The Novel is Dead?

Sunday, 06 June 2010 12:05

flying-booksJeeesh! Long time since I posted anything on this poor lonely blog. Why so long? Turns out, I’ve been reading...a lot.

Which brings up an intriguing comment by Jonathan Franzen in the Sunday New York Times Book Review (6/6/10).

Haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement...that novels belong to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster?

As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them

Okay, so it’s tongue-and-cheek. Or not. Still, I’m wondering...

Questions for Book Clubs

  1. Who’s “we”—as in “haven't we all secretly"? And why is it a secret agreement? Because nobody wants to talk about it?
  2. Does he really think the novel (printed and digital...or just printed) is on its way out? If so, what will replace it: graphic novels...or the Internet...or video games?
  3. Are novels "frivolous"? Has anyone told book clubs yet?

 

Book Club Blues—best friends

Thursday, 29 April 2010 14:59

bcblues-1Do best friends and book clubs mix?  Here’s a  good question from the mailbag:

My best friend and I started a book club together. But it turns out that she just wants to read light romances. The rest of us like variety—bios, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy—and novels a little more challenging. Any suggestions?


There are a number of ways you can go about this, depending on everyone’s willingness…or not…to compromise.

  1. Rotate monthly so each person gets to select a book. That way your friend gets to choose a romance once, say, every 6 or 8 months.
  2. Appeal to her sense of fairness if she’s unwilling to compromise—remind her (nicely, right?) that she’s in the minority.
  3. Offer to help her start another club if all else fails, a club based on romantic fiction. You can even come up with a  clever name…like Kiss & Tell Book Club...or Love'm or Leave'm Book Club. 

The best solution is to avoid the issue from the get-go. If you’re going to start a book club, first determine the kind of books you like to read. Then find like-minded readers. (Oh, sure…now I tell you.) It turns out that like-minded readers aren’t necessarily best friends. Love to read your thoughts!

 

Just ♥ Words—the case for the missing M

Saturday, 17 April 2010 10:46

who-whomDon’t do math (can’t). But do do grammar. I believe in grammar—its rules for clarity of expression—so others can make sense of what we’re trying to say. (Notice I violated grammar here…because I can. I’m so good…the grammar police gave me a pass.)

Nonetheless . . . here’s one grammatical rule that continually irritates me:

WHO \ WHOM—the M Conundrum

THIS?     —    Give the award to   WHOEVER   deserves it.
Or this?  —    Give the award to  WHOMEVER  deserves it.

THIS?    —   Give the award to those   WHO  you think deserve it.
Or this?  —  Give the award to those  WHOM  you think deserve it.

The who / whom embroglio is totally overrated.  Clarity can be achieved perfectly well without that niggling little ”m.”  Who?  Whom?  Does it matter?  We get the point.

 

Read at your own peril . . .

Answer:  Give the award to WHOEVER deserves it. 
“Whomever” is not the prepositional object of  “to.”  Rather, WHOEVER  is the subject of a dependent clause, “whoever deserves it.”  The entire clause is the prepositional object.  Phew!

Answer:  Give the award to those WHO you think deserve it. 
“Whom” is not the object of  “you think…whom.”   “You think” is parenthetical…you can remove it altogether. So the “who” becomes a relative pronoun for “those” and the subject of the relative clause “who deserve it.”

 

See what I mean? So much ink spilled over a measly “m”!  The rules of grammar, in this particular case, are so arcane—it’s like trying to figure out the oyster fork from the fish fork at an Edith Wharton dinner party. 

So here’s my personal campaign for a better world:  let’s drop the m from whom!

 

Flashlight Worthy Books—cool new website

Thursday, 08 April 2010 12:34

flashlight3If you love books on a certain theme…you’ll love Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations, a new site that lists books thematically. So far the site has 370 different lists, in 50+ categories, with nearly 5,000 books.  Here’s a tiny sample:

Flashlight Worthy Lists 

Books About . . .
Families in Fiction and Memoir
Women of Another Era
Abraham Lincoln
Dystopia
Crime Fiction–About Women By Women
Love–That Your Club Probably Hasn’t Read Yet
African-Americans–Not Just for Black History Month
WASPS
Madness We Can All Relate to
With the Sea in Sight

So head on over to the website to find some great ideas and recommendations for your book club…or just for yourself.

 

From My Lips—Elinor Lipman

Wednesday, 24 March 2010 09:22

elinor_lipman2You read ... and read ... and you read.  And you think you’re pretty well up on authors.

