Member Blogs > Books Tell You Why

  • Where Samuel Johnson and David Foster Wallace Meet

    Fri, 18 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    In his infamous 1791 biography of British writer, essayist, and thinker Samuel Johnson, James Boswell wrote: “If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shown, we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in any thing.” As it would happen, those words would prove prophetic in the response to Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, a book often credited with charting the course for what we consider the modern day biography. Read More
  • Top Five Collectible James Bond Novels

    Thu, 17 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    For the James Bond collector, acquiring a rare or unique copy of any number of the fourteen Ian Fleming classics is an accomplishment. And, each individual Bond aficionado seems to have his or her favorite collection piece. Here, we’ve compiled a (subjective) list of the top five collectible James Bond novels. Did we include your top pick? If not, share what we missed in the comments below. Read More
  • Collecting Writers of the Spanish Civil War

    Wed, 16 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Between the World Wars, a “little world war,” as Time Magazine described it, took place from 1936-1939. The Spanish Civil War pitted the Republicans, backed by international leftist allies, against the Nationalists and soon-to-be-tyrant General Francisco Franco. You might know a little bit about the history of the Spanish Civil War and its significance in Europe. Both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supported the dictator, turning the relatively localized war into a prescient event for the megalomania and political atrocities that have come to define World War II. As the Associated Press described it, the “conflict became a battlefield of Read More
  • And Then There Were 100 Million: Agatha Christie's Legacy

    Tue, 15 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It's sold more than 100 million copies since its publication in 1939. It’s been translated into more than 45 languages, dubbed time and again as the most successful novel in the genre, and widely regarded as the author’s masterwork. For almost any other author, these accolades would be something too grand to even hope for. But for famed mystery writer Agatha Christie (1890-1976), author of 66 mystery novels, the acclaim surrounding her landmark novel And Then There Were None is the perfect distillation of how Christie established critical tenets of the modern mystery novel and subsequently defied them.  Read More
  • Quiz: Which Famous Book Collector Are You?

    Mon, 14 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    You love books—perhaps they're even taking over your home. Well, here's some good news: you're in excellent company. Many historical figures and celebrities are also book collectors. From Thomas Jefferson to Keith Richards, book collectors come in a vast range of styles. So what defines your collecting approach? Take our quiz to see which of the world's most famous bibliophiles you most resemble.  Read More
  • The Complex Man Behind Roald Dahl Day

    Sun, 13 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Some authors have birthdays — others have holidays. Roald Dahl belongs to the latter category. The beloved children’s author’s September 13th birthday has become something of a celebration, a way for parents and children alike to appreciate the stories and creative gifts of a remarkable children’s author. His work, manifested in the likes of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach, has captivated countless children for over half a century. Dahl’s stories are undoubtedly lovable and cherished. The man himself, however, was far more complex. Read More
  • H. L. Mencken: Chief Polemicist and Literary Critic

    Sat, 12 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    "Mencken is himself 'a lyncher' since he once proposed to take William Jennings Bryan 'to the top of the Washington Monument...disembowel him and hurl his remains into the Potomac.'"-The New York Sunday Times From the start of H. L. Mencken's popular career, beginning with his summary of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, Mencken's ideological roots were obvious to any discerning reader. His ideals required only a basic knowledge of the company he kept and the authors he idolized. While his style is permeated with raw wit and uninhibited ridicule of those he felt were beneath him, Mencken was a force, in more ways Read More
  • A Glimpse of Understanding: A Look at Post 9/11 Novels

    Fri, 11 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Some moments in history are so monumental, so seismic, they seem impossible for fiction to get its arms around. These are moments that defy logic, that render conventional and unconventional methods of storytelling obsolete in trying to uncover the truth of the human condition. Take, for example, the horrific events of September 11: a calculated, strategic assault on some of the country’s most iconic images — The World Trade Center, The Pentagon and The White House, though thankfully that last image was left unharmed due to the courage of those abroad the plane bound for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The inherent problem Read More
  • The Humorous and Absurd World of Medieval Marginalia

    Thu, 10 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    For most of the Middle Ages, the only way to reproduce a book was to copy it by hand. Copying was solitary, lengthy, and physically taxing work. Scribes worked long hours, in contorted positions, and abided by rigid expectations. At heart, it was a droning process, too, allowing the copier only the ability to transfer the words of another. Consequently, many scribes developed a sense of humor to break up the monotony of their hand-cramping task. It was well-deserved, for without these scribes, we would have lost an unfathomable amount of our artistic and cultural history — from antiquity onward Read More
  • Interview About Dust Jackets with David Whitesell

    Wed, 09 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia has a fantastic dust jacket collection. We had the chance to talk with David Whitesell, a curator in the Special Collections library and faculty member at Rare Book School, about some of the many dust jackets the university owns and the significance of these items. Read More
  • Ann Beattie: The Voice of a Generation

    Tue, 08 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Although Ann Beattie had a happy childhood, she believed she was stupid. For this reason, she hated school, and even graduated from high school at the bottom of her class. She admits the only reason she took a creative-writing class as a teenager was so she could skip gym. She never imagined she would become a writer. Boy, was she wrong. Read More
  • Ari Gísli Bragason Talks About Iceland's Last Antiquarian Bookstore

