Member Blogs > Books Tell You Why

  • Hamlet and Opium: The Subtle Influence of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Sat, 21 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge is, quite simply, one of the most important English Poets. Full stop. He was praised in his time as a master of metrical techniques and wild imagery, helping to spearhead the Romantic movement (whose members would include Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, and others), the impact of which can still be felt in contemporary poetry. Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798) remains one of the best known lyric poems in English (fun fact: the active member of Coast Guard with the most shipboard time and exemplary character is officially known as the Ancient Mariner), and its Read More
  • Visiting the Leslie Marmon Silko Papers at the Beinecke

    Fri, 20 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Are you interested in learning more about the life and works of Leslie Marmon Silko? Yale University Library owns her papers, which are available to researchers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Given the Beinecke’s extensive collection, many of the archives contained here are housed off-site. As such, researchers need to request them at least a few business days in advance of a visit. This is true of the Silko Papers, but it’s worth the wait. We visited the papers and were thrilled to see not only numerous pieces of correspondence, as well as drafts with Silko’s handwritten Read More
  • Beyond Bond: The Spy Fiction of John le Carré

    Thu, 19 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    During the 1960s and '70s, David Cornwell worked as a member of British intelligence while secretly publishing spy novels under the pen name John le Carré. By his third novel, le Carré had become an international success. He quit his job in order to focus on writing full time. He is a force in the world of spy fiction and many of his novels are considered to be some of the best of the genre. His recurring character George Smiley features in many of his Cold War era novels and is considered to be one of literature's greatest spies. Le Read More
  • Collecting Melville's Masterpiece: Moby Dick

    Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Herman Melville's first novel Typee, was a critical and popular success. Indeed, it launched him headfirst into a massive literary career. However, his subsequent books did not receive as many positive reviews, and in his lifetime, he slipped into relative obscurity as something of a one hit wonder despite continuing to publish both novels and short stories. He died in 1891. It wasn't until what would have been his hundredth birthday that the “Melville Revival” began. His books were reprinted, scholars began studying and writing about him, and his unfinished works were released. Since this revival, Melville has taken his Read More
  • Little-Known Facts About Arthur Miller

    Tue, 17 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    The standard details about Arthur Miller’s life are well known. He was married to Marilyn Monroe. He testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (and was convicted of contempt of Congress). He wrote Death of a Salesman, considered by some t0 be the great American drama. But there is much more to the life and work of this most American of American dramatists. Read More
  • A Guide to Reading Tim O'Brien

    Sat, 14 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    World War II proved to be a reliable source of material for American novelists. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961), Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948) and many other esteemed entries into the 20th century canon have delved by turns into the gritty reality and the existential absurdity of that pivotal moment in American (and World) History. With Vietnam the case is slightly different. While there are acclaimed American novels on the subject (like Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn (2009) and, more recently, David Means’ Hystopia (2016)), it never produced a tremendously high number of literary blockbusters. Luckily, Read More
  • Arna Bontemps: African-American Novelist, Children's Author, Librarian, and More

    Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Arna Bontemps may not be as well known as his fellow Harlem Renaissance luminaries like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, or Jean Toomer, but that does not diminish his contributions. His novel, God Sends Sunday, about a jockey who wins and prodigally spends his money, repulsed W.E.B. DuBois, who called it “sordid,” but it remains a quintessential novel of the movement. Bontemps’s further work spans not only poetry and novels, but children’s books, history, anthologies, biography, and, until his retirement, success as an archivist and librarian at Fisk University. His life was a mission engaged all at once in the Read More
  • Collecting Miniatures of The Master and Margarita

    Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    We love the idea of miniature books, especially when they’re clandestine printings of banned books or re-printings of censored novels. After all, what better way to hide a book than placing it deep inside a pocket or a bag such that it can’t be discovered? One of our favorite novels of the twentieth century, The Master and Margarita [Мастер и Mаргарита], couldn’t be published in the lifetime of its author, Mikhail Bulgakov. Bulgakov wrote the novel in the decade before his death in 1940, but he could share it only with close friends due to its thinly veiled criticism of Read More
  • A William Morris FAQ

    Wed, 11 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    If there’s one problem with our literary landscape, it’s perhaps there are too many great writers and thinkers for the average reader to keep track. Whether you’re looking into a specific literary tradition, region, or movement, it’s easy to gloss over a handful of important writers or those literary artists who have in subtle ways influenced future generations of scribes. Because history is instructive and it’s impossible to understand where you’re going without realizing where you’ve been, this oversight can be a serious misstep for the literary enthusiast. Perhaps one of the greatest oversights—especially considering the width and depth of Read More
  • Ivan Bunin: The Masterful Nobel Laureate Who Should Be Famous Beyond Russia

