On Novels and Novelists


On Tolstoy Therapy, Lucy discusses books that she has loved and “ snippets of literary interestingness.” In this post she offers some reading choices for your winter reading in the categories of big books, feel-good novels, and literary classics.

Lucy also has a lot of information about bibliotherapy on her blog. Keep in mind, though, that she is not a therapist and that reading cannot replace professional attention for mental health issues.

How One Author Turned the Internet into a Giant Book Club

All authors dream of having a huge readership. And all authors whose last name isn’t King, Patterson, or Rowling know that they have to participate in marketing their work to gain that readership. In this article Nomi Eve describes a plan she launched after publication of her second novel, Henna House:

Grand gestures set you apart from the rest of the world. So I came up with my grand gesture. I challenged myself to personally meet with 100 book clubs. I called it my 100 Book Club Challenge and put the word out on Facebook that I would meet with any book club (either in person or by Skype) that invited me. I asked people to help me reach a goal and to become part of a community of readers.

Read the story of how her challenge succeeded in a way much bigger than she had expected. I’m always glad to hear about authors who welcome interaction with readers because they know that, without readers, their books don’t amount to much.

Nomi Eve’s first novel is The Family Orchard.

J.K. Rowling reveals why she created alter ego Robert Galbraith

In the Los Angeles Times Michael Schaub expands on an interview by J.K. Rowling with NPR about why she chose to publish her mystery series under a pseudonym:

“[T]here was a phenomenal amount of pressure that went with being the writer of Harry Potter, and that aspect of publishing those books I do not particularly miss,” Rowling said. “So you can probably understand the appeal of going away and creating something very different, and just letting it stand or fall on its own merits.”

Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, published under her own name, received mediocre reviews.

Her most recent novel, Career of Evil, published as Robert Galbraith, is the third in the mystery series that features Cormoran Strike, an army veteran with a prosthetic leg who is the son of a rock star. The two earlier novels in the series are The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm.

You can hear hear the NPR interview here.

11 Must-Read Books Coming This Month

My own TBR (to be read) list is so long that any suggestions of new books to add makes me scream and tear out my hair. But if you need some additions to your own list or suggestions of books to gift this holiday season, this article is for you.

Read why Diana Le describes these as “November’s must-read books”:

  1. Make ‘Em Laugh by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway
  2. Soundless by Richelle Mead
  3. Unstoppable by Bill Nye
  4. Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food by Nigella Lawson
  5. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
  6. Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen by Kate Williams
  7. Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon
  8. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  9. Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
  10. The Emperor of Sound by Timbaland
  11. Hello? by Liza Wiemer
  12. The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I have reproduced this list exactly as it appears on the internet, which means that observant readers will find a dozen books here, not just 11.

A cookbook, biography, memoir, adult and YA fiction: there’s something for everybody here.

All-TIME 100 Novels

Way back in January 2010 Time magazine drew up a list of “the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923—the beginning of TIME”: All-TIME 100 Novels:

The parameters: English language novels published anywhere in the world since 1923, the year that TIME Magazine began, which, before you ask, means that Ulysses (1922) doesn’t make the cut.

Richard Lacayo and Lev Grossman used this approach in drawing up the list:

Grossman and I [Lacayo] each began by drawing up inventories of our nominees. Once we traded notes, it turned out that more than 80 of our separately chosen titles matched. (Even some of the less well-known ones, like At-Swim Two Birds.) We decided then that we would more or less divide the remaining slots between us. That would allow each of us to include books that the other might not have chosen. Or might not even have read. (Ubik? What’s an Ubik?) And that would extend the list into places where mere agreement wouldn’t take it.

They end by acknowledging that there are many titles not included “that we’re still anguishing over.”

I never did anything with this list when it first came out, but I come across references to it often enough that I thought it time to do the math.

This is the key to my list:

Books I’ve read: 45

Books that are on my classics reading list: 3

A – B

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

I read this in college in a course on the contemporary novel.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it as either a junior or senior high school. It was the book that made me realize how all the pieces of a well-crafted novel fall together.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

I read this in graduate school.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Like just about every other American kid, I read this in high school.