Then you come across one who’s written 8 books—8 mind you!—and you don’t have a clue. You feel so, so ... can I say it... sob ... so UNREAD!!

That’s what happened with Elinor Lipman. Somewhere I came across her name. Hmmm ... that’s vaguely familiar, but only vaguely ... I check her out ... and holy cow!  Stunned I am—by her body of work and the fine reviews she’s garnered over the years. So where have I been?

Why isn’t Lipman on the lips of every book club member in the country?  She’s  funny, smart, perceptive…and her dialogue crackles.  We should be reading her!

I’m working my way backward through her books.  So far I’ve read My Latest Grievance, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift and Dearly Departed.  Wonderful... Check out our reading guides for Lipman’s other 4 novels — they’re on our LitGuide index...L for Lipman!

I plan on reading all 8 novels ... sometime.

 

Book Review | A Journey Through Literary America

Wednesday, 17 March 2010 17:33

journey-americaRarely do I review new books.  It’s hard enough to get through my own pile for the website, let alone take on brand new ones.  So usually I decline review requests. 

But this book was different.  A Journey Through Literary America looked so intriguing…I couldn’t resist the offer.  And what a smart decision! This has to be one of the MOST gorgeous books ever born.  

Journey is a big coffee-table-sized book, chock-a-block-full of sumptuous photos—the homes of America’s most beloved authors and the locales of their stories.  

With wonderful prose to boot—biographies and personal incidents that make up the authors’ lives, as well as the history and inspiration behind their works. 

This is a gorgeous book—the perfect gift for your favorite book lover. Which is you, of course!

journey-america-lg

 

Short Stories—the long & the short of them

Monday, 22 February 2010 17:16

short-storiesI just finished My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead (see our Reading Guide), a volume of 26 short love stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides (author of Middlesex).  It’s been a long time since I sat down to read short stories, and I found it challenging.

As my friend Nan says, reading short stories is “like opening a jewel box.”  She’s right: stories are polished little gems…which is what makes them difficult. They’re written with economy—lacking the luxury of 100′s of pages for a more leisurely expansion of plot and character. Everything is compressed—precise—each word or idea contains significance, pointing to something beyond itself. Stories are packed with meaning.

They also tend to be dark, edgy, with more bite than longer fiction. Stories situate a character, an ordinary individual, in a moment of crisis—and within 2 to 20 pages, say, the author must resolve that crisis. Everything is intensified.

Finally, there’s the stop-and-go quality of a story collection, which as opposed to the long arc of a novel can be discomfiting. You get involved with the story and characters…only to have it end quickly. Then on to the next story—working to come up to speed again. It’s like establishing new friends, over and over, only to keep losing them.

But I found, reading through Eugenides volume, that the stories haunted me, out of all proportion to their length. And that’s the beauty of a short story.

For Book Clubs
Take a break from novels and try our LitCourses—each based on a single story.  The courses are short, fun, and packed with good information. You’ll find a study guide for each story—perfect to help with discussion. Take a look!

 

What the Dog Saw made him Blink

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 09:34

blink-outliersIf you’re a Malcolm Gladwell fan, then you’re in luck!  We have Readers Guides—with DISCUSSION QUESTIONS—for all 4 of Malcolm Gladwell’s books.  Read and discuss any of the books at your book club!

The Tipping Point    |    Blink    |    Outliers    |   What the Dog Saw

 

Learn a Little Lit—authorial intent

Wednesday, 10 February 2010 13:34

apple1

You've seen the cartoons in which characters say one thing—but they're thinking another. Authorial intention is sort of like that.

Contemporary literary theory pretty much debunks the idea that authors say exactly what they mean—because the words on the page don't always support their intended meaning. Or readers find additional meanings that author's never considered.

Here's an interview with Peter Carey, author of Parrot and Olivier in America and Oscar and Lucinda. An audience member asked Carey about an espisode in the latter novel that reminded her of Adam tasting the forbidden fruit.

Here’s Carey’s response:

Your way of reading that holds up perfectly, I think, and it’s totally consistent with the book and consistent with my intention, and yet it never occured to me!

Then he said . . .

So isn’ t that the extraordinary thing about literature? It only really works when the reader reads it because until then…it’s words on a page…. Everybody brings their own lives, and their own experience, their own intellect… and then a book is made! And that’s the wonder of literature.


No one
could have put it better. You can listen to the full interview from this 2003 BBC World Book Club broadcast.

 

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) 

 

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