    Tue, 10 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    When Russian filmmakers delivered to the state censors a screenplay for a biopic about the writer Ivan Bunin, they were immediately shut down. Their objection was not to Bunin’s controversial work, but rather the film’s treatment of him: their saintly Nobel laureate portrayed as an egotistical, philandering, drunken, emotionally reckless artist. This portrait was not too exaggerated, but the film ministry was clear. They could not allow a movie to deface the image of one of Russia’s most prized artists. Read More
  • Notable Nobel Prize Firsts

    Sat, 07 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    In 1895, Alfred Nobel—Swedish chemist, philanthropist, and inventor of dynamite—died. In his will, Nobel dedicated the bulk of his massive estate toward awarding five yearly prizes. This, then, is how the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Physical Science, Medicine, Peace, and Literature were born. The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded annually to a writer whose body of work represents a standard of excellence and that moves literature as a whole into an “ideal” direction. Though every year the committee's interpretation of the word “ideal” has held different meanings, in most recent times it has seemed to mean work that focuses Read More
  • Buying Rare and Antiquarian Books in Dublin

    Fri, 06 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Ireland has a long literary history, which grows especially dense in the twentieth century. From W.B. Yeats to James Joyce to Seamus Heaney, there are many collectible Irish poets and writers. In addition, there are numerous novelists who have been published in Ireland and whose work relates to Ireland’s history of colonialism that is shared, in many ways, by numerous countries around the globe. If you’re traveling to Dublin, you should certainly look into the city’s expansive literary past, but you should also be sure to visit the fantastic used and rare bookstores in the city. In terms of rare Read More
  • Congratulations to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature Winner, Kazuo Ishiguro!

    Thu, 05 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    It's that glorious time of year again! After almost a week of Nobel Prize announcements, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced today at 1:00p.m. local time in Sweden. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world". Read More
  • Listen to Seven Classic Authors Read Their Own Work

    Wed, 04 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Shakespeare gave voice to his poetry as a performer in his own plays. Charles Dickens showed such theatrical commitment that he briefly fainted after reading from Oliver Twist. Unfortunately, these stirring author readings (and doubtless many more like them) have been lost to time. Luckily, though, since the late nineteenth century we have had the means to record our most cherished authors read their own work. Read More
  • Best Books from Japan

    Tue, 03 Oct 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Are you interested in reading more Japanese literature, or are you traveling to Kyoto or Tokyo soon? We have some book recommendations for you. Read More
  • Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

    Sat, 30 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Louisa May Alcott was born in New England in 1832 to transcendentalist parents. Her early education was comprised of lessons from a host of impressive family friends including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. A love of education and writing was instilled in her at an early age but due to financial struggles, Alcott was forced to pursue a variety of jobs. It was while working to help support her family that she first turned to writing as an escape. She began writing for the Atlantic Monthly, and letters she wrote while working as a nurse during Read More
  • A Reading Guide to Cervantes

    Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    The first title that comes to mind at the mention of esteemed author Miguel de Cervantes is undoubtedly Don Quixote, and for good reason. But Cervantes is an esteemed author for many reasons, or rather, thanks in large part to the entire body of work he produced. So, if you’ve read Don Quixote, or plan to start your purvey into this legendary author’s canon with that great novel, what should you read of Cervantes’ work next? Let us help. Read More
  • An Interview with Gary Ackerman, President of the Book Club of Washington

    Thu, 28 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Gary Ackerman is the current President of the Book Club of Washington. A self-proclaimed fan of used bookstores, Gary's collecting interests are varied: his personal collections range from art and architecture to golf to Ludwig Bemelmans. With the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair right around the corner (October 14-15), Gary generously shared his collecting insight and gave us a great look at the Book Club of Washington in the following interview. Read More
  • Boris Pasternak and the Lost Story of Lara

    Wed, 27 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Maybe you’ve read Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago or you’ve seen the film of the same name from 1965, directed by David Lean and starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Or perhaps you’re familiar with “Lara’s Theme,” the song from the movie. At any rate, we bet you’re at least a little bit familiar with the love affair between the fictional characters of Yuri and Lara. A new book by Anna Pasternak, the granddaughter of Boris’s sister Josephine, reveals details of the love affair between Boris Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya, which served as the inspiration for the novel. The book is Read More
  • Five Interesting Facts About T.S. Eliot

    Tue, 26 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    To call T.S. Eliot the most important English-language poet of the 20th century doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch. His 1948 Nobel Prize is just one indicator of the lasting impact that poems like ‘The Waste Land’ (1922) and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915) have to this day, and will no doubt continue to have as long as there are English professors and recreational readers of poetry in the world. In spite, or perhaps because, of the influence of Eliot’s poetry on the Anglophone poetic landscape, the man himself has remained something of an enigma Read More
  • Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald: Behind the Scenes

