Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is a Classic?

            “The man who does not read good books has no advantage
             over the man who cannot read them.”--Mark Twain

            “To destroy the Western tradition of independent thought it
            is not necessary to burn the books.  All we have to do is leave
them unread for a couple of generations.”--Robert Hutchins, The Conflict in Education


     Most serious readers are convinced they need to read the classics, whether for personal enrichment or cultural preservation.  But what is a classic?

     “ Lit. is Life.”  I’ve told my students that for almost three decades. Some years I write on my syllabus “Life 101” rather than American Literature I or Survey of World Literature.  Great books breathe.  Kingsley said, “Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book!  A message to us from...human souls we never saw...and these arouse us, terrify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.”
     I became a literature teacher because I love to read and I love to analyze people and ideas.  I can teach philosophy and psychology when I teach literature.  Quality literature affords us chances to act, judge, think, and feel. I can agree or disagree with the epiphanies of authors as I try to understand more fully human nature.  Great literature is the catalyst for intellectual, imaginative, emotional, and spiritual growth.
     A classic will SEAR you.  Unlike too many films, books, and most of television forgotten within an hour, classic literature burns or brands us in some way.  Ten years from now some may not remember much of the plot of Great Expectations but all remember Miss Havisham, the crazy lady who wore her wedding dress from the moment she was jilted at the altar until the day she died.  Once we've read To Kill a Mockingbird, we remember Scout, Boo Radley, and Atticus--partly because they are unique characters but more because they have universal character traits. They are like real people we’ve met, perhaps only briefly, who have left a mark on our lives.
Classics don’t go out of style.  They affirm or change us, but they always affect us.
     Classics:           Stimulate thought
                             Align details to create a coherent whole
                             Relate to our lives

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Classic Coup at Davis Advisory in Arcade

Stop by the Arcade to pick up shirts/purses/totes for book-loving friends this Christmas.  And when making resolutions to work out your body and eat better in 2010, don't forget an exercise/diet regime for  your mind.  Put down empty-carb reads and pick up classic works for some brain and soul food.  In a time when we're all tightening our belts, heeding William Wordsworth with some "plain living and high thinking" really is too cool for just school.

Davis Art Advisory/Showroom 
75 Arcade
Nashville, TN 37219
(347) 306-1859

We met Atticus at the Art Crawl.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Classic Coup at Rumours East November 8, 2-6 PM

For a Girls' Night Out, see Coco Before Chanel at the Belcourt Theater.  For a Girls' Day In, read on...

I've always compared vintage books to vintage wine and classics to cordials. Classic Coup believes great books are as timeless as a Channel suit, as delicious as coco.   And at a special Girls' Day Out November 8, we'll prove it.

Rumours East will take these analogies to the next level--literally-- as they host a Wine and Chocolate Tasting alongside an afternoon of boutique shopping all under their roof.

In addition to Classic Coup, shopping includes the following businesses:
Spivey Key by Michie Wenzler
Valentine Designs by Amanda Valentine
Moda Botique by Meredith Fidler
Modern Flowers by Brandy Davenport
Mertlemay Design Company by Jamie LaBo
Lamps by Tommy Han
Gifts and Accessories by Alegria
Jewelry Creations by Mary Beth Myleick
Jewelry Creations by Leah McIntyre
Baked Goodies by Cindy Garfield
Truffles & More by The Cocoa Tree
Personal Fitness Training by Tracey Bastien
Meretricious Creations by Valerie Harrell
Jewelry Creations by Marrah Florita
The Green Wagon by Jennifer Casale
Classic Coup by Cindy McCain

And for those with a sweet tooth and an urge to splurge, the following special wines will be paired with chocolate truffles for $20 per person:
Amy’s Balsamic Raspberry
with Remy Pannier Rose d’anjou
Julie Anna’s Orange
with Santo Step Moscato d’Asti 2008
Renee’s Chile Pepper
with Pffaffl Austrian Cherry 2008
Liz’s Milk Chocolate
with Gordon Brothers Merlot 2007
Tina’s Dark Chocolate
with Lolonis Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Rumours East Restaurant is located at 1112 Woodland Street in East Nashville/ Phone 615-262-5346

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Atticus Finch Set the Bar

Classic Coup Atticus/Jenny Mandeville Photographer

Classic Coup Atticus/Jenny Mandeville Photographer

I woke up thinking about Atticus Finch.  Maybe because everyone I've met  checking out our Classic Coup shirts smile, then nod at our Atticus tees.  A twentysomething man told me he was named for the fictional hero.  One lady, like others who said, “I must have that shirt!” explained why To Kill a Mockingbird is her favorite classic:  “We’re a literary family.  My dad was a writer; my mother met Harper Lee in the 60s in New York, and my sister’s cats are named Scout and Jem.” She reminded me of a former student, Gracie, now a writer in LA, who at her high school graduation party was most proud of the gift her parents gave her: a first edition of Harper Lee’s only novel, signed by the Pulitzer-Prize winning author.

