I wanna be Liz Gilbert

Wednesday, 10 June 2009 12:47

liz-gilbertSo pretty. So Blonde. So articulate. Did I mention thin? On top of that, she writes Eat, Pray, Love, a terrific besteller.  (Me? I’d have called it Eat, Eat, Eat…but then it’s her book, and as I said, she’s thin.)

I ran across her on a video interview on the "Barnes & Noble Studio" page, Meet the Authors. It’s fun place to visit—good interviews with interesting authors.

Also check out Borders Book Club, another set of videos featuring an Ann Arbor, Michigan, book club that invites top authors in to speak.

Book Clubs can get some good ideas of books to read, authors to check out, discussion questions to ask. The videos are interesting enough to play in your meetings.

 

Just ♥ Words—section

Friday, 15 May 2009 11:13

sectionEnglish—what a great language to have fun with!  Below is a silly tongue-twister.  It’s a hoot when you say it fast.


Don’t You Just ♥ Words?

sects  |  section  |  sex  |  shun

Sects shun sex in this section.

Even harder . . .

In this section, sects shun sex.


I'm a grown woman
— and this is what I do for a living. Feel free to join in the fun. Leave a comment. Can you come up with any?  Think of it as brain exercise.

 

Lost Mothers—Why novels bump off moms

Saturday, 02 May 2009 14:16

mothersIf you're a mom in a novel, look out—the author may bump you off. You simply can't be around if your daughter is bound for adventure and has plans to become a true fictional heroine.

Think about it: literature’s most spunky, independent heriones? No moms. As far back as the infamous Fanny Hill (1749) or Jane Austen's Emma (1815) up through Nancy Drew to Ahab’s Wife, and most recently Amy Bloom’s Away...mothers are absent, gone, kaput.

Traditionally, a mother's role is to instill proper behavor and correct waywardness, especially in daughters. They're also fierce protectors of their offspring, not just in nature but in human domestic life as well. And speaking of "domestic," the very word is tied to mother's apron strings.

But girls and women, the ones who have adventures, who throw themselves in harm's way, aren't exactly "domesticated"—nor attached to anyone's apron strings. Females who go against the cultural grain are the ones who show up as heroines in novels; they have adventures and get into trouble. It doesn't work to have someone who insists on using inside voices.

Nothing against Moms. I'm one myself. But I'm not so sure I'd want my daughter sneaking aboard a 19th-century whaling ship or working in a brothel. The author would just have to write me out.

Ideas for book clubs

  1. Think of other books featuring independent heroines in which mothers are done away or are simply never present.
  2. Think of books with father-and-son or father-and-daughter adventures.
  3. Prove my theory wrong: come up with some mother-daughter adventure stories.(Okay...Little Women. Any others?)
 

Characters—gotta love 'em. Or do we?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009 14:41

hero-villainDo we have a main character to love a book? What happens if we despise the hero/heroine?

I just read a blurb for Zoe Heller's new book, Believers. Critics are praising it up and down, though some find the characters unlikable ... can’t relate to them ... even find them nasty. Yikes !

So, back to my question. Can we enjoy a book without liking its characters? Love the book, hate her—as in Serena, another recent book with a heroine no one can stand.

How about Emma—Jane Austen’s masterpiece? Even Austen knew her dear readers would have trouble liking her control-freak-of-a-heroine. Then there's Lolita, with one of the most dastardly heroes in literature? Humbert Humbert is surely enduring if not endearing—and the book is considered one of the great works of the 20th century.

Still ... it’s hard to get into a book when characters are unlikable. Am I alone? Probably not.

Questions for Book Clubs

  1. Can a bad character ruin a good book? 
  2. How do you begin most of your book discussions—by talking about the characters?  And if you don’t like the main character...where does the discussion go? Does it peter out?
  3. If a character is unlikable, is it intentional on the part of the author? To what end?
 

The Liberal Arts—down the tubes?

Saturday, 11 April 2009 14:57

ivory-towerA NY Times article (2/25/09) pondered whether a Liberal Arts education will be around much longer. Recent trends suggest maybe not. 

When I taught English, a number of students resented the time my class took from their studies in science & technology or business & finance. Those are the disciplines that would pay them good money . . . and pay off their tuition loans. But English? What good is it?

You can talk till you’re blue in the face—and I didabout the power of language, about the importance of clear thinking and coherent, persuasive writingthe things liberal arts teach us. 

After all, it was Bethany McClean, a former English major who first cracked the Enron scandal—because, as she said, she knew the right questions to ask.  There are lots of stories like that.

And I talked about how the humanities explore the important questions of life—

How does one lead a good life in a not-so-good world?
What does it mean to be human?
  

But, honestly?  $20,000 a year is a lot money to spend on trying to figure out what your humanity’s about. 

So maybe the pursuit of liberal arts is a luxury we can no longer afford. That’s what more than a few in the ivory towers are suggesting.

