William Faulkner called him “…the first truly American writer.” Ernest Hemingway declared that all American writing comes from “Huckleberry Finn,” and “there has been nothing as good since.” And Norman Mailer said “Huck Finn” stands up “page for page” to the “best modern American novels.” Wednesday marks the 176th anniversary of the birth of the matchless Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain. His genius lay in his distinctive ability to convey profound wisdom and profane wit in the same breath. Here, in tribute to the man Faulkner called the “father of American literature,” are 10 quotes from Mark Twain.
The Washington Talking Book and Braille Library serves more than 10,000 state residents and runs on the best efforts of 400 volunteers, providing recorded and Braille books for anyone with a disability that prevents them from reading books in a traditional format.
Susan K. Perry, Ph. D., reviews Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, about an attempt to undo the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She begins her review as follows:
The way I see it, there are at least two kinds of time travel stories. There are those that are science-based, real science fiction. A machine is often involved, and some kind of time-space anomaly is seriously pondered. Then there is what I think of as the romantic genre of time travel. Who needs a machine when you can step through a magic mirror, walk along the sidewalk, or step down an invisible stair?
That last is King’s choice in 11/22/63.
I was drawn in by the title of her blog entry and by this opening, but, in this quite short review, she has very little to say about time travel:
It was an odd choice to have the time traveller having to go back to several years before the main incident. That makes the reading a long haul. History resets with each trip, and when the time traveller says he gets exhausted just thinking about going back again to do things better, so does this reader. The suspense becomes much more keen when we finally get to the assassination scene.
Here’s her conclusion:
King fans: you’ll love it. Time-travel fans: its approach is different enough to make reading it worth the time (unless you’ve got only a month left to live, in which case, find something better to do). Conspiracy theorists: it’s a big book, but it doesn’t break any new ground.
I’ve always liked time travel stories because I find fascinating the questions of what I’d do differently if I had the chance to relive a portion of my life or how I would react if I found myself in a time and place other than my own. I had hoped for some discussion of issues such as these in Perry’s review.
A couple of my favorite time-travel novels are The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Kindred by Octavia Butler. Do you have any favorites?
Jane Friedman, publishing mogul and college professor, offers ” a list of the best blogs and websites focused on literary fiction and culture.”
Be sure to read the comments, where other people have submitted their own suggestions.
The Huffington Post reports on a study by Dr. Kenneth Heaton, a retired gastroenterologist and researcher at the University of Bristol in the U. K. The study investigated how doctors could improve treatment for patients suffering from psychosomatic symptoms. Heaton concluded that doctors should look at Shakespeare’s plays for help in understanding their patients physical manifestations of psychological distress:
Analysis of the Bard’s major works showed the British playwright’s sensibility of the links between emotional distress and physical symptoms.
Hamlet suffers fatigue after the loss of his father, complaining of his “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” existence, while in King Lear, Gloucester’s despair causes his “senses [to] grow imperfect.”
Heaton hopes that his research, published in the journal Medical Humanities, “may help lessen the frequent delay in diagnosis for patients suffering from psychosomatic symptoms.”
The wondrous database that reveals what Americans checked out of the library a century ago
John Plotz admits that thinking about the reading experiences of people in past centuries fascinates him: “I can’t help reading inscriptions, plucking out old bookmarks, decoding faded marginalia. I catch myself wondering who was reading this a century ago, and where, and why?” As a result:
when I learned about What Middletown Read, a database that tracks the borrowing records of the Muncie Public Library between 1891 and 1902, I had some of the same feelings physicists probably have when new subatomic particles show up in their cloud chambers. Could you see how many times a particular book had been taken out? Could you find out when? And by whom? Yes, yes, and yes. You could also find out who those patrons were: their age, race, gender, occupation (and whether that made them blue or white collar, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled), and their names and how they signed them.
The database contains information from ledgers discovered in the attic during a renovation of the Muncie Public Library building, which was built in 1904. The collection of ledgers was brought to light by Ball State University English Professor Frank Felsenstein.
But the database is only a jumping-off point for Plotz, who has been trying to follow the life of one Muncie resident, the teenager Louis Bloom, through the library books that he borrowed. The search took Plotz to various genealogy sources. Eventually he was able to track down some of Bloom’s descendants and interview them about their memories of the man Bloom became. Plotz’s enthusiasm for these old records and what they can teach us about cultural history permeates this lively article. I highly recommend it.
Science fiction and fantasy have tackled everything from environmentalist utopias, to horrific industrial disasters that create pollution zombies. Here are ten speculative novels that explore environmental themes, from a variety of political perspectives, that could change the way you look at nature forever.
Read fuller discussions of these 10 works:
- Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach
- The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley
- The Color of Distance, by Amy Thomson
- Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
- The Lorax, by Doctor Suess
- “The Magic Goes Away” by Larry Niven
- The Alchemist and The Executioness, by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell
- Lilith’s Brood (trilogy), by Octavia Butler
- Watermind by M. M. Buckner
- Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
SFWA Grand Master Anne McCaffrey, 85, died November 21, 2011 of a massive stroke at home in Ireland.