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I read this when my daughter was young. It’s more of her generation than mine, but I wanted to be able to talk about it with her.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I read this with a book group when the paperback edition came out.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten to this one.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I’ve read this one twice: It’s that good. (The first time was for a book group; the second time was on my own.)

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

I read this one for my in-person classics book group.

C – D

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Catch–22 by Joseph Heller

I read this on my own early in my college years.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I’ve read this several times, most recently about a year ago for my in-person classics book group.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

One of my book groups read this not long after it came out.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

This one’s on my personal to-be-read list.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

The Day of the Locust by Nathaneal West

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I can’t remember if we read this in high school or if I just think we did because I’ve heard of it so much.

A Death in the Family by James Agee

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

Deliverance by James Dickey

I read this one after seeing the movie.

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

F – G

Falconer by John Cheever

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

I read this one on my own soon after college.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I read this in college.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read this in college, again in graduate school, and again a few years ago before the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio was released.

H – I

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I read this one several years ago in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of American literature.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Herzog by Saul Bellow

I read this one in a course on contemporary literature in college.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I read this after seeing the PBS version starring Derek Jacobi.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I read this in a college course.

L – N

Light in August by William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve read this twice, once in a college course and again later on my own.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

We also read this one in high school.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

I devoured this one on my own soon after graduating from college.

Loving by Henry Green

Although I haven’t read this, it looks like one I would enjoy.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

I read this one in college in a course on the history of the novel. I reread it on my own many years later.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Money by Martin Amis

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

This one is on my TBR list.

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Native Son by Richard Wright

I read this in an introductory literature course in college.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read this one quite a few years ago when I decided that I should become at least a little familiar with current science fiction. I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed it as a modern quest story.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read this one not long after it came out.

1984 by George Orwell

Again, this is one that I read, probably along with every other American kid, in high school.

O – R

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I read this one on my own when I was filling in the gaps in my reading of American classics.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

I read this one on my own while in college during the 1960s.

The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosiński

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

I read this one while on a Nabokov reading kick between my junior and senior years of college.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I read this one in college.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Another one that I read while in college in the 1960s.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

I’ve read this one twice, on my own both times.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

I’ve read this one at least three times, the latest time within the last year or so for my in-person classics book group.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

This one I read soon after publication. A friend gave me a hardcover copy for Christmas.

The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

This one is waiting on my TBR shelf.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I read this one recently for the online Classics Club.

S – T

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Here’s yet another classic that I read on my own during college in the 1960s.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I also read this one during my mid-life attempt to introduce myself to contemporary science fiction. I liked this one, but I liked The Diamond AGe even more.

The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

I read this once in college and once again much later.

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

This is one I read not long after it came out.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I read this several years ago for a book group.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

One of my book groups read this quite a few years ago.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I don’t remember when I first read this, but I’ve reread it many times over.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I read this in a college course.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

U – W

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Watchmen by Alan Moore,

White Noise by Don DeLillo

I haven’t yet read this one, but it’s on my TBR shelf.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeanne Rhys

This is the August selection for my in-person classics book group, so I’m counting it as read because I’ll be reading it in the next couple of week.

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And what have I learned from doing this assessment?

First, I’ve read fewer than half (45) of these “all-time best” novels. Even if I read and add to the total the titles on my classics club reading list, I’ll still be under half (48).

Second, of the listed novels that I have read, I read most of them in my high school, college, and early adult years. Maybe I had better radar then for good books. But I suspect that the real reason is that many newer books haven’t yet had time to prove themselves as classic novels and therefore are not included in this list. (One notable exception to this speculation is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.)

Third, however I look at the situation, one thing is clear: I have A LOT more reading to do.

Monday Miscellany

INFOGRAPHIC: How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

infographicFor visually oriented readers:

Ever wondered how long it takes to read The Great Gatsby (2.62 hours) compared to Atlas Shrugged (31.22 hours)? If so, you’ll like this infographic by Personal Creations.

William Golding Flies classic holds true 60 years on

It’s 60 years this month since the publication of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. To mark the anniversary his family are giving his literary archive on loan to the University of Exeter – including the very different original version of his famous tale of boys fending for themselves on a tropical island.

