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Blogging & Musing...

Honk...if you like geese

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 17:43

gaggle-geeseA recent quip from the New York Times about book clubs caught my ire. It’ll probably catch yours, too. So here it is…

Gaggles of readers get together monthly to sip chardonnay and discuss the latest Oprah selection.*

Ouch. Don’t know about you, but that sounds a little…oh, I dunno… condescending? Not to get too upset about an analogy to unruly geese, but it’s kind of a potshot to all those who get together, out of a passion for literature, to talk (not honk) about something of value—books!

So…are mindless cocktail parties better? I’m just asking…. Besides, I don’t like chardonnay; I like pinot grigio.

And what’s wrong with Oprah selections? —Breath, Eyes, Memory; Edgar Sawtelle; 3 Faulkner novels (Faulkner!); House of Sand & FogWe Were the Mulvaneys. That’s some pretty good reading.

To counter that unfortunate “gaggle” image (nothing against geese…understand?), I offer, again, two defenses of book clubs: one by moi and one by Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony:

Oh, heck…maybe I’m just over reacting. Honk. Honk. 

Mokoto Rich. ”The Book Club with Just One Member.” New York Times, “Week in Review” section (1.24.10) 

 

Old Wine in New Bottles

Saturday, 23 January 2010 08:30

makeovers1A real challenge for any author is the remaking of a classic story. The new novel might set the older work in the modern era (Hamlet Edgar Sawtelle). Or it might use the older novel as a starting point—for a sequel, or a retelling of the story from a different perspective (Wizard of Oz → Wicked).  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far...

Makeovers
Resetting a classic in the modern era

Anna Karenina .......... What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn
The Great Gatsby ...... Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Hamlet ...................... The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David
                                    Wroblewski
The Illiad .................... The Human Stain by Philip Roth
Howard’s End ............ On Beauty by Zadie Smith
King Lear ................... A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Mrs. Dalloway ........... The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Odyssey ............. Ulysses by James Joyce
Pride & Prejudice ....... Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Sense & Sensibility .... The Three Weissmanns of Westport (added: 1/2011)

Starting Points
Writing a sequel, ”prequel,” parody, or using a secondary character’s point of view.

A Christmas Carol  ...... Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard
Dr. Jekyll &Mr. Hyde  ... Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin        
Gone With the Wind ..... Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley
Gone With the Wind ..... The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall
Great Expectations ...... Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
The Great Gatsby ........ The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
The Great Gatsby ........ Jack Maggs by Peter Carey
Jane Eyre ................... The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Ryhs
Huckleberry Finn ......... Finn by Jon Clinch
King Arthur ................. The Mists of Avalon
Mansfield Park ............. Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd
Moby-Dick ................... Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
Pride & Prejudice ......... Pemberley by Emma Tennant
Pride & Prejudice ......... Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Rebecca ...................... Mrs. DeWinter by Susan Hill
The Scarlet Letter ........ Angel and Apostle by Deborah Noyes
A Tale of Two Cities ..... A Far Better Rest by Susanne Alleyn
The Wizard of Oz ......... Wicked by Geoffrey MacGuire
Wuthering Heights ....... Heathcliff: The Return to Wuthering Heights by Lin Haire Sargeant

What have I missed?  Surely, there are more.

 

On the Air...Again

Wednesday, 13 January 2010 09:18

radio micApparently, I’ve got a good face for radio. Two days ago, I was on the air again, this time on Martha Stewart’s Living Radio—Sirius Radio/XM, the satellite radio.

No, it wasn’t Martha but instead two shock-jocks, Kim and Betsy, who banter their way through morning drive time.  They’re a hoot.  We talked about starting a book club, how to talk about a book, etc.—the usual book club stuff. Here’s the short version (6 min.):

 

Read Till Your Heart Stops

Sunday, 27 December 2009 09:21

heart-stops-quoteI just came across this wonderful quote from Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin.

Literature can stop my heart and execute
me for a moment, allow me to become
someone else.*

This is truly fiction’s greatest gift—the chance to crawl inside another being, poke around his consciousness, feel what it’s like to “be” that individual. Often it means changing age, gender, race, or nationality. No other medium does this so completely.

Fun Book Club Exercise
Is there any one particular fictional character you most enjoyed “being”?  Or a book that carried you most completely into the mind of its primary character?

*From “The Decade We Had,” Week in Review section, New York Times (12/2709)
 

Happy Endings—are they good for us?

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 09:28

happy-sadThis comment caught my eye, from a Publishers Weekly review of Bridget Asher’s The Pretend Wife

It’s more than a little disappointing...that Asher inserts an improbably happy ending.

Ouch. I’m not sure which word is more distressing in that sentence: “disappointing” or “improbably.” And here’s another comment on happy endings, this one from Josh Henkin, author of Matrimony:

Nothing is more depressing than a happy ending that feels tacked on, and there can be great comfort in literature that doesn’t admit to easy solutions, just as our lives don’t.                                       From I Laughed! I Cried – 9/19/08.

Fortunately, Henkin isn’t discounting happy endings per se, only those that feel forced or “tacked on” (i.e., improbable). Still, there’s the suggestion that happy endings are “easy solutions.”

Some questions for Book Clubs . . .

  1. What kind of books do you like to read? Ones with happy endings—always ... mostly ... sometimes?
  2. What about the great works of literature…so many end on unhappy notes? Does that mean books with happy endings aren’t considered good literature?
  3. Do all happy endings feel manipulative, or as Henkin says, ”tacked on”? Can books end happily in a natural, unforced manner?

 

Devil in the White City—the fairest of fairs

Sunday, 25 October 2009 09:38

Were you like me, wondering what the World’s Fair looked like in Erik Larson’s book?  The book’s photos didn’t help much. Take heart:  Below is a photo that appeared in today’s New York Times, front page of the “Week in Review” section.  Now we can see what all the fuss was about!

worlds-fair

 

 

 

 

From the mailbag—spooky novels

Sunday, 18 October 2009 10:44

halloweenOooooh...!  Halloween’s coming up. A reader asked me to come up with ideas for spooky mystery novels. The writer herself suggested Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. Good one!

Here are some I came up with—mostly older works:

 

  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, 1938  (an all-time favorite)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, 1847  (the mad women in the attic)
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, 1859-60 (scrumptious)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle, 1091-02 (the great Sherlock and Watson)
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, 2003 (we have guides for the complete vampire series)
  • Anything scary by Stephen King… Any particular suggestions from anyone?

If anyone has some other ideas, let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.

 

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