Maybe I woke up thinking about Atticus because at Southern Festival of Books—a Nashville gem for which my students swear I probably tail gate--I heard my favorite contemporary Southern author, Jill McCorkle, say To Kill a Mockingbird is her favorite novel.   I'd already framed her email written years ago encouraging me to continue writing about the classics, but when she said we love the same book ...well, as we say around here, she’s my kind of people.

Maybe I woke up thinking about Atticus because my son recently read the novel in his tenth grade English class, or because my nineteen-year-old daughter loves Atticus even more than the character we still laugh about, Dill.

Most likely I woke up thinking about Atticus because I dreamt of him last night.  Truth told…I’ve dreamt of him most of my life.  Somewhere around the late 60s/early 70s, he became my measure of a man.  Ok, so I was infatuated with Heathcliff first, but Atticus set the bar (pun intended) for what a real man should be. 

We all have our reasons for loving him.  For some, it’s his Common-Sense-Cool-Daddy approach to his children: “When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness' sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em. He keeps things simple and real.  Atticus, though to Jem's frustration didn't play football,  is like a wise football coach/art teacher with whom I once taught, his one rule for the students being, “Do what’s right.” More than Dad of the Year, Atticus as the Dad of the Decades teaches his kids to respect all—Scout’s bumbling teacher, the marginalized Cunninghams, and the reclusive Radleys.  He expects them to honor the onery Mrs. DuBose-- who, because she’s ill, talks ill of everyone including Atticus: “She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe...son…(but) I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of seeing courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see through it no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her…She was the bravest person I ever knew."

And yet, when it comes to defending the town against a rabid dog and Tom Robinson against a rabid mob, Atticus heeds the call to arms.  Finch’s character was based on Harper Lee’s father, a lawyer and descendant of Robert E. Lee who defended two black men accused of killing a white store clerk.  The men were found guilty and hanged.   When the book was published in 1960 and the movie released in 1962, Atticus was the proverbial character before his time.  Set under Jim Crow laws and before the Civil Rights Movement moved South, he was cutting-edge-brave in defending a black man, though innocent, against the charges of a white man, though evil. A mix of practicality and idealism, he cautions Scout: “You might hear some ugly talk about it at school, but do one thing for me if you will: you just hold your head high and keep your fists down…Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try and win.”

Many, like my friend, Public Defender Greg Burlison (who gave us the words for our Atticus tee) have been inspired by Atticus’ courtroom scenes, where he declares: ”There is one institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president.  That institution, gentlemen, is a court…Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal…I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal for me, it is a living, working reality…A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up…restore this man to his family.  In the name of God, do your duty.” 

I first read the novel when I was not much older than Scout at the time of Tom Robinson's trial.   Together we awaited the verdict.  When I heard it, I felt as confused as she did by injustice.  But also like her, I began to understand greatness.  As someone nudged her to stand, something inside me was awakened and stood:  “All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet.  Reverend Syke’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s: ‘Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passin.’” 

This is one of my favorite dramatic scenes in all of classic literature--a  moment where homage is paid to what’s true and right even when everything goes wrong.  But my favorite Atticus moment is more understated.  Miss Stephanie Crawford relays how Atticus turns the other cheek—literally:

“Atticus was leaving the office when Mr. Ewell approached him, spat on him, and threatened to kill him…Atticus didn’t bat an eye, just took off his handkerchief and wiped his face and stood there.”  Practicing what he preached to Scout and turning the other cheek—literally—he simply said later,  “I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco.”

