Saturday, December 28, 2013

Page to Screen: Recent and Upcoming Attractions

Here at the end of the holiday season, it can often be difficult to find the time (or the energy) to throw yourself into a book.  Sometimes all you really want to do is to sit in front of the TV (or computer, or tablet) and soak up the images on screen.  Luckily, there are ways you can do that without necessarily giving up on literature all together.  Here are some programs that I have recently indulged in that still keep me in tune to the great literary works.

Emma Approved

You may remember a while back that I was raving about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and could not wait for the team's new production, Emma Approved, based on Jane Austen's novel Emma.  It took awhile for this production to hit its stride (the story set-up period kind of strayed from what is in the novel), but things are coming together in a wonderful way.  The modernizing of the story is on track, the actors' portrayals are spot on, and things are getting tense in Emma's office.  Since the show is on hiatus until February (sad), now is the perfect time to start catching up.  Here is Episode 1:


Sherlock

Honestly, there is no fandom that has to wait as long as those of us who love Sherlock.  And it's even worse for those of us in the US as we have to wait even longer for gratification.  But the time is finally drawing nigh.  The long awaited Series 3 premiers on PBS on January 19.  You can read about my obsessive love for this show in my reviews of Series 1 & 2.  If you haven't seen the series, do yourself a favor and watch it now.  If you are like me and awaiting the 19th with bated breath, then check out this recently released mini-epsiode that will further whet your appetite:


Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Back in 2010, I read and reviewed Wandering Stars by Sholem Aleichem as part of my summer reading.  Recently, I discovered a documentary of the author's life.  It is a great look, not just at Sholem Aleichem, but also at the rise of Yiddish literature and the breakdown of traditional shtetl life at the end of the 19th century.  It also talks a lot about Aleichem's best known character, Tevye the milkman, upon whom Fiddler on the Roof is based on.  Here is the trailer for it.  You can see the full documentary on Netflix or rent it from Youtube:


Have you watched anything lately that was based on great literature?  Feel free to share it with us.  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Cold Blood

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.” 

One of Truman Capote's most famous works (right behind Breakfast at Tiffany's) is the story of a true American crime.  Written over a period of seven years, Capote crafted a "true crime novel" that would serve as a blueprint for many similar novels to come.  Though it is not a mystery as the victims, perpetrators, and outcome are already known to the reader, it still has a sense of the unknown as we try to wrap our minds around the circumstances that lead to the brutal murder of an innocent family.

The Plot:

There was nothing special about the Clutters.  In many ways they were a typical Kansas farm family.  A hard working, conservative farmer; his reclusive but well loved wife; his popular and vivacious daughter; and his quiet and curious son.  But their quiet, ordinary life was brought to a violent end in the early morning hours of November 15, 1959.  The killing was brutal and the murderers left few clues and no sense of motive.

Investigators had no idea that they were looking for two ex-convicts recently paroled from the Kansas State Penitentiary.  The two men, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, had been told that there was a safe full of money in the Clutter home (a false story) and their intention had been to rob them.  The night ended with bloodshed and no money.  As we follow the story from the night of the murder, through the investigation, and the trial, we can't help but wonder what drove these men to take the lives of four strangers and shatter the peace of a community.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

It is amazing how much people can't help but be fascinated by crime.  Though we feel horror, repulsion, fear, and sadness about it, we still cannot look away.  Perhaps it is because we can see ourselves in the victims and, sometimes, in the criminals themselves.

I think what makes this particular crime so haunting even today is that the Clutter family was so ordinary.  Like many rural Americans (especially in 1959) they were quiet, well-liked, church-going folk who were respected members of their community.  There wasn't anyone who wished them harm.  But then they were murdered.  The crime shattered the small town of Holcomb, Kansas whose residents wondered if they would ever be safe.  If it could happen to the Clutters, it could happen to anyone.  That is one aspect of life that Capote captures here.  We always feel that horrific crimes happen in foreign countries, in big cities, and on the other side of the tracks.  We never stop to think that it could happen in our own towns and our own homes.

The other side of this story is the criminals themselves.  It is clear from the beginning that Capote has no use for the smug Dick Hickock.  He is written off pretty early as the all-American boy gone bad, despite his wholesome upbringing.  Capote is much more fascinated by Perry Smith, the stunted boy/man whose childhood and youth are the stuff of nightmares.  Though Hickock conceived the plan, it was Smith who admitted to pulling the trigger.  He was notably unstable and prone to fits of rage.  Capote's musings on the psychological aspects of the crime are very interesting.  In the end, he concludes that the murders were the result of the pent up hurt and anger that Smith felt for all those who had ever done him wrong and that the Clutters were the unfortunate (and innocent) recipients of his brutality. 

This is not a fun, happy read but it is an important one.  First, it was a pioneer of the genre and the last great work that Capote ever produced.  His later years would be defined by drug use and alcoholism that would ultimately lead to his death.  It is also a hard look at the nature of American crime and violence.  In a time when it seems like every day brings a new story of horrific brutality, you can't help but wonder what leads people to perpetrate such an act.  And, more importantly, what can be done to stop it.

The Movies:

It didn't take long for this popular novel to hit the big screen.  In 1967, only a year after publication, a film version starring Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, and John Forsythe.  It was filmed in many of the actual locations, and was nominated for 4 Oscars.

The story of Capote's research and writing of the novel is equally fascinating.  The 2005 film Capote stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Clifton Collins, Jr.  It was well received and even won Hoffman the Oscar for best actor.  Personally, I found it to be very interesting and finally convinced me to read the novel.

There is a similar film released in 2006 entitled Infamous starring Toby Jones, Daniel Craig, and Sandra Bullock.  It also garnered favorable reviews.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Famous Authors State by State

Business Insider recently published a list of the Most Famous Authors from Every State.  Here is the criteria they used to pick each one:

To qualify for this list, the esteemed wordsmiths had to be born in their respective states, but not necessarily live out their years there.  We considered the authors' fame in terms of ubiquity, literal acclaim, and financial success — and awarded bonus points if the author showed state pride by setting their works there.

