Member Blogs > Books Tell You Why

  • Jean Jacques Rousseau: How Hypocrisy Led to Discovery

    Sun, 28 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Considered by some to be the most significant 18th century writer in French letters, Swiss philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau changed the realm of political thought and moral psychology. As an original thinker, Rousseau inevitably made enemies and aroused suspicions in his day. His writings forced him into exile and earned him numerous rivals, including Voltaire. Rousseau became so paranoid that he could no longer distinguish the real from the imagined. A man of reason can give way to the most irrational of fears: This is one of the many contradictions that punctuates Rousseau's remarkable life. Read More
  • James Joyce and Company: Sylvia Beach's Literary Table

    Sat, 27 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Imagining literary Paris between the wars is almost too much. Many of us delight in the knowledge that, say, James Joyce and Henrik Ibsen exchanged some letters, or that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were fast friends. The prospect of a single time and place that contained the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and others has the trappings of a literary meeting of the minds unrivaled by any setting in human history. If you think that you’d be almost irrecoverably star struck in such a setting, you’re in good company. In fact, you’re in the Read More
  • Beyond Tolkien: A Survey of Modern Fantasy

    Fri, 26 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    J.R.R. Tolkien is widely credited with laying the foundation for the modern fantasy genre for adults in the 1950s with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Adult readers had found a new taste for imagination, and it's only grown stronger. Both publishers and Hollywood executives can’t seem to get enough of magic, dragons, wizards, and the like. The following authors and books have certainly helped us on our way there. Read More
  • Libraries & Special Collections: The Vatican Apostolic Library

    Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    One of the oldest and most extensive library collections in the world recently began the process of digitizing its treasures for the world to see. This library is not specifically attached to a university or college, and it's nearly 2,000 years old: the Vatican Apostolic Library in Rome. And it's not just documents of the Catholic Church you'll find there. Read More
  • George Orwell's Prophetic Political Vision

    Wed, 24 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    George Orwell is still one of today’s most coveted political thinkers. Although he died 65 years ago, it’s remarkable how politicians from all ends of the spectrum work to claim his posthumous blessing. Liberal or conservative, everyone believes herself to be part of the great fight for humankind’s dignity, to which Orwell was likewise dedicated. Through the political unfurling of the last several decades — the Cold War, Vietnam, international security, etc. — many have asked: What would Orwell say? What can Orwell teach us about being a citizen today? Read More
  • Strange Sandboxes: Unusual Writing Habits of Five Famous Authors

    Tue, 23 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Imagine telling your boss the only way you can be productive at work is after imbibing two or three glasses of sherry. Or by lying flat on your back with your knees tucked tightly toward your chest. Or perhaps in a bathtub brimming with soap bubbles. You'd probably be fired. But habits or routines similar to these were staples in the creative process for some of America’s most famous authors. These renowned literary figures spared no effort to create a space for the unconscious mind to play. Truly, these strange sandboxes for creativity and inspiration were crucial to the creation Read More
  • Arundhati Roy Accuses Gandhi of Prejudice

    Mon, 22 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Is Mahatma Gandhi the ultimate figure from the Indian subcontinent to represent nonviolence in the quest for justice and equality? Although popular history generally upholds Gandhi to be a figure of veneration, particularly when we think about the long and arduous path to decolonization and independence, the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy recently accused Gandhi of class prejudice. Let’s take a closer look at the events that led to Roy’s accusation. Read More
  • Five Famous Literary Fathers

    Sun, 21 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Happy Father’s Day! To honor the occasion, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite literary dads. Some of these guys we love; some we’re intrigued by; others we just have to shake our heads at; but all of them are remarkable. This list is by no means exhaustive. We hope that you enjoy our selection, and then perhaps share your own favorites with us in the comments below. Read More
  • Man of Macabre: Five Interesting Facts About Ian McEwan

    Sat, 20 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    For a contemporary novelist, becoming a household name is not easy. A Man Booker Prize (of which Ian McEwan has been a recipient) may not do it. Nor, indeed, may a prominent spot on TIME’s list of the 50 best British authors since 1945. Surely, then, we must attribute Ian McEwan’s name recognition at least partially to luck, and more than a little bit to a well-respected film adaptation of his critically acclaimed novel Atonement (2001). But a reputation like McEwan’s can’t be built on luck alone. Rather, it must be built on a strong foundation of literary acumen, pieced together, Read More
  • Paul Muldoon: Poetry, Rock Music, and Fine Press

    Fri, 19 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon has been hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as “the most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War.” In addition to earning a bundle of superlatives, he is also a professor at Princeton University and the poetry editor at the New Yorker. He is musically inclined, and plays guitar in the rock band, The Wayside Shrines. He released a volume of lyrics called The Word on the Street in 2013. And, before his day jobs were entirely belletristic, he worked as a TV and radio producer for the BBC. Read More
  • Instant Classic: Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses

