled in me a love of reading, but also a love of reading out loud.

So, in the natural order of things, I read to my children. Not only early-childhood books, but books that engaged them even as they grew to early teens. Harry Potter was a favorite. Even when they were old enough to read the books to themselves, they begged me to read them aloud. I can’t think of a more satisfying legacy to pass along than the passion for reading, but more importantly the passion for reading aloud.


Illustration above is by Pauline Baynes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Carolyn Sakowski, President of Blair

Carolyn as Peter PanI was five years old when Walt Disney released the animated classic Peter Pan—a fact brought home to me constantly with the wave of commercials for its “60th anniversary” release. I was the target market. I was the perfect age to respond to make-believe and fall in love with a tale about staying a child forever.

Carolyn and Her Sister

Sister Margaret Sakowski Moore (left) and Carolyn hold two books from their extensive Little Golden Books collection

I didn’t discover Neverland through the J. M. Barrie classic like those before me. Like most of my generation, Walt Disney introduced me to Peter Pan.

About the same time the movie was released, Simon & Schuster came out with a Little Golden Book called Peter Pan and Wendy. This edition made no mention of J. M. Barrie anywhere except on the copyright page. A woman named Annie North Bedford got the credit for condensing the Disney movie into a 26-page book that sold for 25 cents. Eyvind Earle, a Disney illustrator, created the watercolors based on scenes from the movie.

Carolyn with Her Sister and Grandma

Carolyn (left), her grandmother Margaret Dunlap, and her sister Margaret reading the Sunday newspaper

Although this version of Peter Pan lacked the literary value or Mr. Barrie’s original, it still had a powerful effect on this five-year-old. I would look out my bedroom window at night and search for the “second star to the right.” I was sure I could fly, just like the characters in my book.

When Barrie’s stage adaptation—called Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up—was produced, he included a special note in his dedication: “After the first production, I had to add something to the play at the request of parents about no one being able to fly until fairy dust had been blown on him; so many children having gone home and tried it from their beds and needed surgical attention.”

Peter Pan Hat

I guess I, too, overlooked the role Tinker Bell’s pixie dust played in making flight possible. One night, I got right up on the headboard of my bed and took my leap of faith. I flew, all right—right into the footboard. I lost my front two baby teeth. Their imprint remained on that footboard until we got rid of that bed years later.

So, this book did not smack me upside the head. It simply caused me to smack myself. However, it was one of the first books to transport me to a completely new world. I still believe in magic, and I have done my best to remain a child forever.

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Blog Post by Angela Harwood, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Blair

Angela Harwood, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

Angela Harwood, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

The summer before I started kindergarten, my father (a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy at that time who would soon be gone for six months on his own adventure) began reading a chapter of The Hobbit to me each night before putting me to bed. Yes, for a few glorious weeks of childhood, The Hobbit was my bedtime story. My father created a distinctive voice for each character, made up tunes for all the lyrics, and joyfully sang all the songs in his deep bass. He was (and still is) a self-taught Tolkien scholar, and throughout the narrative, he provided interesting facts gleaned from the appendix of The Lord of the Rings or other Tolkien books like The Silmarillion. He spoke in Elvish at times during the day or at dinner (and still does), and the story of Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, the 13 dwarves (not dwarfs—read your Tolkien), and the dragon Smaug became real to me, like an actual part of history.

Angela Harwood at five years old

Angela Harwood at five years old

This early introduction into all things fantasy encouraged me to develop quite an imagination. I no longer spent my time riding around on my Big Wheel or bicycle or roller-skating up and down the driveway. Instead, I set out alone or with friends and headed into any woods I could find. I fashioned a nice, long branch to be my walking stick/magical staff, and I called what I was doing exploring. I often got very lost. I had no sense of direction and paid little attention to my surroundings, and I certainly didn’t care where I was as long as I was home in time for dinner. I was armed with a slingshot and black walnuts (my father told me not to shoot people; my mother told me not to shoot animals), and I kept an eye out for snakes, fire-ant hills, and quicksand. I created my own imaginary scenarios: I would be the first to discover what lay at the bottom of that ditch (yellow jackets—36 stings); I would follow the secret trail across the river, which eventually led to a lumberyard guarded by a mean dog on a chain—Warg! “Fly, you fools!”