The BBC looks back at the significance of Lord of the Flies, originally published in September 1954 after rejections from 10 publishers and one literary agent. Golding’s daughter says that her father’s original title for the novel was “Strangers from Within.” An editor at Faber, the house that agreed to publish the novel, had Golding remove much material explicitly about the atomic war the children had survived. The editor also cut material about Simon to make him less a religious figure than in Golding’s manuscript.

Ms Carver [Golding’s daughter] believes the book has remained in demand for six decades for two main reasons.

”Firstly of course it’s so well written. But also it deals with moral questions which were current after World War Two and which I’m afraid are still relevant today.

Century-old Provo literary club holds its final meeting

A sad story about the demise of the Utah Sorosis women’s group:

The literary group, whose unusual name means aggregation, has been meeting since 1897, a year before the Provo Tabernacle (soon to be City Center Temple) was finished. After 117 years this was the farewell meeting of Utah Sorosis. The nearly 20 women who RSVP’d to Van Orman for the weekday luncheon at Provo’s La Jolla Groves did so with “sadness in your voices,” said Van Orman, age 65.

Group members who attended the luncheon that marked the group’s final meeting ranged in age from 60 to more than 90. Several of them said that they couldn’t get younger women to join to keep the group going.

The “serious intent” of the 18 charter members in 1897, all wives of university professors, was to work toward the highest development of its members through study and work.

Perhaps the group is a victim of changing times, now that women no longer need to join a special group in order to study and work.

9 Marquez e-books coming out in English

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Penguin Random House imprints Vintage Books and Vintage Espanol have announced the ebook publication on October 15 of English translations of several of Marquez’s works:

Besides “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the releases include the novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” and the memoir “Living to Tell the Tale.” Marquez’s classic novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is published in the U.S. by HarperCollins and remains unavailable as an English-language e-book.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, died in April at age 87.

Monday Miscellany

Because I am currently in the process of leaving my heart in San Francisco, this week’s Monday Miscellany is short.

10 of the Best Independent Bookstores Across the U.S.

Barnes & Noble will always be there with a stack of bestsellers, and Half Price Books is likely to have the novel you’re looking for in a pinch. But for travelers, little will beat the act of stepping inside a small, local bookstore, being greeted by the owner and guided through the collection by an employee who actually loves literature as much as you do. Maybe it’s their independent spirit (reading, after all, is a form of freedom), or maybe it’s that they’re connected with local authors, but the independent bookstore manages to live on in an era of Kindles and chain resellers. So, if you’re like us, and agree that a good trip deserves a good book, then just for you, here are 10 of our editors’ favorite independently owned bookstores throughout the United States.

Are you lucky enough to have one of these stores nearby?

  • The Booksmith, San Francisco, CA
  • Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
  • Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
  • Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café & Grill, Washington, D.C.
  • Mercer Street Books & Records, New York
  • Powell’s, Portland, OR
  • Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA
  • Square Books, Oxford, MS
  • Strand Book Store, New York
  • Women & Children First, Chicago, IL

Cheyenne literary club vibrant after 112 years

Then there is the Young Men’s Literary Club of Cheyenne, still going after an incredible 112 years.
Established in 1902, the capital city’s organization is something of a relic and only one of a handful of literary clubs from that era that survive today.
It is an elite men-only organization with 30 active members who must be invited to join.

The rules of the club state that its purpose is “to provide benefits from the training of the mind in literary pursuits and the advantage to be gained by the interchange of ideas and discussion of topics of public interest.”

But isn’t it too bad that no one has realized, during those 112 years, that women read and discuss literature, too? See how the exclusive members reacted to a couple of different attempts to incorporate women into the group.

Shel Silverstein’s Unlikely Rise to Kid Lit Superstardom

Shel Silverstein—the late cartoonist, singer, songwriter, playwright, and mega-selling author of such classics as The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends—didn’t like children’s literature. Spoon-feeding kids sugar-sweet stories just wasn’t his style. Fortunately for generations of young readers, someone convinced him to do something about it—namely, break the mold himself. Using edgy humor, clever rhymes, and tripped-out drawings, Silverstein achieved the impossible. He bridged the worlds of adult and children’s art, while becoming wildly popular in the process.