If you will have a bit of free time tomorrow, the Seattle Public Library has compiled a list of 11 books that take place on Thanksgiving.
But wait, there’s more. Here’s the list for the younger folks on your holiday gift list.
The New York Times Notable Books of 2011 gift guide includes titles in two main categories: (1) fiction & poetry, and (2) nonfiction.
Writing in the Guardian, Wayne Gooderham concludes: “Judging by the stories that have been written about it, writers do not make the best of friends.”
The world’s greatest writers use their literary genius to illustrate and comment on the human condition. And yet, those who could be considered to have the best understanding of human feelings often choose to hide themselves away from the public eye. The stereotype of the reclusive author is not always true, but for these literary greats, a life of solitude had more appeal than the draws of fame and awards.
NASHVILLE — After a beloved local bookstore closed here last December and another store was lost to the Borders bankruptcy, this city once known as the Athens of the South, rich in cultural tradition and home to Vanderbilt University, became nearly barren of bookstores.
A collective panic set in among Nashville’s reading faithful. But they have found a savior in Ann Patchett, the best-selling novelist who grew up here. On Wednesday, Ms. Patchett, the acclaimed author of “Bel Canto” and “Truth and Beauty,” will open Parnassus Books, an independent bookstore that is the product of six months of breakneck planning and a healthy infusion of cash from its owner.
Hefting Neal Stephenson’s latest 1000+-page tome, Reamde, prompts science and technology writer David DiSalvo to consider the contrast between traditionally published books and books on an ereader. He admits to participating in the ereader culture:
I own a Kindle and like it quite a lot, especially for travel, and I’m sure the latest volley of tablets arriving on the market all have something to offer—but none of these devices can offer the sense of achievement one gets from working through the pages, seeing them amass one after another behind a thumb pressing down against the satisfying weight of quality stock.
But, he adds:
Books are much more than words on a page or screen, though what that “more” is seems to irrationally persist against every notion of progress a digital economy trumpets.
I’m not sure what his notion of that “more” is, but my notion of it is the transactional building of a textual world that occurs when an individual reader interacts with a written text to create the poem, as described by Louise Rosenblatt in The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. In Rosenblatt’s terms, the text is the words the author wrote, while the poem is the imaginal world that the reader builds while interacting with the author’s text. And I don’t see how it makes any difference whether the text is printed on paper or appears on an electronic device. Yes, “Books are much more than words on a page or screen,” but that “more” is created in the reader’s mind, regardless of which form the presentation of the text takes.
The poet John Ashbery, speaking at the 2011 National Book Awards this week, said “Reading is difficult…[it is] pleasurable and painful…it can change a person.” And that is precisely why I will keep buying books like Reamde as true to form books and not digital uploads to my Kindle. I want the difficult experience of reading a challenging book to resonate beyond my eyes. I want the entire experience, and I want to feel the sense of accomplishment from embracing the challenge.
All right. But, for my money, he’s begging the question. How does using an ereader prevent him from having “the entire experience” of engaging with the text? What is it about the inherent nature of ink on paper that makes a printed book essentially different from an ebook? Begging the question means assuming that something is true, then asserting that assumption as “proof” of the fact in question, and that is exactly what DiSalvo does here.
He also writes:
If we attempt to relegate reading entirely to a one-dimensional form, no matter how stylized or convenient, I think we are mystified by an illusion of progress masking regress. Maybe the loss from doing so can’t be quantified, but it’s real nonetheless, in the same way that watching the world through a TV screen instead of imbibing it through experience is a profound negation of what it means to be human. There will never be a digital prosthetic capable of replacing what’s lost when we trade fullness for immediacy.
A “one-dimensional form”? An ereader is just as three-dimensional as a printed book; it’s just that one of those dimensions, thickness, is a lot smaller than the book’s, particularly in the case of Reamde. And his comparison of reading to “watching the world through a TV screen instead of imbibing it through experience” is simply not apt in this context. There IS a real world outside, and watching it on TV is not the same as experiencing it. But the world produced by reading a book–the poem, in Rosenblatt’s terms–does not have an objective existence; it only comes into existence when a reader creates it by interacting with a text. So this argument, too, begs the question.
In the end, the entire ebook vs. printed book argument comes down to personal preference. Some people will prefer one over the other all the time; other people may prefer one over the other depending on circumstances (an ereader is much easier to lug on vacation than a stack of books, after all). And it’s certainly all right to express one’s personal preference. Just admit that that’s what it is.
Writers from Antonia Fraser to Andrew Motion choose their best books of the year.
Library Journal weighs in with its best books lists. The list linked here is of the all-around top 10, but the right sidebar contains links to these other lists:
- More of the Best
- Street Lit
- Historical Fiction
- Christian Fiction
- Women’s Fiction
The 62nd National Book Awards were held at Cipriani’s on Wall Street on Wednesday night, with the awards going to Thanhha Lai for Inside Out & Back Again (Young People’s Literature), Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split (Poetry), Stephen Greenblatt for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Nonfiction), and Jesmyn Ward for Salvage the Bones (Fiction).