Some of the picks are not too surprising.  Mark Twain was listed for Missouri, William Faulkner for Mississippi,  and John Steinbeck for California.  But some of the choices didn't seem to fit as well as others.  For example, they listed the most famous author for my home state of North Carolina as Thomas Wolfe.  Though he is fairly well known within the state (especially in his native Asheville), he isn't a name you hear thrown around very often in the literary world.  My own choice for us would have been the famous short story author O. Henry.  Though many of his stories are set out west or in New York, he is still a native son of NC and is even buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville (the same cemetery as Thomas Wolfe).

Another choice that confused me was the selection of Flannery O'Connor for Georgia.  Though anyone who has read my blog knows that I am a huge fan of her work, she didn't seem like she would be the "most famous" author from the state.  I'd say that distinction would have to go to Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind.  This is arguably one of the America's best known and most read works of all time.  It won the Pulitzer Prize, and even today it sells thousands of copies each year.  I can't help but feel that not choosing Mitchell was an act of political correctness on the part of Business Insider.

How about your home state?  Did they get it right in your opinion?  If you live outside of the US, who would you say is the most famous author from your city/county/province?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Professor

“In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but how many wet days are there in life—November seasons of disaster, when a man's hearth and home would be cold indeed, without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.” 

Charlotte, the last of the Bronte children, died in 1855 at the age of 38.  In 1857, her husband took on the task of editing her first novel which had been rejected over and over by publishers.  In many ways, it embodies much of Charlotte's life experiences and serves as a synopsis of the major themes found in her other works.

The Plot:
 The novel is a letter written by William Crimsworth to an old schoolfellow detailing life after his education.  Though his wealthy relatives want him to become a clergyman, William decides to pursue his own course.  His half-brother, Edward, offers him a position as clerk in his mill.  But Edward is extremely jealous of William's eduction and treats him with contempt and and meanness.  It isn't long before their relationship comes to blows and William strikes out on his own.

He decides to travel to Belgium and accepts a position as an English professor at an all-boys boarding school run by M. Pelet.  His abilities soon catch the attention of Mlle. Reuter who runs the all-girls boarding school next door.  While working double duty at both schools, William becomes involved on a personal level, both with Mlle. Reuter and Frances, one of the teachers to whom he is teaching English.  As his situation becomes more complicated, it begins to look like his career itself may be jeopardized.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

 Reading The Professor was pretty bittersweet for me.  I am a huge fan of the Brontes and this was my last novel to read.  I know, of course, that I can re-read them all over again, but this was my last chance to experience one of their novels for the first time. 

Though it was the last novel to be published, it was the first one that Charlotte wrote.  I think what I loved about it the most was that you could see the early workings of her later novels.  The portrayal of modern mill towns and mill owners is given a broader telling in Shirley.  Her experiences as a governess in Belgium gain more detail in Villette.  And in William and Frances' relationship, we see the early workings of what would become Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre.  In many ways, reading The Professor was like visiting old friends.  It was fascinating to see the early details that would later become the foundation for some of my favorite stories.

Now this is not to say that this is a perfect novel.  It lacks the polish of her later works.  It also has a bit of a self-satisfied and preachy tone that is kind of off putting (similar to the tone her sister Anne used in Agnes Grey).  I wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to the works of the Brontes, it is mainly for die-hard fans.

Though it certainly wasn't the best Bronte novel I've read, I still enjoyed it.  It is a relatively short read, and it serves as a bit of a crash course in the many themes and ideas that Charlotte wrote about.  I recommend this to any fan, and do suggest that you make it one of your later Bronte reads.  It was a great way to cap off my reading of the works of these great literary siblings.  Time to start all over!            

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in America.  A day we set aside each year to remember the good things we have in life.  To honor those who risked everything to seek freedom in a new land.  To spend time with family and friends.  To indulge our tastebuds with a large meal.  And to gather around the TV for a parade, football, and classic movies.

Even if you are not an American, I hope you'll take a few moments to remember the things you are thankful for.  I'm thankful for family members who listen to me drone on and on about the book I'm reading, for library cards, for leather bound editions, for old book smells, and for classic stories that change peoples lives.  I'm also thankful for each of you who take the time to read my insignificant thoughts on books.  Happy Thanksgiving! 

…for some of us, books are as important as anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid pieces of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet you or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of the things that you don’t get in life…wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean. -Anne Lamott

Friday, November 22, 2013

Books That Surprise Us

A few years ago, I wrote a post about boring books.  Books that you had such high hopes for and then ended up tossing aside for one reason or another.  But lately I've been thinking about the other side of that coin.  Those books that you aren't particularly interested in or excited about, but out of nowhere the story grabs you and ends up becoming one of your favorite reads.  I have had multiple books like that over my reading life.  Here are a few examples:

  • I, Claudius by Robert Graves.  Though I love history, Ancient Rome had never been one of my favorite periods to study.  For some reason back in 2009, I decided to read this classic by British author Robert Graves.  And I was captivated from beginning to end!  The political intrigue, the grappling for power, the family problems...all of it worked together to tell an amazing story.  
  •  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I first read this book back in early middle school, and I just wasn't very impressed.  Years later, I decided to try again and boy, was I blown away.  Lee's classic story of growing up in the Depression-era South is one that still resonates with readers today.  Her characters are so real, and the message is so poignant.  So glad I decided to give this one another chance.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker.  I have ever been one for the horror/spooky genre of books or films.  Though of course I was familiar with the modern idea of Dracula, I never considered reading the original.  That is, until The Classic Tales Podcast featured a portion of it for one episode.  My curiosity was piqued and I had to have more.  What I discovered was a well-told story with amazing characters and a fascinating plot.  Nothing like what I had expected.  This was probably the biggest surprise I have had in terms of reading.
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Like horror, YA lit was never something that I thought I would want to read.  Angsty teens, love triangles, sparkly vampires...these just aren't my things.  I really doubted that these books could live up to the hype surrounding them.  I was wrong.  I read the first book in a day and then devoured the other as well.  Each one was amazing, but Mockingjay absolutely blew me away.  