More of the usual good stuff from Metal Floss.

Monday Miscellany

The Conclusion of Women’s History Month

woman readingAs Women’s History month ends, here are two commemorative lists:

14 Totally Badass Female Authors

Though many truly badass women authors are alive and working today, their stories aren’t yet finished. So as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we wanted to look back on some of the incredible literary women from history and remember how both their work and their lives broke new ground.

Read why Huffington Post thinks these female authors were totally badass:

  1. Louisa May Alcott
  2. Mary McCarthy
  3. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  4. Nellie Bly
  5. Edith Wharton
  6. Zora Neale Hurston
  7. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  8. George Eliot
  9. Mary Wollstonecraft
  10. Carson McCullers
  11. George Sand
  12. Hannah Arendt
  13. Harriet Ann Jacobs
  14. Katherine Anne Porter

The 10 Best Thrillers and Crime Writing By Women

Though James Patterson might be the one getting 17-book deals for millions, some of the best writers of crime, thrillers, and mysteries have been women. Here are some of the best examples of these genres from the past century that will keep you reading past your bedtime (and possibly unable to sleep forever).

Among the authors Jessica Grose recommends here are Agatha Christie, Ann Rule, Edna Buchanan, and Patricia Highsmith.


Australia’s literary cranky ladies


Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

“WHAT’S your book group reading?” I say to a friend encountered on the street. Not: “Are you in a book group?” I have no idea whether Clara is in a book group. We’ve never talked about it. All the same, I just know. Why? Because it’s a safe assumption to make these days.

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) Among them is Clara, whose book group even has a name: the Oracles. They’re reading “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner.

James Atlas learns why book groups aren’t just a fixture of New York City.

Top Literary Cities in the U.S.

What determines a city as ‘literary?’ It’s not enough to have a large library, unique bookstores, or be the birthplace of a famous writer. Nor is it enough to be one of the top literate cities in the United States  Most literary cities have a strong writing program at one of their numerous colleges and universities, as well as bookstores and institutions hosting event after event. If anything, a literary city is a blend of the historical, cultural, and modern parts of literature, encouraging and inspiring future generations to appreciate and take part in the literary world.

See what cities (other than New York City) Gabriella Tutino has chosen for this article in Highbrow Magazine.

On Literary Cravings and Aftertastes

In this unusual take on literary criticism, Allison K. Gibson describes her literary cravings during pregnancy:

While I was pregnant, I learned to follow my instincts — my hunger — to lead me to stories that would nourish me. And, as I learned from that first 3 a.m. craving for “The Night of the Curlews,” certain stories are meant to be savored so that the words continue to nourish long after the last sentence has been swallowed. The best stories leave an aftertaste.

10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing

Writers are terrible procrastinators, and I’m pretty sure that’s because writing, although it can be exhilarating, is also just plain hard. Here author Bill Cotter, who has his own love-hate relationship with his profession, offers some (comforting?) remarks from writers including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Virginia Woolf.

Monday Miscellany

This past week was particularly rich in literary-related stories. Here’s a selection chosen for its variety.

Elizabeth Wein’s top 10 dynamic duos in fiction

Some characters just have to exist in pairs: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Cover: Code Name VerityElizabeth Wein’s excellent novel Code Name Verity features a pair of female protagonists who think of themselves as a Sensational Team. In this article Wein introduces us to some of her favorite literary duos:

it was hard work narrowing down my teams, so I had to make myself some rules for a fair elimination process. Here’s the system I decided to follow. Each team would have to be a Dynamic Duo rather than a fellowship of three or more (that ruled out the Swallows and the Pevensies), and the pair’s involvement with each other had to further a plot unconnected with any potential romance between them (that ruled out Romeo and Juliet). I also decided that for the purposes of this list each pair of favourites needed to be the main characters in their own stories (that ruled out Fred and George Weasley).

I brainstormed a much longer list than I needed. When I looked it over to choose my top ten, I was amazed and also somewhat disgusted. There wasn’t a single pair of girls on the list. There were more stuffed animals than girls on the list. . . . I feel sure there are other pairs of girls out there besides my own, doing Sensational Literary Teamwork, but they don’t appear in any books I’ve read. Maybe that’s exactly why I make them up.”