    Sat, 23 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Lean back, close your eyes, and imagine an evening in Paris in the 1920s. Jazz music curls around every street corner, streetlights glimmer, and champagne flows like a river. The sound of laughter and dancing fill the air as parties grow more gregarious, and the socialite scene comes to life. Among the throngs of people immersed in the frivolity, you are likely to find a brash southern woman, and her charming husband, regaling those around them with details of their latest creative endeavors. Read More
  • Famous Literature Written from Prison

    Fri, 22 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    We don’t often think about where a particular novelist or poet was when she or he wrote a well-known work. When we do, most of us are unlikely to imagine the confines of a prison cell. However, many canonical works of fiction, as well as significant twentieth-century political texts, were drafted while their writers were incarcerated. In some cases, the texts directly address the writer’s imprisonment, while in others, the claustrophobic walls of a prison cell appear to have enabled the imaginative capacities of the novelist. Read More
  • Three Interesting Facts About H.G. Wells

    Thu, 21 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Herbert George "H.G." Wells, writer of The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Island of Doctor Moreau, is the most durable of the so-called fathers of science fiction. His stories influenced voices as diverse as Nabokov and Borges. He anticipated, in some form or another, developments such as lasers, genetic engineering, and email. His political and scientific writing influenced the following generation of thinkers, leading George Orwell to conclude that “thinking people who were born about the beginning of this century are in some sense Wells’s own creation. . . . The minds of all of us, Read More
  • Great Authors Who Were Also Great Teachers

    Wed, 20 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote,” said Samuel Johnson, “except for money.” Even this humorous thought ignores the central reality of literary economics: that writing for money is very hard. At least, that is, if you want to live comfortably. This bare reality is in part why authors have for thousands of years supplemented their income and professional life with the profession of teaching. Read More
  • The Raucous, Old-Fashioned Friendship of Ian Fleming and Noël Coward

    Tue, 19 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    For being men of letters, is was not literature that brought together the friendship of Noël Coward and Ian Fleming as much as class and location. Both men were embroiled in the life of leisure and excess characteristic of their upper class when the pair met in Jamaica in the 1940s. There, they could bask in the tropical sun, drink, smoke, swim, dine, pursue lovers, and above all, talk. A taste for fun, debauchery, ego-boosting, and wit mattered most; any overlap of vocation was considered but a welcome accident. Read More
  • The War that Inspired A Separate Peace

    Sat, 16 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Author John Knowles was born in West Virginia in 1926 to a well-off family. His family's comfortable living allowed him to go the private preparatory school, Phillips Exeter Academy. Upon graduation, he served for two years in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. He attended Yale University after his service ended and while there, wrote humor stories for The Yale Record. He also worked on the Yale Daily News. He continued his journalism after school with a job at the Hartford Courant and eventually as assistant editor at Holiday. It wasn't until prompted by friend and Pulitzer Read More
  • Seven Interesting Facts About Agatha Christie

    Fri, 15 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Agatha Christie, going by sheer number of copies in print, ranks behind only Shakespeare and God (or, at any rate, The Bible). That in itself should be enough to suggest the tremendous literary stature of the woman who created Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, but it bears mentioning that she was also a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award, and had her book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) voted the best crime novel ever by the Crime Writers' Association, all in addition to her success as a playwright (The Mousetrap’s West End theatrical run began Read More
  • The Incendiary Politics of Michel Houellebecq

    Thu, 14 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Like many other readers, we’re not quite sure what to make of Michel Houellebecq. And if we enjoy reading one of his works of fiction, or if we find his work inspiring, do those sentiments reflect somehow upon our own politics? These are complicated questions, of course, and if you’re not familiar with Houellebecq, you might be wondering why we’re even asking them in the first place. To give you a quick primer: a recent headline in The Guardian* read: “Michel Houellebecq: ‘Am I Islamophobic? Probably, yes.’” The writer has been described as “the ageing enfant terrible of French literature,” Read More
  • An Introduction to Sherwood Anderson, Creator of Winesburg, Ohio

    Wed, 13 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Midwest writer Sherwood Anderson was born in 1876 and raised in Ohio. Like the characters in his most enduring work, Winesburg, Ohio, he lived most of his life in small towns. Much of his writing was inspired by the places he lived and the people he met during a somewhat transient childhood. Anderson was one of seven children born to his mother and father. His father, Irwin McLain Anderson, was a former Union soldier with considerable debts and a habit for drinking, forcing the family to move frequently. To compensate for his father's difficulties keeping a steady job, Anderson worked Read More
  • When Books Go to Broadway

    Tue, 12 Sep 2017 08:00:00 Permalink
    Broadway has always welcomed the country’s best playwrights. Everyone from Arthur Miller to Tennessee Williams to Lillian Hellman to August Wilson to Eugene O’Neill has been supported and sustained by the theatrical capital of America. Yet what is also interesting is Broadway’s tendency to adapt and stage something that started on the page. There have been failures (like the recent American Psycho musical) and smash successes (Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton). It has also provided many prose writers the chance to work in the dramatic form. Read More
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