I won’t lie.  The little girl who  watched John Wayne and Clint Eastwood with her dad wanted Atticus to beat or blow Ewell away—especially given what his hatred did to Tom.  And while the teenager in me spent too much time looking for a “guy with an edge” like Heathcliff, Brando, or Depp, the woman in me recognizes a real man.  One of compassion, humility, quiet strength. Like a guy who told me once he doesn’t kill butterflies,  Atticus doesn’t kill mockingbirds.  He appreciates and defends innocence.   A man of character and substance who, though not perfect, seeks daily to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Classic Coup Catalog

Photographer: Jenny Mandeville
Click Images to See Larger

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dante, Rodin, and Camelot Rising

Classic Coup moves us to  read, think, discuss, and engage.  We're about connecting ideas and people. We challenge those who want to live deliberate lives to embrace diversity as we not only read about life together but do life together--learning from our differences.  We recognize the relationship between the humanities-literature, music, the visual and performing arts--because all explore the human condition.   As exemplified by artists such as Rodin who sculpted both The Kiss and The Thinker, our shared humanity delights and plagues us.  The fine arts celebrate our cerebral and our passionate sides.  While they remind us of being human they also reveal our capacity for being humane.  They challenge us to listen, to understand, to imagine, to hope.

The legendary King Arthur  called his knights to the Round Table, a symbol of unity and equality, to harness Might for Right to problem- solve for peace.   At the end of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Arthur envisions a round table even greater than the hub of Camelot: “a table without boundaries between the nations who would sit to feast there.”  He decides “the hope of making it  would lie in culture."

I was asked to write an article on history being made September 9th when twenty –three of Auguste Rodin’s posthumous original bronze sculptures are sold at a private gala event--not in New York City or Paris-- but in Franklin, Tennessee.  Proceeds will benefit the future, children of New Hope Academy, a college preparatory school in Williamson County that serves economically, racially and culturally diverse families, with more than half the students attending through private donations.

The philosophy of New Hope Academy is that positive change "begins with understanding and that understanding takes place in genuine relationships. Separately, we remain impoverished and underprivileged—the poor and affluent alike. Together, we become empowered and enlightened."

The Rodin works and those of 24 other artists will be on exhibition to the public September 10-13 from  at Bella Luce, a 30- acre Tuscan villa.  The setting, according to John Davis, was the draw to bringing the art sale and exhibit to Tennessee.  He is with Dragon Fine Arts, a fine art consulting firm, who, in association with Twenty 21 Collections/Gallery Rodin, is producing the exhibition.  “We believe that this is one of the most important and impressive exhibits of work by such major artists ever to be brought together for our local audience.”

How fitting that Rodin's The Thinker will be set against an Italian backdrop considering Dante, author of The Divine Comedy, was from Florence, cradle of the Renaissance marking the rebirth of the classics.  The result?  The funding of a quality education in a diverse community giving new hope to children…  our future.  Just another example of art meets life and of the benefits of learning from one another--the stuff Classic Coup is made of.

Stay tuned for the release of our Once and Future King shirt that looks to the future made legendary by the past.  For those of us who dare to see the good around ready to wear Camelot Rising.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Have a Shirt Idea?

Creative Consultant, Joey Mandeville, with Burlisons. Tory Watkins on far left.

Last spring I asked my seniors to help me decide which shirts should be launched first. Given I'd been making a list for years, there were many fun choices. Narrowing them down to just five styles for the first run was tough. It became even harder to choose when students began throwing out their own ideas. Senior Braden Anderson, honors student and school quarterback, nodded with his signature smile and confidently said, "Party at Gatsby's." We knew we had a winner.

Later friends began to brainstorm. While tailgating outside the Vanderbilt stadium before a Dave Matthews concert, I asked for ideas for an Atticus Finch shirt. Greg Burlison, a Public Defender, was excited about his personal hero who has inspired so many law school students to pursue legal careers. What about, "Atticus Finch for Chief Justice"? he asked. Another star of our shirt collection was born. Later his wife, Sara, one of my best friends, a former student and English teacher herself, called excited saying we had to do a line of Onesies. While spoon feeding her baby, Trent, she thought of the perfect quote for our prototype: Oliver Twist's plea, "Please, Sir, I want some more."

How fitting that three of our shirts in the premier collection were contributed by former students and friends. Talking books affirms that lit is life... and that many heads are better than one. We'd like to get you into the act, too. Send us your ideas in the comments below. If we bring your brain child to life, we'll feature you on Classic Coup wearing your free shirt. We not only meet at the round table to discuss rich reads and foster global education. We meet at the drawing table for creative collaboration to move the world with cool shirts--one book at a time.

Braden promises to sport his shirt at the University of Tennessee this fall.

High school buds Trey and Jordan congratulate him on his Great idea.

The Burlisons, UT grads themselves, pass their love of reading to the next generation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Great Expectations...A Testimonial

Jennifer King Payne graduated from high school in 1991. She's now a firefighter/paramedic/health and safety officer in Virginia. With her permission, I've reprinted her message to me on Facebook:

I checked out the Classic Coup website and wanted you to know it's brilliant and has reminded me of why it's important that my children get excited about the classics. I will be using the site to buy teacher's gifts and encourage them to go to the site as well.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for being a total inspiration to me in high school. You taught me to think outside of the box and to develop a real love for reading, writing and the arts in general. Unfortunately, that love didn't surface until long after I graduated. Still, I knew that you were the one that planted that seed.

