I live in Tacoma, WA, about 30 miles south of Seattle, the epicenter of the coronavirus influx into the United States. This article in Slate therefore caught my eye and seems appropriate to pass on since it’s about books.
Laurie Swift Raisys, owner of Island Books in Mercer Island, WA, points out a fear that all business owners must face when nobody is going out shopping:
As a business owner, you rely on the community and the people that come in and shop at your store in order to pay your bills and pay your employees. Last week was incredibly stressful, and this week has been very stressful, and I don’t really see an end in sight right now.
But what pulled at my heartstrings even more than the purely economic complications of this medical emergency is the community impact:
We’re a community gathering place. Our slogan is “Real people, real books, real community,” and we’ve been around 46 years. My husband grew up on the island, and I worked part time for a number of years as a contractor. My contract ended one year and I decided I was going to do something different. I’d always wanted to own an island business, because I love this community. Everyone knows your name. They know your kids.
Raisys explains that several of her customers are over 60, the demographic most at risk from this particular virus. These people have been ordering by phone or email, and she has been dropping off books at their homes.
Further, “People are hibernating, and it makes it hard for us as a place of community. You cannot be in the business of social distancing, as they’re calling it, when you are a place that people come to for book clubs.” Often, book club represents the sum total of people’s social life, especially older people’s.
It’s easy to lose sight of aspects like this when we’re focused on more immediate health concerns. “It’s a small town, and they [residents] support when they can,” Raisys writes, but this disease is bound to have severe long-term effects after the immediate crisis is over.
Joe Pinsker looks at the question of “why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t.” Here’s no surprise: “a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”
“Since Reese’s Book Club launched in 2017 in partnership with the actress’s media company, Hello Sunshine, it has become an industry phenomenon with the power to catapult titles to the top of the bestseller lists.” According to the article, “Reese really picks the books.”
James Parker, a staff writer for The Atlantic, praises English novelist Mick Herron on the publication of his latest novel, Joe Country. “Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England,” the article’s subtitle proclaims.
“Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance.”
Here’s another look at the age-old, ever-recurring question of the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction.
This omnivorous selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and World Fantasy Award finalist Machado is a display of the most boundary-pushing, genre-blurring, stylistically singular science fiction and fantasy stories published in the last year. By sending us to alternate universes and chronicling ordinary magic, introducing us to mythical beasts and talking animals, and engaging with a wide spectrum of emotion from tenderness to fear, each of these stories challenge the way we see our place in the cosmos.
Harvard Ph.D. candidate Manvir Singh discusses what he calls the sympathetic plot, which pervades world literature and controls how we respond to stories. One common trope of the sympathetic plot is the story of orphans, “parentless protagonists [that] are everywhere.”
Are you looking for a bold new book that’s sure to get conversation going with your book club? We’ve compiled a list of some of the most controversial books included on the American Library Association’s annual list of books that have recently been restricted, removed, or banned. From beloved classics to modern fiction, these thought-provoking reads are sure to get tongues wagging at your next book club meeting.
Oprah Winfrey started her book club in 1996 and, for the last twenty years, millions of books have been sold and read because of her recommendations and her dedication to promoting brilliant writers. Here are just some of the bestselling, award-winning, and truly life-changing books that she has selected for her book club.
Who among us who love reading fiction have not asked ourselves these questions:
At some point we must ask ourselves if fiction is junk food for our souls. Too much of my lifetime has been consumed in make-believe. My friends talk about what they do, I talked about books, movies and television shows. I even prefer hanging out with other addicts, by being in four book clubs. When I die, and my life flashes in front of my eyes, a huge chunk of what I see will be me staring at a book, television, or movie screen. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. Is it an addiction? I think it is.
James Wallace Harris arrives at what is possible a rationalized conclusion, but one most of us probably understand and even agree with:
I believe fiction is a negative addiction when we use it as a substitute for living, but a positive addition when its a communication tool for comprehending each other.
Back in the good old days, before the demise of Borders, I belonged to two book clubs at my local Borders stores. But my first book club was held at the local public library.
This article examines the question of how important book clubs are now that many people download ebooks instead of purchasing hardcover books.
According to Ann Berlin of the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, which hosts quarterly parties for its approximately 60 external book clubs, “a lot of [book club members] are regular customers, and they’re ordering backlist.” She added, “What’s important to us is our relationship with our customers. We give people what they want, when they want it.”
I loved Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist when I read it many years ago. And one of my favorite current authors is mystery writer Michael Connelly. So this review by Connelly of Carr’s new book, Surrender, New York, in the New York Times was right up my alley.