As readers, it is so easy to write books off without reading them.  We judge them based on what we think they are about, what we think we like, and what we think makes for good reading.  But the truth is, you'll never know what a book is truly like until you actually read it.  It's a cliche, but so true, that you can't judge a book by it's cover.  Except 50 Shades of Grey...pretty sure I've got that one pegged.  What books have you loved despite your previous feelings towards them or a particular genre?  Share them in the comment section.   
    

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scaramouche

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” 

Italian/British author Rafael Sabatini did not come by success as a writer easily.  For almost of a quarter of a century he wrote short stories and novels that garnered little fame.  But in 1921, his story of a brash, young man bent on revenge in the stormy period just before the French Revolution catapulted him to instant fame.  He became an international best-seller and would maintain a steady popularity in the decades that followed.

The Plot:

Andre-Louis Moreau is a young man of uncertain origin.  He lives with his godfather, a minor noble, who has had him educated as a lawyer and refuses to reveal his true parentage.  Though Andre-Louis is himself a cynic and not interested in revolutionary politics, he is still friends with many young men who seek to change the world they live in.  When one of them, the idealistic Phillipe de Vilmorin, denounces the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr for unfair treatment of  peasant, the Marquis draws the young man into a duel and then kills him (knowing all along that Phillipe did not have any sword skills).  Andre-Louis is brokenhearted and swears that he will avenge Phillipe by using his own talents to further the revolutionary cause.

 After whipping up political crowds in two local cities, Andre-Louis finds himself on the wrong side of the law.  He ends up hiding in plain sight, first with a small group of actors (where he takes on the role of the roguish buffoon, Scaramouche) and then as a sword master in Paris.  All the while, he harbors his hatred for the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr and vows to obtain the ultimate revenge on him.  But when the secret of his life is finally revealed, will Andre-Louis change his mind?

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Except for maybe Robert Louis Stevenson, there is no one who writes a swashbuckling adventure novel like Rafael Sabatini.  I absolutely loved his novel Captain Blood and was eager to read this earlier novel that is set in the tumultuous period of the French Revolution.

There are quite a few similarities between Scaramouche and Sabatini's later novel.  In Andre-Louis, we have a man who in uniterested in the political turmoil until a grave injustice forces him to take sides.  He is a very talented man who throws himself passionately into whatever he finds himself doing in the moment.  When he joins the acting company, he soon takes charge and takes them to new heights in their profession.  When he becomes apprentice to a sword master, it isn't long until he becomes the teacher's equal in proficiency.  And yet, for all of his passion there is a bitterness and cynicism that continues to lurk deep inside.  This is also another wonderful example of Sabatini's talent in writing historical fiction.  Many real historical people are mentioned or make an appearance and Sabatini expertly crafts a story that falls into directly into place with historical fact.

But as many similarities as there were between Scaramouche and my first Sabatini novel, it didn't fully measure up to Captain Blood.  That novel was one rollicking adventure after another, with many humorous moments and edge of your seat feelings.  This one had a slower pace and did not offer as many unforgettable moments.  I also didn't warm up to Andre-Louis as much as I did Peter Blood.  His sarcasm and wit had a much harsher and more cynical tone, and his romance with Aline didn't seem as developed s that between Peter & Arabella.  Having said that, I might have enjoyed Scaramouche more if I had read it first and was not constantly comparing it to the other story.

No matter my personal preference, Scaramouche proves that Sabatini is a master both of swashbucklers and historical fiction.  If you ever find yourself in need of a story with characters you can root for, plots that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and brushes with some of history's gretest moments, then you could do worse than to pull a Sabatini novel off the shelf.  I will definitely be reading more of his works.

The Movie:

There are two movie versions of this book.  One is a 1923 silent version starring Ramon Novarro.  The other is a 1952 remake starring Stewart Granger, Elanor Parker, Janet Leigh, and Mel Ferrer.  I have not seen this version yet, but it is on my "to-watch" list.                 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lessons to be Learned from Literary Characters

While I was on vacation in Italy, I came across an article from the Huffington Post that created much discussion among the literary minded girls in our group (and was reminded of it again while reading this post by a fellow blogger).  It was titled "11 Lessons That 'Jane Eyre' Can Teach Every 21st Century Woman About How To Live Well".  This intrigued me, being the devoted "Jane Eyre" fan that I am, and I checked it out to see how the list compared with my own impressions of one of literature's most famous heroines.

The article did point out some of the novel's best lessons like "You can overcome your past, no matter how bad it is.", "Be positive.", and "You are stronger than you think."  But these 11 ideas only scratch the surface of what Jane Eyre's story can teach us.  Like the freedom that is found in forgiving those who have wronged us (Jane's forgiveness of her aunt).  Or how important it is to do the right thing, even when it seems no one else will care (Jane's decision to leave Rochester because it is right, not because she does not love him).  Or the idea that you shouldn't let other people's convictions push you into doing something that you feel isn't best (Jane's refusal of St. John, though he insists it is "God's will" for her).  That is why it is so important to read great literature.  Not only does it expand your mind and feed
your imagination, it can also teach you ways to be a better person.

What are some important lessons you have learned from literature?  What other literary characters can serve as great role models?  Tell us who you have learned from.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Book Gifting Recommendations from John Green


In which author (and vlogger, and awesome nerd, and brother to a co-creator of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) John Green recommends some of the best books nerds can gift (or get) for the holiday season.  This is from last year, so please note some information is a little out of date (like Veronica Roth's Divergent series now has an ending...one that just about made the internet blow up).  Use it to add books to your reading list, or to get gift ideas for that special nerd in your life.  There are only 44 days until Christmas people!  Start shopping!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Woman in White

“Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.” 