Back then, I turned in sub-standard work and thoughtless projects. I was the hot mess with no drive and no parental support. It's difficult to look back at times in your life that were so painful, where you make horrible decisions that leave a path of destruction a mile ride. As I reviewed your website, I remembered the love for those books and characters that you taught us to embrace. I was amazed how I was instantly taken back to my Junior and Senior year, where you were able to bring those literary collections to life and taught us to compare them to present day works of art.

On my trip down memory lane, I found that I identify with the characters of Great Expectations. In high school, I was two characters, young Pip and Miss Havisham. As young Pip, I was ashamed of where I came from and longed to be someone else. At the same time, I was Miss Havisham, as I fell for the man who everyone warned me about, only be left in shambles, memorializing that moment which only left me bitter and unable to move past my own agony.

At 20, I was Estella, having a man like Pip love me only to marry Bentley Drummle, where I resigned myself to a life of misery with someone as miserable as I was.

As luck would have it, at 26, a reformed Miss Havisham appeared, bitter-free. I had let go of the past and came to grips with the pain that was caused, not just to other people but to myself. She saved my internal Estella. No, Bentley Drummle didn't physically die in my story, but he did make an official exit from my life and waiting for me was Pip.

Though I was an uninspired kid full of shame and regret, I have certainly grown into an adult full of great expectations to instill into my own children. Thank you for reminding me how to do that and for teaching me to embrace the classics to begin with.

The classics not only connect to our individual lives. They connect us to each other as parents and children discuss books beloved by all ages.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Photo Shoot

These are some of our favorite pictures shot August 6th for the Classic Coup catalog. Soon you'll be able to order the shirts online. Stay tuned...

Thanks to Julie Freeman of Phat Bites for the location. More on our Phat Bites connection later...

Also thanks to Photographer Jenny Mandeville and Joey Mandeville, her assistant, for incredible work. And to our models who stayed cool despite blistering heat--Ben, Sarah, Emily S., Jonathan, Greg, Sara, Trent, Lauren, Emily L., Abby, Taylor, Cole, Zach and Jonah-- Great job!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Classic Coup Heathcliff and Gatsby/Jenny Mandeville Photographer

Consider Johnny Depp. While he endeared women as Edward Scissorhands, J. M. Barrie, and Gilbert Grape, he made them downright swoon in Chocolat and Blow. And this summer when Johnny D played John Dillinger, like his love interest in Public Enemies, females everywhere found him to die for--literally. Even those of us who hate violence sacrificed a piece of our hearing and all of our hearts to a convicted criminal. We sat through over two hours of machine gun rapid fire solely to see the love story of an outlaw whose weakness was a hat check girl.

The allure goes so much deeper than Depp. It's not just about a pretty face or his being one of the greatest actors of our time. Classic movies, like books, are character-driven. So what’s the appeal of a gypsy drifter, a boy-next-door drug smuggler, and a bravado-slinging bank robber? It’s the edge-thing…A combination of danger, intensity, and confidence (if not swagger). But it’s also the belief women have been clinging to since Beauty and the Beast whether they read the classic or saw the Disney movie--that under the rough exterior is an ultimately good heart. That with the right woman, the diamond-in-the-rough will shine. That when a bad boy finds his soul mate, he’ll be tamed. Or when a tortured soul-- like, say Edward of the Twilight series--meets his match, he'll be humanized and whole.

It’s an old story.
So where did this obsession with bad boys on the screen, in literature, and in real life begin? In Wuthering Heights… with a character so large he’s known by a single name: Heathcliff. The original rebel and prototype for characters later played by Marlon Brando and James Dean, Heathcliff is the smoldering, mysterious outcast-- the strong silent type who is volatile with enemies but undone by the woman he loves. Mistreated as a child, he acts out as an adult. Rebels love and hate hotly. They’d rather burn out than rust out which seems far more exciting. They are passion incarnate. Thus Heathcliff loyally loves the same woman from the time they are four until beyond the grave. Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting, Brad Pitt’s in Legends of the Fall, and Matt Dillon’s in The Outsiders all descended from Heathcliff. Most rebels are laden with baggage and have women waiting to carry it for them. Women who think they will rewrite Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” but fail. Mostly because they are more Isabella than Catherine. Seemingly it takes a strong woman to handle a strong man. And maybe it's in the story of June and Johnny Cash.