    Thu, 18 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    “A classic (is) something everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read.”-Mark Twain, 1900 Read More
  • Browsing and Buying Antiquarian Books in Buenos Aires

    Wed, 17 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Shopping for antiquarian books in Buenos Aires is like something out of a dream. Every corner of the city, it seems, has an antiquarian bookshop on it, filled with glorious paper wonders. And given that this city is, like New York, one that never sleeps, some of these stores stay open well into the later hours of the evening, particularly on Avenida Corrientes. If you love looking through old books and ephemera (and if you can read even a small bit of Spanish), you must — you absolutely must — plan a visit to Argentina. It just might be a Read More
  • An Insider's Guide to Bloomsday

    Tue, 16 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    In his 1964 novel The Dalkey Archive, Irish satirist Brian O'Nolan (known better by his noms de plume Flann O’Brien and Myles na Gopaleen) envisions a world where whiskey can be aged to perfection in a matter of days and a mad scientist named de Selby poses a serious existential threat to humanity. Almost entirely separate from these imaginings comes a scene in which the late literary behemoth James Joyce is alive and well and working as a bartender near Dalkey. Bewildered by the author’s sudden appearance, O’Nolan’s protagonist, Mick, asks him about Ulysses (1922). Joyce responds, “I don’t want Read More
  • John Hersey and the Journalism Event of the Century

    Mon, 15 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    When the New Yorker published John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” on August 31, 1946, nearly everyone was stunned. The issue sold out within a few hours. Albert Einstein himself ordered one thousand copies. Newspapers and periodicals everywhere requested permission to publish it, as did the American Broadcast Company. Even a theatre company wanted to adapt it for the stage. It had been a year since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and so little was known in the West about the aftermath of the fearsome new weapon. Then came Hersey’s extensive article, and people's eyes were opened. Read More
  • A James Bond Novel Ian Fleming Didn't Want You to Read

    Sun, 14 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    One hears a lot, in certain circles, about experimental literature. From James Joyce to Tom McCarthy, authors have always seen themselves as engaging in experiments, be they with prose, structure, or content. While the notion of books-as-experiments can be appealing, one almost never hears whether these experiments succeed or fail. An exception, however, comes, in this regard as in so many others, from beloved James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Read More
  • Saltwater Fly Fishing: Fresh Takes on an Ancient Sport

    Sat, 13 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Fly fishing is an ancient sport. One of its first mentions was made by Claudius Aelainus in the second century as he described fishermen on the Astraeous River: "They fasten red wool..round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock's wattles...the fish, attracted and maddened by the color, comes straight at it.." In Fly Fishing in Salt Water, Lefty Kreh takes a detailed and engaging look at how this ancient sport can be adapted to the challenges of the ocean. The book is self-described as the saltwater fly fisherman's bible and his treatment of the Read More
  • Real Events Behind Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin

    Fri, 12 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is cultural dynamite. Within three months of its publication in 1852, 300,000 copies of the novel were sold in the United States. Many believe the events in Stowe’s book helped propel the United States into the Civil War. Even now, Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains one of the most widely read and acknowledged abolitionist works of all time. Today, we explore Harriet Beecher Stowe’s inspiration for her characters and storyline.  Read More
  • Pasternak Archives at Stanford Special Collections

    Thu, 11 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Where can you find the largest archive of Boris Pasternak material in the world? The Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University holds this vast collection, where researchers have the opportunity to peruse documents contained in 156 manuscript boxes and 23 oversize boxes, not to mention videotapes and phonotapes. While access to specific items will require permission from the archivist and a trip to Palo Alto, digital use copies of some of the materials are available. The collection spans from 1878 to 2013. Read More
  • William Styron and Other Critics of Formal Education

    Wed, 10 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    At first thought, it seems ludicrous that any author — any person who depends on lovers of books and knowledge, really — would condemn formal education. In an age when more and more authors are cultivated in an MFA program, you'd assume to find only champions of education. After all, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Flannery O’Connor all passed through an MFA program, and plenty more, like Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates, have taught in one. Despite the firm bond between writers and academic institutions, there are some authors who can’t help but criticize formal education. Read More
  • Maurice Sendak: A Wild Imagination

    Tue, 09 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    When beloved writer and illustrator of children’s books Maurice Sendak passed away in 2012, it was Stephen Colbert who best summed up the sentiment that accompanied Sendak’s passing. “We are all honored” he said, “to have been briefly invited into his world.” And indeed, Sendak’s most beloved works, like Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and Brundibar (2003), were invitations to worlds wholly separate from this one: worlds that were at once startling and beautiful, inviting and grotesque, smartly crafted and whimsical. It wasn’t just the worlds populated with wild things, however, to which Sendak invited his readers. Read More
  • When Ernest Hemingway Fought Max Eastman