In 1859, Charles Dickens' magazine All the Year Round began publishing a serialized story that would grip the imagination of the country.  Though some critics dismissed it, readers devoured it, and even Prince Albert himself loved it so much that he gave copies out as gifts.  It became an instant hit and would go on to be the first (and most would say, best) of the "sensation fiction" genre.  Even 150 year later, Wilkie Collins captures the imagination with his masterful storytelling.

The Plot:

Walter Hartright is a young art teacher living in London.  While walking out late one night, he meets a mysterious young woman dressed completely in white who seems to be in great distress.  He helps her on her way, but soon afterwards learns that she has escaped from an asylum.  Soon after, he accepts a position as drawing master to one Mr. Fairlie's niece, Laura Fairlie, and her half-sister, Marian Halcombe.  Both Laura and Marian immediately take to Mr. Hartright, and he soon finds himself falling for gentle and beautiful Laura.  Marian eventually learns of this (as well as Laura's growing love for him) and informs him that the whole thing is impossible as Laura is engaged to be married to the man her late father chose for her,  Sir Percival Glyde.  Mr. Hartright leaves and determines to forget her.

Laura also tries to move on and be happy with Sir Percival, but things begin to go horribly wrong.  Sir Percival reveals himself to be far from the kind and decent man he had appeared, and the arrival of his mysterious friend Count Fosco only heightens the tension.  As things come to a head, Marian seeks to protect her sister, but is herself caught up in the mystery that surrounds Sir Percival.  Will they ever discover his secret?  And what does it all have to do with the ghostly woman in white?   

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Having already read (and loved) Collins' The Moonstone, I was more than ready to tackle his other famous work.  Not to mention, it was also highly recommended by many of my friends.  So did it live up to the hype?  Absolutely.

The wonderful thing about Collins is his ability to tell a story.  Though the novel drags a bit in the beginning, once the mystery gets started you simply can't put it down.  Using multiple narrators, Collins manages to keep the story going without giving anything away.  And though there are plot points that seem very familiar now that we are 150 years away, the overall tone of the book remains very sensational and Gothic.  You can't help but get caught up in the fate of the characters.  So often I would find myself almost having a panic attack as the danger for the hero/heroines increased.  I would almost scream "Look behind you!" or "Don't post that letter!" or "He's watching you!".  It was almost like watching a horror movie at times.  It was all deliciously suspenseful and very well-done by Collins.

What I didn't expect from this novel was how much Collins champions the rights of women.  It almost seems like the greatest Victorian feminist novel was written by a man!  Most of the problems the two heroines face is due to the fact that women have no real legal rights.  Laura's selfish and indolent uncle takes no measure to provide for the security of her fortune.  This leaves her vulnerable to men like Sir Percival and Count Fosco.  Collins also does a fantastic job of creating a real flesh and blood woman in the form of Marian Halcombe.  Though Laura is the traditional Victorian beauty and a catalyst for the story, Marian is the real heroine.  She has confidence in herself, knows how to use her wits, and is willing to do anything to protect those she loves.  It is no wonder that by the end of the novel she has gained the admiration of all those around her, even her enemy.

This is a must read for anyone who loves Victorian novels or a great crime/mystery story.  Collin's storytelling is top notch and his characters are some that you will not soon forget.  Do yourself a favor and add this classic to your "TBR" pile.  You won't regret it!

The Movie:

This story has been adapted into a few films/miniseries.  The first is the 1948 version starring Gig Young, Eleanor Parker, Alexis Smith, and Sydney Greenstreet.  

The other is the 1997 BBC miniseries starring Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Tara Fitzgerald, Justine Waddell, and James Wilby.  Unlike most BBC miniseries, this one didn't really do the book justice.   See it if you want, but it is no substitute for the original.                  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Forgive My Absence

Hello dear readers!  I m so sorry for the long absence in my blogging, but I promise I have a good excuse.  I just finished my first week back home after a two week trip to Italy!  I had a wonderful time in Venice, Florence, Rome, and Sorrento and learned so much about Italian history and culture.

I plan on buckling down to get lots of reading and reviews done, so keep an eye out for more activity here on the blog in the coming weeks.  As always, I thank you for taking the time to read my random thoughts on books.  Hope you are having a wonderful fall!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Little Prince

“People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” 

First published in 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupery's slim novella The Little Prince remains extremely popular throughout the world.  It is the most read and most translated piece of French literature and continues to sell over a million copies each year.  This tale speaks of love, loss, loneliness, and friendship and continues to enchant readers 70 years later.

The Plot:

The narrator of the story is a pilot whose plane has crashed into the Sahara desert, far from civilization.  He must fix his plane before he runs out of supplies and succumbs to the desert heat.  He encounters a young boy who seems to appear from nowhere and whom he refers to as "the little prince".  They strike up a conversation and soon discover that the look at the world in remarkably similar ways.  Over the course of eight days, the little prince recounts his life story to the narrator as he works on his plane.

The prince is from a small asteroid called B-612, where his life consisted of cleaning out tiny volcanoes and pulling up undesirable weeds.  There was also a small rose that had mysteriously appeared on the asteroid.  He cared for it, nurtured it, and protected it from the cold.  But even as he was falling in love with his rose, he felt that she was taking advantage of him and he resolved to travel to other planets to escape her.  As he went from planet to planet, he met several foolish and narrow-minded adults who lived on them.  He then made it to Earth where he encountered various other people/creatures who revealed the state of human life on the planet.  As he recounts his story, his worry and desire for his rose continues to grow, and he must decide whether or not to make the ultimate sacrifice to see her again.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

This is another one of those books that was on my radar, but that I knew absolutely nothing about until I actually read it.  And I'm not going to lie, this is a tough book to review because it is almost impossible to pin down.  It is whimsical and illogical, and yet it makes many profound statements about life. 

On it's surface, this novella is one that seems to be meant for children.  It has a sense of magic and a way of story telling that just doesn't seem to make sense (in a pleasant way).  It can be difficult to wrap our adult minds around the almost ethereal tone that the story takes.  And both the narrator and the little prince are characters that children can bot relate to and admire.  It is no wonder that parents all over the world choose to read this book with their family and try to recapture the sense of wonder and enchantment that we all once had.