One thing is for sure. Readers of
Wuthering Heights either get Heathcliff or they don’t. They love him or hate him. They deem his actions as righteous anger or base revenge. They see him as a victim or victimizer, an underdog or an overlord. They see Catherine and Heathcliff as peerless lovers or pathetic codependents. How do you view Heathcliff? We want to know. Give us your comments on the book or tell us about your own Bad Boy Binge. And check our our Heathcliff shirt--in honor of my first bad boy crush.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Classic Coup was born out of passion--a love of great books, conversation, and people. And… a rebel desire to move readers to reject the status quo and live a deliberate life of positive change.

Classics by definition are timeless, forever young in relevance and urgency, books of substance that breathe. Their authors invite us to wrestle alongside them with life’s toughest issues. Paradoxically they sometimes offer escape but always demand engagement. Classics are not about comfort. Rather, as Kafka said, “A good book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us.” Malcolm Bradbury concurs: “A conventional good read is usually a bad read, a relaxing bath in what we know already. A true good read is surely an act of innovative creation in which we, the readers, become conspirators.”

To live deliberately we must read deliberately. Bored by fluff fiction, Classic Coup readers understand Thoreau when he said, “In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is another name for tameness. It is the uncivilized free and wild thinking in Hamlet and the Iliad…that delights us.”

A Barbaric Yawper and Rebel Yeller, I’ve spent almost three decades telling my students great books matter because they reflect and change life. Since Bryan Adams and M.C. Hammer sold out concerts and Desert Storm and Monica Lewinsky headlined the news, each fall commences with kids eying me suspiciously from under bangs, mullets and Mohawks. But by Commencement, they are talking with me openly about books…and life. As adults, they drop by or chat on Facebook, confessing they’re rereading or finally reading classics I had assigned.

And we often laugh…especially about their final project--a parody of the books I force-fed them. Before Family Guy or The Simpsons, my kids were videotaping their own smart satires. Like when they filmed Hamlet, Willie Loman, and Stanley Kowalski in an anger management group; Blanche DuBois, Holden Caulfield, and Kurtz in a Read World interview; or Tess, Catherine, Ms. McCain and Heathcliff in a Bachelor episode. Such drama made for great comedy...and inspired Classic Coup's Sassy Cynics line.

One of those former students is Angela Muir. An adult at sixteen, she was always going places—literally. Reading for my class wasn’t easy given that when not in English she was running the Nashville Bridal Show, working hours on her art portfolio, and traveling—as far as Italy and Greece on a school trip I chaperoned. We bonded in Rome where we were mugged by a handbag salesman, then accosted by the Italian police... and in Delphi where I met a Heathcliff double who would later inspire our Wuthering Heights shirt.

Not long after Angela started classes at Rhode Island School of Design, I called her to discuss designs for t- shirts. The idea incubated as she interned with Vera Wang, graduated, married, and started her own line of wedding gowns. Meanwhile I continued raising children, teaching, and writing for an online newspaper about Latin culture. Then last spring Angela met me for lunch. An hour later (plus about five years), Classic Coup was born.

We decided our goals: to promote reading classics, to encourage cross-generational and cross-the-world discussion, and to fight global poverty and illiteracy with part of our proceeds. I began researching people-groups in need, seeking a fledgling, grassroots cause that would use funds for food, clothing, shelter, and education—not administrative costs. Giving back was important to us and thus the inspiration for our Hopeful Romantics line.

Months later, still a rebel-with-an- undetermined-final-cause, I met a friend for lunch, Sherry Coyle. Formerly an English teacher herself, she shared news about a life change. She and her husband, Darin, were forming a nonprofit organization, Kaleo Kids, to provide homes and education for the orphaned children of Quito, Ecuador. After hearing their vision, researching Quito, and realizing I'd been drawn to Latin America for awhile (through friends I've met and interviews I've done for as the Nashville Latin Dancing Examiner), Classic Coup committed resources to Kaleo Kids . As I write this the Coyles are in Ecuador making preparations for their permanent move there in the summer of 2010.

Classic Coup will officially launch August 6, 2009 with a photo shoot. Volunteering their time are models and another former student, NYU grad and professional photographer, Jenny Mandeville.

The dream deferred has become a movement realized.
On Greek Island Cruise

Angela's Senior Year
In Mykonos Greece

Angela Muir (l) and CindyMcCain (r) at Phat Bites April 3, 2009

In Greece June 2004

In July 2009 selecting designs for the first run