Carr is best known for “The Alienist,” a beautifully wrought novel set more than a century ago at the dawn of behavioral profiling and other detective sciences. In “Surrender, New York,” he has written an addictive contemporary crime procedural stuffed with observations on the manipulations of science and the particular societal ills of the moment. Call it mystery with multiple messages.
From Jane E. Brody, long-time health writer for the New York Times:
A recently published book, “70 Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,” inspired me to take a closer look at how I’m doing as I approach 75 and how I might make the most of the years to come. It would be a good idea for women in my age cohort to do likewise. With a quarter of American women age 65 expected to live into their 90s, there could be quite a few years to think about.
About the book 70 Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade, Brody writes:
What are the most important issues facing these women as they age, and how might society help ease their way into the future? Leading topics the women chose to explore included work and retirement, ageism, coping with functional changes, caretaking, living arrangements, social connections, grandparenting and adjusting to loss and death.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book, Eligible, is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice.
While social rules have changed dramatically in the 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s themes of love, wealth and class are still relevant. Women today can secure financial independence and enjoy intimate relationships without a marriage certificate. Yet societal pressures to marry and bear children persist. And so does the allure of “a single man in possession of a good fortune.”
Book clubs have a reputation as something women do together, but this article focuses on an all-male group in Marin County, CA:
The Man Book Club is going into its ninth year. It has 16 members, a number of whom are lawyers and engineers in their mid–50s. Each month, the host must prepare a meal appropriate to the book under discussion.
There’s also information on other all-male book groups around the country.
Our perspective is how we perceive people, situations, ideas, etc. It’s informed by our personal experience, which makes it as unique as anything could be. Perspective shapes our life by affecting our choices. But the minute our minds become steeped in worry, perspective goes out of the window. We forget about our triumphs. We stop being optimistic as fear takes the wheel.
Sarah Newman explains how fear can cause us to lose sight of all the wisdom we’ve accrued over our lives.
Coming of age is such a common topic for fiction that this type of novel has its own name: Bildungsroman. These novels focus on the psychological growth of the main character from youth into adulthood.
Here novelist Meg Rosoff discusses these coming-of-age novels:
This is a common question among avid readers: Should authors’ prejudices affect our reactions to their books?
In this article Imogen Russell Williams asks:
The unsavoury attitudes found in novels from writers such as GK Chesterton and Susan Coolidge have ruined some of the fiction I loved most as a child. But where do you draw the line when you return to tainted classics?
A report, recently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, on a comprehensive review of the science behind speed reading:
The team behind the research looked at decades of studies focused on all manner of techniques and apps that promise to help you devour words at an incredible clip. Sadly, what they found is that what looks too good to be true almost certainly is.
I don’t think the value of belonging to a book club should be limited to women. However, there are quite a few truths buried in this light-hearted piece. And I met some of my closest friends in book groups.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I offer you this chance to join an online book group, started by Emma Watson (you know, Hermione Granger):
The plan is to select and read a book every month, then discuss the work during the month’s last week (to give everyone time to read it!). I will post some questions/quotes to get things started, but I would love for this to grow into an open discussion with and between you all. Whenever possible I hope to have the author, or another prominent voice on the subject, join the conversation.
revision is not reserved for authors and editors. It is also a power that belongs to all readers, especially ones who undertake multiple readings of a text over time.
To illustrate, he discusses his own experience of reading The Great Gatsby seven times. For good measure, he talks about how to read like a writer:
This is what X-ray reading does for the writer. It reveals the strategies beneath the surface of the text that create meaning. That meaning can endure for decades and even centuries, or it can be enriched – seen with a stabbing clarity – through the re-visions of a devoted reader.
Reading, one of the world’s most enduring pastimes, hasn’t historically needed clever ads or flashy marketing campaigns to convince people of its worth. But Coffee Sleeves Conversation, as the Coffee House Press project became known, is one of a number of growing efforts around the world to advertise literature as a whole—by taking the message that reading can be accessible, enjoyable, and life-improving to unexpected places, from vending machines and subway cars to fast-food chains.
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.
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.
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.
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”:
Make ‘Em Laugh by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway
Soundless by Richelle Mead
Unstoppable by Bill Nye
Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food by Nigella Lawson
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen by Kate Williams
Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
The Emperor of Sound by Timbaland
Hello? by Liza Wiemer
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.
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.
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–22by 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 Manby 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.
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 Godby 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.