But at a deeper level, there are a lot of themes and ideas that go above children's heads.  Many of the events and characters in the story are based on de Saint-Exupery's own experiences.  He also explores many other themes throughout the story, most prominently the idea of relationships.  The fox that the little prince meets explains to him that "taming" something, or having a relationship with someone, creates a responsibility that you cannot escape.  That is why, no matter how frustrated he was with the rose, the little prince feels that he must go back and take care of her.  Their relationship created a mutual need.

Again, this is a book that is hard to recommend because it is so hard to pin down.  I think that this is one that adults should definitely read, and use their judgement on how the children in their life would like it.  It is certainly one that deserves being read over and over again as there are so many little gems in it.  Be prepared to have your heart touched, and to never look at the stars the same way again.

The Movies:

This story has been adapted in a variety of forms, but only two have been film adaptations.  One is the 1974 musical version starring Richard Kiley, Steven Warner, Joss Ackland, and Gene Wilder.  It was not very successful when it first came out, but it has gained a bit of a cult following.

There is also a 3D adaptation set to come out next year starring James Franco, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Jeff Brides.         

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Never Ban Books...Except That One

Here in the US we recently "celebrated" Banned Books Week.  Readers, bloggers, and news organizations have worked to bring awareness to books that have been banned by schools, libraries, and bookstores throughout the country.  The American Library Association reports that there were 464 incidents of a book being challenged or banned in the US last year.  These books have ranged from children's books like And Tango Makes Three to best-sellers like Fifty Shades of Grey to classics like To Kill A Mockingbird.  Everyone who participated spoke out against censorship and the right to read whatever one chooses.

However, the following week a new story surfaced that changed the tone of the argument and revealed a certain level of hypocrisy that exists in the reading community.  While in a bookstore, an 8 year old girl came across a set of books that she and her mother found to be offensive and sexist (basically two "survival guides", one for boys that focused on outdoor stuff and one for girls that focused on relationships and and fashion).  The girl become visibly upset and when a store clerk found out what was wrong, they decided to remove the books from the shelves.

“After looking through the books, the employee agreed they were offensive and pulled them from the shelves! She said if she had seen them first they wouldn’t have been there to begin with. She was great because she took action and validated my daughter’s feelings.”

Most news organizations and bloggers found the story to be wonderful and praised both the girl and the store for taking action.    Now, no matter what my personal feelings on these particular books may be, I feel this story and the reaction it has gotten to be hypocritical.  We just finished speaking out against censorship and limiting access to books.  We said that books should not be removed from store shelves, libraries, and schools because of the personal feelings of a few people.  And yet, that is exactly what happened here.  A few people removed books that they personally found offensive rather than allow the rest of us to make that decision for ourselves.

If we are going to speak out against banning books, then we need to be against banning ALL books.  That  means even those that we find to be racist, politically incorrect, offensive, and inappropriate.  I am glad that this young girl has been taught to voice her opinion and stand up for her beliefs.  But I am also afraid that this has only served to teach her that her opinion is the only one that matters.    

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Wind in the Willows

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, Those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way. 

At first, the story of four animal friends living along the banks of a tranquil English river existed only in the bedroom of Alistair Grahame.  His father, Kenneth, a secretary for the Bank of England, created them as bedtime stories for his young son.  After he retired from his job, Grahame decided to write these stories down and in 1908, The Wind in the Willows was published.  It soon became a favorite of people all over the world, from President Theodore Roosevelt to future children's author A. A. Milne.  And it remains one of my personal favorites to this day.

The Plot:

With the arrival of spring, Mole is tempted from his spring cleaning out into the world above his hole.  He chances to meet Rat, who introduces Mole to his life along the riverbank.  The two become fast friends and are soon spending their days on the river boating, fishing, picnicking, and exploring.  Other friends soon appear on the scene as well.  There is the reclusive, but kind hearted Badger who makes his home in the dark and dangerous Wild Wood.  There is the cheerful Otter who is there one minute and gone the next.  And there is the over the top, vain, and loveable Toad who lives in his ancestral home of Toad Hall.  As life along the riverbank flows through the seasons, the friends have many adventures and ultimately learn the value of home and friendship.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

This book has been a favorite of mine for years.  I first discovered the story by renting a video version from the library when I was very young and it has stayed with me ever since.  It is one of the most beautiful, charming, and sensitive children's books that I have ever read. 

In many ways, this is two books in one.  One part of the book is the fast-paced, rollicking adventure told through Mr. Toad.  He is the only character to take us beyond the peaceful world of the riverbank and into the wide world.  It is non-stop action and Toad is constantly getting himself into big scrapes and then somehow manages to get out of them (usually by chance or the help of someone else, but Toad would have you believe that it was his own smarts).  This aspect is balanced out with an emotional and almost spiritual story line told mostly through Rat and Mole's friendship.  Except when their stories intersect with Toad's, it is a much more tranquil story line that portrays a full range of human emotion like fear, sadness, restlessness, longing, joy, and friendship.  But Grahame also never lets us forget that his characters are animals, and they often display moments of instinct, sight, sound, and smell. 

I think the most prominent aspect of the story, and strangely enough one that I never really noticed until this reading, is the importance of home.  Each character has it's own sense of what home means.  For Mole, it is his cozy, simple hole.  For Badger, it is his vast and hidden home of tunnels.  For Rat, it is hearing the river lap against his windowsill every night.  And for Toad, it is his elegant and manicured Hall.  It gives us the sense that home is defined by the individual and that no matter how much you enjoy spending time somewhere else, it is ultimately never the same as being in your own space.  I think this idea resonates with adults more than children.  We have to go out into the wide world every day, and nothing means as much to us as coming home at the end of it and finding things just the way we like it.

This book is  one of literature's greatest treasures.  No matter how old you are, you will love spending time Grahame's world with it's sense of wonder, peace, order, and nostalgia.  It will continue to be one of my favorites for as long as I live, and one that I greatly anticipate sharing with my own children one day.  