    Mon, 08 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    “Hemingway Slaps Eastman in the Face,” read the New York Times headline on August 14, 1937. This famous spat happened one afternoon when Max Eastman—a prominent critic who wrote about politics, literature, and more—discovered that one of the subjects of his criticism, Ernest Hemingway, wanted to fight back. Hemingway, who was visiting New York at the time, walked into the Fifth Avenue location of publisher Charles Scribner & Son. There, in the office of editor Max Perkins, one of the most peculiar author exchanges of the century transpired. Read More
  • Quiz: Who Is Your Literary Father Figure?

    Sun, 07 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    In the United States, Father's Day is just a few weeks away. How will you celebrate your dad? We've put together a fun, bookish quiz to get you into the spirit and also compiled some books to give you a few ideas for all budgets.  Read More
  • A Gwendolyn Brooks Primer

    Sat, 06 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    "There is no self-pity here, not a striving for effects. She takes hold of reality as it is and renders it faithfully...She easily catches the pathos of petty destinies; the whimper of the wounded." -Richard Wright on Gwendolyn Brooks Read More
  • Thomas Mann: An Exploration of Philosophy and Practicality

    Fri, 05 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Thomas Mann was born into the Hanseatic ruling Mann family, a wealthy clan who held great influence over the city republic of Lübeck, in what was then the German Empire. Mann grew up under the aegis of privilege, raised by tales of his ancestors’ prosperity and the ethos of bourgeoisie practicality. The Manns, as ruling families are wont to do, were preoccupied with the maintenance of their influence, wealth, and respectability. Thus, when the 21 year-old Thomas Mann announced his plans to become a writer, his family took his artistic calling as a betrayal of his auspicious pedigree. Despite his Read More
  • Caldecott Medalist Peter Spier: An Illustrious Career

    Thu, 04 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Many elements combine to make for a deeply affecting children’s book. As in most any writing, story and characters are major factors in the success or failure of a children’s book. Likewise, an aesthetic is essential, one that is both captivating to children and palatable to the adults who often purchase and read the books aloud. While there’s no denying the importance of these elements, it seems likely that for many the most crucial element of a good children’s book is its artwork. Artwork, after all, is what imbues the plot, the characters, and the aesthetics with a sense of Read More
  • Libraries & Special Collections: The Poetry Foundation Library

    Wed, 03 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Among the many small libraries in the United States attached to organizations, the Poetry Foundation Library in Chicago is a gem. The library itself only opened in 2011, but the collection began as a resource for Poetry magazine in 1912. Open to the public, the library is an extension of the Poetry Foundation’s mission “to raise poetry to a more visible and influential position in American culture.” Read More
  • Heinrich Bӧll: Nobel Prize Winner and D-Day Adversary

    Tue, 02 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    As another anniversary of the 1944 allied landing at Normandy takes place this June, thousands of participants will trod the roads and fields once defended by Hitler’s Wehrmacht. One of the members of Wehrmacht was Heinrich Bӧll, a devout Catholic from Cologne and an eventual Nobel Prize in Literature winner in 1972. Read More
  • Carol Shields: Our Literary Neighbor to the North

    Mon, 01 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It may (or may not) shock some of you to know that Alice Munro, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, was the first Canadian writer to achieve Nobel laureate-status. Still others, while in the process of reading these sentences, may be equally shocked to realize that they can hardly name any Canadian authors. Munro, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje; for many the list stops there. Though Canada’s most populous cities are often mere hours of travel from the literary hubs of the lower 48, a deep awareness of our northern neighbor’s literary output rarely seems to make it through Read More
  • T.S. Eliot and the Struggle of Faith

    Sun, 31 May 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot made some of the most recognizable and well-respected contributions to the American literary canon. He is best remembered for poems like "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915) and The Wasteland (1922), and his poetic efforts are often considered synonymous with the “high” modernist style of his time. Though less well known, T.S. Eliot also penned several plays—religious in nature—later in his career. They, too, are deserving of our attention, if for no other reason than for the insight they give us into the ever-searching mind of one of the greatest writers of the 20th Read More
  • Beer Me: Five Writers on America's Most Famous Beverage

    Sat, 30 May 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    This month, we were treated to American Craft Beer Week, an annual celebration of the craft beer movement across the country. For seven days, craft beer lovers, brewers, critics and writers – yes, there are many wordsmiths and literature-minded folks putting pen to paper in the name of craft beer – took part in tastings, special beer releases, panel discussions and other gatherings. Read More
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