Study: Reading novels makes us better thinkers

Discussion continues over whether reading literature somehow makes us better people. This article reports on recent research out of the University of Toronto:

“Exposure to literature,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal, “may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”

In other words, exposure to literature may make people more tolerant of ambiguity, a trait that in turn can help them avoid snap judgments, stereotypical thinking, and bad decisions.

Their results should give people “pause to think about the effect of current cutbacks of education in the arts and humanities,” Djikic and her colleagues add. After all, they note, while success in most fields demands the sort of knowledge gained by reading non-fiction, it also “requires people to become insightful about others and their perspectives.”

Building a Better Book Club

I’m usually skeptical of anyone who begins with a comment something like “I haven’t had this experience myself, but here’s what I think about it.” However, in this case I’ll give the writer, Evan Gottlieb, Associate Professor of English at Oregon State University, a pass. As he explains, since his professional life involves discussing literature with others, he feels he should spend the rest of his time attending to other interests.

Gottlieb may never have attended any book club sessions, but I have: countless book club gatherings over more than 20 years. And I can testify that the seven points he makes here are spot on. I especially like his second point, about keeping the discussion on topic:

2. Plot, character, setting, and style are the four basic formal elements of any novel. . . . As long as you are describing, considering, analyzing, or asking questions about one or more of these elements, you can be sure you are staying focused on the book that everyone (presumably) has read and gathered to discuss.

What do you think of Gottlieb’s advice?

Lady Chatterley’s house goes on sale

The manor house in which DH Lawrence set Lady Chatterley’s Lover is among a number of homes with literary connections currently on the market.

This article discusses several English properties with a literary connection currently for sale. There’s also an interesting discussion about whether a literary connection makes a property more or less valuable.

Even if you can’t afford one of these places, the pictures are lovely.

Dysfunctional Families In Literature

Dysfunctional families in literature run the gamut from amusing to chilling, but they all have one thing in common: they keep the reader glued to the page. After all, as readers, we may like the occasional dose of normal, but it doesn’t take long before we’re craving a touch of betrayal or a hint of deceit. Dysfunctional families in literature let us peek into the dark shadows of the psyche while keeping a safe distance.

Novelist Ingrid Thoft offers a slideshow of 10 such families.

A brief survey of the short story part 50: Ivan Turgenev

When Gogol died in 1852, Ivan Turgenev, the man whom many in Russia were calling his successor, was arrested for writing an obituary in praise of the great writer. In fact, the official reason was a pretext. Turgenev had already displeased the tsarist authorities with his series of sketches of rural Russian life, published in the journal the Contemporary between 1847 and 1851, and collected in 1852 as Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.

This book, which it is claimed influenced Tsar Alexander II’s decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861, comprises vignettes of peasant life as observed by a landowning hunter much like Turgenev. Not even Gogol had presented such rounded portrayals of serfs before.

I’m embarrassed that I am just now, with installment #50, discovering this series in The Guardian. Fortunately, there are arrows at the bottom for navigating to “previous” and “next” articles.

I am a feminist and I’ve never read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ till now (Emily Bazelon, Slate) | syracuse.com

I am a feminist and I’ve never read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ till now (Emily Bazelon, Slate) | syracuse.com.

Here’s another article that I missed when compiling today’s Monday Miscellany.

Monday Miscellany

Start you week off right, with some book-related reading.

10 reasons we still love J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’

Here’s a list to warm you up for the December 21 opening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation (Part 1) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel.

A Short Defense of Literary Excess

Novelist Ben Masters laments:

The novelists I find myself attracted to are those who cannot resist the extra adjective, the additional image, the scale-tipping clause. It feels necessary to assert and celebrate this, for we are living in puritanical times. The contemporary preference seems to be for the economical, the efficient, for simple precision (though there is of course such a thing as complex precision). Books, it appears, should be neat and streamlined. Language shouldn’t be allowed to obscure a good story. There is a craving for easily relatable and sympathetic characters. Among critics and reviewers, the plain style is more likely to be praised than the elaborate or sprawling. Embellished prose is treated with suspicion, if not dismissed outright as overwritten, pretentious or self-indulgent. Drab prose is everywhere.