The Movie:

There have been lot's of film and television adaptations of this story.  I am familiar with two of them.  One is the 1983 stop-motion adaptation starring David Jason, Ian Carmichael, and Michael Horndern  The other is the 1995 animated version starring Michel Palin, Alan Bennett, Rik Mayall, and Michael Gambon.  Both of these films do a wonderful job with the story and are great for the whole family.           

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Happy Birthday To:

Agatha Christie
September 15, 1890

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” -from Murder on the Orient Express

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Peter Pan

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” 

For most of us, the story of Peter Pan is one we become very familiar with at a very young age.  Whether it is through the classic Disney film version or the equally famous Broadway version, we each know the story of the boy who never grew up.  But while we may feel like we know the story, if you have not read the original work, chances are you don't know everything.  Barrie's story is one of childhood and magic, but there is also a sinister side that many modern adaptations leave out.

The Plot:

The Darling family, including children Wendy, John, and Michael, lives in a nice little house in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London.  One night when Mr. & Mrs. Darling are at a party, a mysterious boy appears in the nursery.  He is revealed to be Peter Pan, a boy who lives in Neverland and refuses to grow up.  He has been secretly visiting the Darling home at night to listen to Mrs. Darling's stories.  He invites Wendy to come to Neverland with him and be mother to him and his gang of "Lost Boys".  She accepts and soon she, John, and Michael have been taught to fly (with the help of the fairy Tinkerbell) and are soaring towards Neverland.

That is only the beginning of the many adventures the children find there.  They encounter mermaids, Indians, and a clock-swallowing crocodile.  But nothing prepares them for their encounter with Peter's greatest enemy, Capt. James Hook and his band of ruthless pirates.  Will the children be able to defeat the thugs and return home, or are they doomed to walk the plank?

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

I have been familiar with the Peter Pan story all of my life, but I have only now read the book.  It surprised me in many ways, both at how familiar it was and also by how much darker it was to the story I remembered.  

Overall, it is very much the story that you remember.  Barrie's writing is great and the story is one of almost non-stop adventure.  Everything that catches children's imaginations is found here from mermaids and Indians to pirates and crocodiles.  There is also an almost palpable sense of magic throughout the story and Neverland is certainly the center of it.  And Barrie's descriptions only add to the sense of beauty and magic.  "If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colours suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colours become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire.
   
There were some things that surprised me and that will probably surprise many parents who choose to read it to their children.  This isn't the squeaky clean Disney version.  There is a bit of violence, with most of it coming from the children themselves, as well as a romantic aspect that isn't always portrayed in the film versions.  And in describing children as "innocent and heartless", Barrie highlights the cruelty that children posses.  The children lack the sympathy and sense of responsibility that comes with growing up.  Peter completely ignores the needs of "his" Lost Boys and the children don't express any concerns for the feelings of their parents.  This all leads to Barrie's main theme that while childhood has many great qualities, it also has an element of tragedy.

All in all, Peter Pan remains a classic read for all children.  Though there are a few elements that parents may want to discuss with their children, it is still one that I recommend be read to them.  No film version can substitute for the original.

The Film:

There have been many adaptations of this classic story, but three of them stand out for most modern audiences.  The first is the 1953 Disney version starring Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, and Hans Conreid.  This version is pretty faithful to the story (if not the tone) of the original and remains a classic children's film.

There is also the 1960 NBC broadcast of the stage musical starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard.  I was shocked at how close this version followed the original story.  Most of the dialogue is pulled straight from the book.  I loved this version as a child and consider it a must see for all fans of Peter Pan.

The other major adaptation is the 2003 version starring Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and Jason Isaacs.  I haven't seen this version, but it has received generally positive reviews.          

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Books for Fall

Once again we find ourselves at the turning of the seasons.  Kids have headed back to school, the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are beginning to fall.  For many readers, this all means changes for the type of books we read.  Many of us put away our "beach reads" and instead reach for stories that evoke the cooling weather, the changing leaves, and the darkening nights that are approaching.

Over at the Melville House Blog, they have created a list of seven books that they think best suit this time of year.  They include the Gothic nonfiction Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, the American classic Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, the enduring Macbeth by William Shakespeare, and the cozy and mysterious Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.

My own reading list has been set for the rest of the year, and it also reflects the changing seasons.  Here is what I will be reading through the rest of 2013:

  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  This early sensation novel was incredibly popular when it was first published in 1860 and it continues to be well loved among modern readers as well.  On a moonlit London Rd., Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious young woman dressed completely in white.  Little does he know that this chance meeting in the dark will entangle him mystery that will change his life forever.
  • Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini.  From the author of the classic swashbuckler Captain Blood, this novel tells the story of Andre-Louis Moreau.  Raised by the French nobility, a tragedy drives him to join a band of actor and speak out against the power of the French Government.  
  • The Professor by Charlotte Bronte.  Fall is Bronte time in my reading life.  After this one, I will have read every novel written by the Bronte sisters.  In Charlotte's first novel William Crimsworth (the professor) must make his own way in a world obsessed by money and manners.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  Capote recreates the investigation, the trial, and the execution of one of America's most famous and bloody crimes.  In 1959, four members of a Kansas family were brutally murdered in their home for no apparent reason. In what is possibly one of his most famous works, Capote explores their story and gives insight into the nature of American violence.

How is your fall reading shaping up?  Do you have any favorite books that scream "autumn" to you?  Share them with us!
   

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Heidi

God is good to all of us. He knows what we need better than we do. And just because he thinks it is better not to give you what you want right now doesn't mean he isn't answering you. You shall have what you ask for but not until the right time comes.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Heidi.  It is, after all, one of the world's best selling books and perhaps the most well-known works of Swiss literature. Written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri, this classic children's novel speaks of faith, love, the importance of education, and the beauty and freedom of life in the Alps.