Questions for Book Clubs

  1. If college humanities courses fall off a cliff . . . will book clubs pick up the slack?  After all, to read and discuss books is to engage the very questions posed by humanities.
  2. But then who said book clubs are supposed to solve society’s problems?  Isn’t our roll simply to enjoy reading and sharing ideas, large or small?
 

Learn a Little Lit—characters who come alive

Friday, 03 April 2009 15:08

characters-come-aliveOne of the joys of reading is the people we meet within a book’s covers, literary creations who jump off the page and into our lives. How authors do it—how they make their characters come alive for us—is one of the great mysteries of art.

Authors invariably say their characters take on lives of their own. Here’s Stephen L. Carter (The Emperor of Ocean Park):

I was occasionally surprised by the messes my characters got themselves into, and the indignant, presumptuous way they demanded that I write a way for them to escape. Random House interview


And here’s Philip Roth
with NPR Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:

Some magic, some alchemy between knowing and intuiting takes over and our characters take on lives of their own. First time this happened to me I felt like a real writer…. Julia Cameron nailed it when she wrote, “It’s not about making things up but taking them down.”


Even playwright Edward Albee
(Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) when asked whether his characters control him suggested they were somehow alive:

I like to let them think they do. It’s a trick we play on ourselves. They don’t exist, and they can’t say anything unless we write it for them. But it makes them happy to think they’re independent. Boston Phoenix


All this isn’t to say
that writers don’t have to think, and think hard, about their characters. I’d like to continue a discussion of character—what goes into making a good one—in another post. Stay tuned.

Ideas for Book Clubs

  1. Take our free LitCourse 5—about characterization, how we talk about them and how author's develop them. It’s short and fun...and informative.
  2. Talk about some of your favorite characters in literature. Or some of literature’s most enduring characters.

 

Just ♥ Words—it's all well and good

Friday, 20 March 2009 11:22

good-vs-well3
English—what a great language to have fun with! Here’s a funny quirk that struck my husband Pete—a numbers guy, who gets a kick out of language.

Don’t You Just ♥ Words?

You can say
This is good eating.  —or—  This is eating well.

But not
 This is well eating.  —or—  This is eating good.

Why?


Answer:  The top two sentences seem similar in meaning; after all, we often use “good” and “well” interchangably ... but we shouldn’t.

Actually the sentences have slightly different meanings, which has to do with how the word “eating” functions and the difference between adjectives and adverbs.

This is good eating  =  the food is tasty.
  "Eating" is a noun.
   Good is an adjective and precedes a noun—as in good book.

This is eating well  =  the food is healthy … or expensive & posh.
  "Is eating" is the verb...as in "This—the thing I do—is eat well."
   Well is an adverb and follows a verb.


So much for
niggling rules of grammar.  Is it a wonder anyone ever learns?

 

See my guest post—Books on the Brain.com

Friday, 13 March 2009 15:49

books-on-brainBooks on the Brain.com  Check out my guest column on one of the best book blogs on the Net. I talk about the fact that book clubs are saving the world for democracy!

Had you any idea how important you were?

 

LitLovers is Downunder...in New Zealand

Sunday, 08 March 2009 16:00

new-zeland-fansGotta toot my own horn. When I started my LitLovers website, I’d no idea how it might be used . . . or that readers around the globe would tune in.

A library site in Auckland, New Zealand, uses LitLovers as part of their web 2.0 training exercise—and what a cool site to be listed on. Take a look.

Lots of libraries have training blogs to teach staff how to maneuvre the new world wide web (web 2.0)—which refers to the new level of interactivity on the Net—sites like Del.ic.ious, StumbleUpon, GoodReads, FaceBook, Wikipedia, LibraryThing, and personal blogs.  

LitLovers has been used on a number of library training sites in the US, but the New Zealand one is a particularly gratifying! Spend some time on it yourself—we can all learn more about this new web environment.

 

The Great Works—should book clubs tackle them?

Monday, 23 February 2009 16:37

great-book-coinOccasionally, I get emails from readers troubled by how hard of some of the older works are to read—18th and 19th century novels. I feel their pain.

Great works are rarely easy breezy reads—think Dostoevsky, Melville, Hawthorne, Eliot, Faulkner, James, Conrad. These aren't the authors we lug to the beach. They all write books that are challenging  for a host of reasons, not least of which is length. Their books also involve complex language and diction, arcane allusions and metaphors, and heady philosophical issues.

Even authors of a more recent vintage can be tough to tackle—Vladamir Nabokov, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon—especially because of their post-modernist bent...which, among other things, means they constantly undercut their own meaings.

Here's the question: Should book clubs tackle the “great works” of literature?  Does doing so make a club more "legitimate"? If so, in whose eyes?

Or is this a non-issue, completely irrelevant to the purpose of our book clubs...and especially to the pleasure we derive from them? Still...it's interesting to ponder.

Questions for Book Clubs:

  1. Is it enjoyable to read the "great works"?  Which ones? Are they challenging in a good way—or too challenging to enjoy? 
  2. Does reading critically acclaimed books, contemporary or classic, make us "better people"... or just give us bragging rights?
  3. If we choose not to read the "big" authors, are we missing out on something? If so...what?
 

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