He’s a man after my own heart. I actually like the novels of Henry James. His writing is intricate and complex because the ideas he deals with are large and complex.

And that’s also why one of my favorite books is Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Life isn’t easy. Books like this allow us to study it in all its complexity.

Seattle homeless man arrested, suspected in 1976 Maine killing

I’ve always wondered whether all the forensic wizardry in crime novels and on TV shows like CSI and Law & Order could really happen. The answer is yes.

11 Book Sequels You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

There’s probably a good reason why we’ve never heard of most of these (with the exception of the Lois Lowry trilogy and Paradise Regained).

I have heard of exactly 3 of these. How about you?

The Worst Book List For Women, Ever.

Amanda Nelson takes issue with a list of books recommended last January by Love Twenty, an online magazines for women in their twenties:

So basically, a website devoted to helping women–I’m sorry, girls– in their 20s thinks that those girls are most concerned about shopping, getting married, shopping, maybe getting married, and also shopping (until you get married). Because “With a little sass and a lot of perseverance, you can get your happily ever after, after all.”

Fortunately, she also found an antidote:

I present an alternate list from Thought Catalog- 11 Books You Should Read If You’re A Woman In Your 20s (Hey, she called me a woman!). This list includes Dorothy Parker, Kate Chopin, Toni Morrison, practical books about sex, and even a Hemingway! There are books that discuss race, gender equality, female sexuality (including homosexuality, which Love Twenty basically ignores), depression, and the nature of commitment. It is full of win.

Five Ways to Jump-Start Your Book Club

Kit Steinkellner proposes some truly radical ways to stimulate your book club’s discussions.

How about you? Do you have any suggestions for how to make a book club work? Leave a comment.

Monday Miscellany

Here’s some reading to start off your week.

Five Smarter Ways to Nurture Reading

Girl ReadingSari Harrar has suggestions, based on recent research, for helping children learn to read and to enjoy reading. This one is my favorite:

Link the story to their lives. Pause when you read and ask kids how the story connects to their own experiences. “Where have you seen a train (or a sunset, a forest, or any important element that connects to their own lives) before?”. Research shows that making connections like these builds bigger vocabularies.

10 books you absolutely must read

I love this clever list. It’s not a list of specific book titles, but rather categories of books. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The one that a friend recommends even though it’s in a genre you’ve never read
  • The Young Adult novel that one of your kids loved

The Top 10 Essays Since 1950

Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, has built this list for Publishers Weekly. To choose only 10 essays from a 50+ span of years seems not only ambitious but also, in some ways, arrogant. Indeed, Atwan explains that he had to eliminate whole swaths of work: “all the great examples of New Journalism” and everything written by a non-American author. And, he emphasizes, this is a list of individual essays, not of essayists.

Here’s how he defines what he did include:

To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.

Atwan explains why he has chosen each essay on the list. In a nice touch, the list includes links if online versions of the essays are available.

Literary classics go to the movies

The coming weeks and months will see a spate of films based on books that were required reading for many a high school and college student.

An independent version of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” arrived in select theaters over the weekend. Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” hits theaters Nov. 16, and Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” comes out Dec. 14.

The second in a series of films based on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” will be released Friday, also in limited release. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first in a trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit,” comes out Dec. 14. The cinematic version of the acclaimed novel “Life of Pi” is due Nov. 21.

Book lovers always want to find out if the movie will be better than—or even as good as—the book. This article ends with a helpful summary of these novels. If you plan to read the book before seeing the film, note that many of these works are very long, so budget time accordingly.

A book lover to the very end

Cover: The End of Your LIfe Book Club
The End of Your Life Book Club

After Will Schwalbe’s 73-year-old mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, he began accompanying her to many of her chemotherapy treatments and doctor’s appointments. Both book lovers—Schwalbe is the former editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books—they often passed the time by reading, talking about reading or both.

Their informal waiting-room book club endured for the remaining two years of her life, and led to this tender tribute to Schwalbe’s mother and also to the universal power of books to unite and heal. In it, he chronicles the many books that he and his mother, Mary Anne, read together, and how those books shaped their final years together.