Middle Earth

Middle Earth

From The Hobbit, I learned the importance of being clever, and I worked logic puzzles and brain teasers to strengthen my wit. (I must be prepared to solve riddles at the drop of a hat!) I kept an eye out for secret passages and hidden doors. My father told me that if the measurements of the outside of the house came out to be larger than the inside measurements, then there was likely a secret passage to be discovered inside. I was disappointed when all those tiny doors and panels in the backs of closets or under the stairs led only to plumbing, hot water heaters, or electrical wiring. My father was disappointed when he could never find his tape measure.

Angela with her dad (before she was book-smacked by The Hobbit

Angela with her dad (before she was book-smacked by The Hobbit)

As an adult, I am aware that nothing I do in life will ever live up to the more important and dramatic things I can imagine. I likely won’t save the world from an evil necromancer, or even save a small village from a dragon. I probably won’t find a secret passageway. (I may make one of my own someday when I’m not worried about the resale value of my home.) Instead, I have embraced the next best occupation within my capabilities: publishing. Perhaps a ghost-story collection or a history book about the real-life explorer and adventurer Daniel Boone will alter or influence someone else’s path in life. After all, as Tolkien says, “All have their worth, and each contributes to the worth of others” (The Silmarillion).

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Guest Blog Post by Debbie Hampton, Director of Design & Production at Blair

Debbie and MonetAt age three, I drew big black stick figures on my parents’ living-room wall as high as my little toes could get me. I actually remember the whole thing—the color of the wall and even the texture of it showing through the stroke of the crayon. The memory is that vivid. What I don’t remember is what happened once the masterpiece was discovered.

But whatever did happen didn’t leave me with a fear of crayons. My childhood and teenage years were spent with pencil, pastel, charcoal, or paintbrush in hand; I was the strange one in the neighborhood who sat outside for hours, drawing or painting anything that caught my eye. I even attended private art lessons given by a resident crazy lady. I should’ve had a beret. In high school, it was pretty evident that I was headed toward art school. There was never a question in anyone’s mind, from friends, teachers, or especially my parents. So off I went.Monet and Modern Art

But I started to have big doubts. What kind of career could I have? Would an art degree give me enough money to support myself? I presented another career plan to my parents on a weekend home, and it was quickly nixed. Defeated, I went back to Art History 101, a freshman requirement that demanded the purchase of some monstrous books, namely H. H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art.

This book changed everything. It sealed the deal for me. I took every art history course I could for the next four years, exploring painting, life drawing, sculpture, graphic design, calligraphy, bookmaking, etc. There is something about the curiosity that arises from any work of art—what the artist was like, what kind of life he or she lived, and what in that life influenced every nuance of the work. It didn’t matter if it was Manet or Warhol; I was enthralled.

To this day, that book has a special place in my home, on a shelf with others that have meaning for me. And still it provides inspiration—to my teenage daughter, who dreams of fashion design, and to me, as I have finally gotten back to the easel and, alas, even the wall, where I paint murals! Because being creative is a way of life in our house.

Look for another installment of The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head next week!

The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head | A Guest Blog Post by Shannon Pierce, Sales & Marketing Intern at Blair

Shannon and AnimalsNote: Shannon Pierce is the new Sales & Marketing Intern at Blair. She has an MA in Language and Communication and attended the Denver Publishing Institute in 2012. She enjoys baking, learning about her new home in North Carolina, and playing with her niece and nephew. 

I started teaching preschool four years ago in a class of two- and three-year-olds. If we managed to get all 18 seated attentively, one of my go-to story time books was Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

But the book’s formatting drove me crazy. Each two-page spread features the illustration of an animal in the book’s series of animals. On the left side,Brown Bear the text addresses the illustrated animal with, for instance, “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” On the right side, the text identifies the next animal in the series, “I see a red bird looking at me.” However, that animal will only be visible when you turn the page.

I never read the premature, in my opinion, description of the upcoming animal, instead allowing the class to yell out their own descriptions as it appeared (“I see a . . .”—page turn— “RED BIRD”). It was a simple fix and nicely interactive, but the fact that the layout was not designed with this type of reading aloud in mind always bothered me. Obviously I was right, and Eric Carle was wrong.

Then Brown Bear and I met under different circumstances as I was helping older kids practice their reading. All of a sudden, the formatting was perfect. The kids were challenged by trying to read the unillustrated text, and the corresponding image on the next page was an immediate correction or reinforcement. Basically the layout is brilliantly suited to literacy development.


Though embarrassed by how fervently I had misjudged the book, had I not been quite so irked by Brown Bear I would not have had the now obvious realization that a lot of interesting decisions go into the production of a book. And maybe Eric Carle knows what he’s doing.

Look for another installment of The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head next week!