The Plot:

After the early death of her parents, Heidi is raised by her aunt Dete until the age of 5.  When Dete accepts a new position, she take Heidi to live with her grandfather who has lived in seclusion high in the Swiss Alps for years.  At first, Heidi's grandfather resents her presence, but she soon wins him over with her innocence and love of life.  She in turn finds peace and happiness playing on the mountainside with Peter, the goatherd, and the goats.

Three years later, Dete returns to take Heidi to Frankfurt to live as a companion to Clara Sesemann, a wealthy girl who has lived as an invalid.  Though Clara takes to Heidi instantly, things don't go as smoothly with other members of the household.  Heidi's country manners and lack of education mortify the housekeeper Fraulein Rottenmeir and cause no end of trouble between them.  Even though Heidi finds comfort in the arrival of Clara's Grandmamma, she still longs to return to her life on the mountain.  As more time passes, it seems like that will never hapen.

My Review (Caution - Spoiler):

This story is one that I have been familiar with my whole life, but I haven't ever taken the time to read the original novel until now.  The book was originally subtitled "for children and those who love children", and I think that is a very apt description.  The simplicity and beauty of the story is enough to warm the heart of anyone who reads it.

I think what really makes this story so beautiful is it's setting.  Having been to Switzerland myself, I know that the beauty described is not exaggerated.  And Spyri's writing makes you want to live on the mountain to.  The fire-like sunsets, the wind whipping through the pine trees, the purity of the air...it is no wonder Heidi and Clara each grow strong and healthy here.  Life on the Alm is one of peace, freedom, hard work, and friendship.

Though the characters and plot of the novel are pretty simple, there are still many themes woven into it that are great for children (and adults) to hear.  The importance of simplicity and faith in life as represented by life on the Alm.  The need for education and human connection as represented by life in Frankfurt and the village.  And, perhaps most important, the belief that everything in life is subject to God's timing. That we are in the situations we are in for God's reasons and that no matter where we find ourselves God will bring good out of it.  Though Heidi's life in Frankfurt does not bring her pleasure, it ultimately gives her a love for learning and makes a way for Clara to get well.

There is a reason that this story is a classic.  It has all of the ingredients to capture the imagination of the young and young at heart.  If you haven't already read this story for yourself or your children, don't put it off any longer.  Though we are all familiar with it, there is no substitute for the real thing.

The Movie:

 There are dozens of adaptations of this classic story and most people have their favorite.  The one I am most familiar with is the 1937 version starring Shirley Temple, Arthur Treacher, and Mary Nash.  It has been a long time since I have seen it, but from what I remember it follows the basic plot with some variations here and there.  Fraulein Rottenmeir is much more of a villain and the Grandfather has to fight hard to get Heidi back.  A classic Shirley Temple film, and a nice adaptation.  

The other popular adaptation is the 1993 TV miniseries starring Noley Thornton, Jason Robards, Jane Seymour, and Patricia Neal.  I haven't seen this one, but it is one of the more well-known adaptations out there.     

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy Birthday To:

H. P. Lovecraft
August 20, 1890

From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.
-The Shunned House

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Rescuers

Mice are all for people being free, so that they too can be freed form their eternal task of cheering prisoners--so that they can stay snug at home, nibbling the family cheese, instead of sleeping out in damp straw on a diet of stale bread.

Though many people are familiar with the title The Rescuers due to the popular Disney film, most don't realize that it was based on a children's book series.  Published in 1959, this story by English author Margery Sharp tells the story of three courageous mice and strives to teach children about overcoming fear, doing without for the sake of others, and the importance of friendship and loyalty in accomplishing any task.

The Plot:

The Prisoner's Aid Society is a group of mice whose mission is to bring comfort to prisoners throughout the world.  But a new challenge has arisen that will require more than just the ability to provide comfort.  A Norwegian poet is being held deep in the dungeons of one of Europe's most notorious prisons, and the Prisoner's Aid Society decides that he must be rescued.  They send Bernard (who works in the pantry of an unnamed embassy) to solicit the help of Miss Bianca, the pet mouse of the son of an ambassador.  They want her to travel to Norway to find a mouse who can communicate with the prisoner.

At first, Bernard feels that he cannot ask Miss Bianca to embark on so dangerous a mission.  She just seems too delicate and pampered to become involved in something like that.  But though Miss Bianca is definitely on the pampered side, she decides to set all of her fear and selfishness aside to help the poor poet.  So begins an incredible journey for the mice as they learn to trust each other and overcome their fear to bring relief and freedom to a suffering man. 

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Like most people, I had no idea that the Disney film The Rescuers was based on an actual book series.  It turns out that the film is actually based on the 2nd book in the series, so don't be looking for too many plot similarities in this book.

This is one of those books that isn't all that bad, it just doesn't reach the heights of "classic" literature.  The story and characters are very simple and straightforward.  This makes a perfect little read for your kids, it just doesn't capture the adult imagination like other children's classics do.  As an adult, you would want to know more about the poet's background, why he was in prison, and what this said about Cold War society.  But kids will simply identify with the mice and only really care about their story.  Sharp understands this and the story is definitely geared towards them.

But though the plot is simple, the overall themes are very important for children to hear.  In Bernard, they gain an understanding of what it means to look out for those weaker than you and to not let personal feelings get in the way of your task.  In Miss Bianca, they learn that sometimes you have to go through uncomfortable situations in order to do what is right and that loyalty to friends and family is very important.  

Again, this is a very simple story that is perfect for younger children to have read to them.  Adults shouldn't expect too much from it, but it is definitely one I would recommend as bedtime reading.  The pace is good, the characters easy for kids to sympathize with, and the lessons are important ones for kids to learn.  A sweet story overall that deserves a bit more attention than it normally receives.

The Movie:

Of course the film version is the 1977 Disney adaptation.  It stars Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor as Bernard and Bianca.  Again, plotwise it has more to do with the 2nd book in the series (Miss Bianca) but it is still well done (and well loved) film.        