Amy Scribner interviews Schwalbe for BookPage.

Monday Miscellany

This week’s links.

Did You Just Pay Too Much for That eBook?

If you own any kind of ereader (Kindle, Nook, iPad or other tablet, Kobo), you must read this article by Shannon Rupp. When she goes in search of a novel published in 1924, this is what she found:

So as a consumer on the hunt for Parade’s End I had the option of getting a free PDF copy via Project Gutenberg, a neatly packaged iBook via Vigo Classics, or the Random House Digital version of the novel, connected to the paperback tie-in with the mini-series.

PDFs don’t read smoothly on my iPod, so I passed on the freebie. Vigo packages the book for iGizmos for $2.99 and was easy to find in iTunes. Meanwhile, Random House Digital had two prices in iTunes — $8.99 or $13.99 — for exactly the same book Vigo sells, albeit with nicer covers. Over at Amazon.com it cost $15.92 to read the Random House version on a Kindle.

Really, you must read the rest of what she has to say.

Inverting ‘King Lear’ In ‘Goldberg Variations’

Cover: Goldberg Variations
Goldberg Variations

Susan Isaacs, whose latest novel, Goldberg Variations, features a female protagonist who owns a multimillion-dollar business, on whether her strong women characters are feminist role models:

“That’s too lofty, because then I’m taking myself out of the story, out of my imagination, and taking on a political aim. It’s not that I’m apolitical … In my youth, I was a freelance political speechwriter, which taught me a lot about writing fiction, I must add. But I don’t want to do that. I want to tell the story … I came out of an era of the early feminist novels where women went through a grand thrash against usually a lout of a husband, and they wound up having an affair as a way of breaking out. Well, this is fine, but then what? I was blessed, even growing up in the ’50s, with a father who, when I said, ‘I want to be an airline stewardess,’ he said, ‘Why not the pilot?’ … He was an amazing guy. But I always wanted women to want something for themselves beyond all the … womanly things.”

Secrets, lies & TV: Protagonists harbor character-defining secrets

Joanne Ostrow, television critic for the Denver Post, discusses the literary roots of TV characters with secrets:

No matter how Don Draper [of AMC’s hit TV series Mad Men] redesigns himself, we know he actually started life as Dick Whitman, son of a prostitute who died giving birth to him.

The secret gives the narrative an exquisite inner tension.

For as long as it stays secret.

Jonathan Evison on coming back from irredeemable loss

Cover: Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

In this short but moving essay, the author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving explains how writing the novel helped him heal from personal loss:

This book represents nothing less than an emotional catharsis for its author. I wrote this book because I needed to. Because my sister went on a road trip 39 years ago and never came back. And my family has yet to heal from this terrible fact. This novel is about the imperative of getting in that van, because you have no choice but to push yourself and drive on, and keep driving in the face of life’s terrible surprises. It’s about the people and the things you gather along that rough road back to humanity. And in the end, for me, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” is the van in which I finally bring my sister home.

October is National Reading Group Month

On this site you’ll find the story behind National Reading Group Month, a calendar of nation-wide events, and resources and tips for enhancing book discussions. Whether you’re a reading group member, author, bookseller, librarian, or publishing industry professional, get involved in National Reading Group Month. Celebrate the joy of shared reading.

National Reading Group Month is an initiative of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). Founded in 1917, WNBA promotes literacy, a love of reading, and women’s roles in the community of the book.

The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer

In Smithsonian magazine Robert Graysmith tells the story behind one of Mark Twain’s best known characters:

Mark Twain prowled the rough-and-tumble streets of 1860s San Francisco with a hard-drinking, larger-than-life fireman

Fascinating Photographs of Famous Literary Characters in Real Life

After you look at the drawing of the real Tom Sawyer in Smithsonian, take a look at pictures of 10 other literary characters inspired by real people:

The inspiration for “My Antonia”
  1. Alice in Wonderland
  2. Peter Pan
  3. Dorian Gray
  4. Daisy Buchanan
  5. Sherlock Holmes
  6. Lolita and Humbert Humbert
  7. Winnie the Pooh
  8. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty
  9. Antonia Shimerdas
  10. Anne Shirley

Is this how you imagined them?