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Emma Approved

It's going to be Emma!  The creators of the wildly popular (and very well done) web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will be bringing another popular Austen story to the modern world.  The official title will be Emma Approved and will focus on the vlog of a young entrepreneur who also claims to be a fantastic matchmaker.  As in The LBD, this series will take the Austen original and change it to a modern setting and will also incorporate lots of social media aspects. Creator Bernie Su says that this story will most likely operate in the same universe as The LBD, so fans may get to see a familiar face or two in some o the episodes.

I am a huge fan of the original series and I can't wait for this one.  I think Emma is the perfect Austen story for this type of adaptation.  Emma Approved is set to premier this fall, so if you have been living under a rock and still haven't watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries now is the time to correct that.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

“I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.” 

Trying to categorize Brian Selznick's 2007 children's book is pretty difficult.  The author himself described it as "not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things".  Indeed, with 284 out of its 533 pages being pictures, even the literary community has not been able to fully decide where to shelve this one.  It won the 2008 Caldecott Medal as a novel, even though the award is traditionally reserved for picture books.  The one thing that those who have read it can agree on is that it is a very unique book full of a fantastical and magical qualities that will delight readers both young and old.

The Plot:

It is 1931 and twelve year old Hugo Cabret is living in the walls of the Montparnasse train station in Paris.  After being orphaned by the tragic death of his father, Hugo was taken in by a drunken uncle who trained him to help keep the train station clocks running smoothly.  Hugo continues this after his uncle's death in order to keep from being taken to an orphanage.

Hugo's main obsession in life is to finish fixing an automaton that his father had discovered in the attic of a museum.  He is convinced that his father has left him a message in the automaton and the only way to discover it is to fix the machine.  His need for parts brings him into contact with Papa Georges, a grouchy old man who runs the station toy store, and his spunky goddaughter, Isabelle.  As the story progresses, Hugo and Isabelle discover that there are secrets that Papa Georges is keeping and that the automaton seems to be the key to both their past and their future.   

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

I became aware of this book after seeing Martin Scorsese's Academy Award winning film Hugo.  I loved that film (more on it later) and was determined to read the original source.  It is such a unique book that I am sure I will have some difficulty in reviewing it, but here it goes anyway.

I was a little afraid when I saw that about half of the novel's pages were devoted to pictures.  I couldn't help but feel that this would in some way slow the story down.  But Selznick's masterful artwork actually did the opposite.  Each picture contained enough information that additional words were unnecessary and the pace remained quick and smooth.  They also added to the magical quality of the story, especially the stills from Georges Melies' films.  I also enjoyed each of the characters in the story.  Hugo is full of ambition and yet his loneliness and insecurities help you sympathize with him.  Isabelle is smart, compassionate, and brave...qualities that we all like to see in ourselves and our daughters.  And one can't help but love Papa Georges whose grumpiness is covering a large amount of pain and regret.

As an adult, what I enjoyed most were the real life historical aspects of the novel.  I had no previous knowledge of the works of Georges Melies and I found myself fascinated by his story.  He was a popular filmmaker at the turn of the 20th century, and he used his background in magic to create seemingly impossible special affects for his films.  Most of them have a fantastical, almost dreamlike quality to them and Selznick especially highlights his famous "A Trip to the Moon".  Anyone who has even a basic interest in the history of film will appreciate this part of the story.

Though this isn't a perfect novel (I did find the ending to be somewhat anticlimactic, and some children may find the plot dull), it is certainly a fascinating one.  It is so different from almost anything else you will read, and it has a beautiful and magical quality that will stay with you for a long time.  It is completely worth your family's time.   

The Movie:

As I said before, I was drawn to this book by the 2011 film adaptation.  It stars Asa Butterfield as Hugo, Chloe Grace Moretz as Isabelle, Ben Kingsley as Papa Georges, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Station Inspector.  In many ways, this film brings out the truly fantastical qualities of the story that the page just can't.  The special effects of the film really reflect the magic of Melies' films and you actually get to see clips from them as they were meant to be seen, not just as stills.  In many ways, I feel that a story centered on an early filmmaker is best told through that medium.  

Besides the effects and cinematography, the acting was also top notch.  I thought that Asa Butterfield especially did a wonderful job with the character of Hugo (you may remember him from his touching work in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas").  He was able to portray an almost wise-beyond-his-years boy who still retained an air of innocence and vulnerability.

I really hate that this film did not perform as well at the box office as it should have.  It is a truly beautiful film that should be enjoyed along with the book.  I would definitely put it on the list for your next family movie night.                

Sunday, July 28, 2013

And That's the Way It Is...

I hope all of you are enjoying your summer (or winter if you happen to live in the southern hemisphere)!  There are lots of cool things that have been happening in the literary world over the past few weeks.  Here are some of the things that have grabbed my attention:

  • The longlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize is out, and it is being hailed as one for the ages.  Robert Macfarlane, this year's chair of judges, said: "This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject. These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000, and from Shanghai to Hendon."  Head over to Guardian UK to read more about this impressive list!
  • July is National Ice Cream Month here in America (yes...we'll celebrate anything) and Quirk Books is celebrating by coming up with some literary themed flavors.  Want to try some "War and Peach"?  How about "Clockwork Orange Creamsicle"?  Here's hoping Ben & Jerry's takes the hint and gives us the chance to eat our favorite books.
  • Publishers Penguin Books and Random House have completed a merger that will give them a huge share of the global book publishing market.  The combined companies will control more than 25 percent of the book business, with more than 10,000 employees, 250 independent publishing imprints and about $3.9 billion in annual revenues.  Read the full report on the pros and cons from the NY Times
  • The Bank of England is going to be putting a woman on one of their bank notes for only the third time in history (excluding Queen Elizabeth II).  Plans have been announced to put Jane Austen on the 10 Pound bank note.  But while most are praising the choice of person, some are not so happy with the quote to be placed on it alongside her.   The words “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” Mr. Mullen pointed out, were actually spoken by Caroline Bingley, a minxy conniver who sidles up to Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” and merely pretends to read a book to impress him.  What do you think?  Is this a decent choice, or should they look for a more fitting quote from one of English lit's leading ladies?
What literary news have you found interesting over the summer?  Please feel free to share!