    Mon, 07 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    On the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata, located in the heart of downtown Reykjavík, sits the last remaining antiquarian bookstore in Iceland. Bókin, the bookstore itself, is located on the first floor, but the owner has more rooms upstairs with books that haven’t yet been shelved. Downstairs, the books are in order by genre...sort of. Sections include, for instance, “Poetry,” “Novels,” “Icelandic authors,” and even a nebulous portion entitled “Mixed books.” Upstairs, the texts have been placed as they’ve come in, and the book hunting becomes even more exciting. I happened to spot a number of first and early editions, Read More
  • Libraries and Special Collections: The British Library

    Sun, 06 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Where does one even begin to talk about the British Library? As a strong contender for the largest library in the world, and as one of the most publicly engaged, the British Library simply cannot be contained in a short article. Its treasured manuscripts only scratch the surface, but it’s a surface worth scratching nonetheless. Read More
  • I Write Pulp Because I Love It: An Interview with Josh K. Stevens

    Sat, 05 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    When setting out to tell a really great story, the saying goes ‘write what you know, write what you love.’ Quaint as that adage may seem, noir writer Josh K. Stevens has made the most of it. Stevens, 33, has been an avid reader and advocate of crime fiction and devoted much of his late-teens and adult life to pursing his dreams of noir stardom while working a number of jobs to pay the rent, including that of an independent bookseller in his hometown of Woodstock, Illinois. Read More
  • A Brief Guide to Starting a Rare Book Collection

    Fri, 04 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Collecting rare books is at once a hobby, a passion, and an art form. The process is filled with nuances, and there are perhaps as many ways to go about forming a collection as there are collectors. However, some universal truths are present in the book collecting world. Here, we’ve compiled a brief guide to help you along your collecting ways. Whether you’re just starting out or if you have been at it awhile, we hope what follows is helpful. And we hope you’ll share with us in the comments below what you’ve learned and the skills you’ve honed through Read More
  • Almost Undiscovered: An Alison Lurie Primer

    Thu, 03 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Alison Lurie has written on a wide range of topics; everything from architecture, to children's literature, to fashion. She is best known for her socially satirical novels, which are often compared to those of Jane Austen. Her novel Foreign Affairs, won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Despite her acclaim as a writer of fiction she says, "I don't know that many stories that I want to tell. So in between the stories I just talk." She said in a 2014 interview with National Geographic, "Throughout my whole adult life I've written fiction and nonfiction. And when I can't think Read More
  • Allen Drury: Father of the Political Thriller

    Wed, 02 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Given the recent popularity of TV shows like The West Wing, House of Cards, and Veep, it can be easy to forget that throughout American history, the public has rarely found Washington D.C.’s political goings on particularly compelling. Case in point, before the 1950s there had been only two major works of American fiction set in the nation’s capitol: Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age (1873) and Henry Adams’ Democracy (1880), each of which was written in the mid-nineteenth century. After decades of relative indifference, however, the New Deal and the rise of Communism finally primed the reading public to latch Read More
  • What Lessons Can We Learn From The Old Man and the Sea?

    Tue, 01 Sep 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The Old Man and the Sea has a special prominence in the Ernest Hemingway canon. Published as the final complete work before his death, it was met with tremendous acclaim. Featured in the September 1, 1952 issue of Life magazine, it was sold to the tune of five million copies in only a couple of days. That same year, it won the Pulitzer. Two years later, the novella was to be used in explanation of Hemingway's winning of the Nobel Prize, citing its “mastery of the art of narrative.” The famously fastidious Vladimir Nabokov was even an admirer. Though he Read More
  • Literature and Contemporary Chinese Politics

    Mon, 31 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    What is the relationship between literature and contemporary Chinese politics? China has a long literary tradition, but works written in both Classical Chinese and Vernacular Chinese haven’t always been available in translation to Western audiences. As such, many of us don’t have as much knowledge as we’d like to have about the links between fiction and current sociocultural matters. Let’s remedy that, at least in part, by thinking about some of the greatest known Chinese writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and the role their fiction plays in our understanding of Chinese politics. Read More
  • Narratives of Great Explorers and Their Cathartic Value

    Sun, 30 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    As history documents, Ernest Shackleton and his fellow crew members embarked on the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition to walk across the Antarctic continent in 1914. Trapped in ice floes, they were forced to abandon ship several months into their journey and retreat. We struggle, at times, to understand why we're captivated by such endeavors. They failed, after all, and walking across the continent doesn't seem to be an especially worthwhile project. However, there is a measure of catharsis available to all who hear these stories. Just as Aristotle describes the cathartic nature of the theatre, the legends of these explorers bleed Read More
  • Maurice Maeterlinck and the Mystery of Life

    Sat, 29 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Maurice Maeterlinck was a Belgian playwright and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. If Maeterlinck’s name is new to you, as it may well be, it’s likely because his work is of an uncommon variety. What has certainly hurt the playwright’s longevity is that he chose to pick sides...and lost. Maeterlinck staunchly resisted the aesthetic tides of naturalism and realism, instead aligning himself with the aims and sensibilities of the Symbolist movement. The problem is, of course, that the realistic style has prevailed to this day, while Symbolism has ostensibly perished. Yet, Maeterlinck’s defiance of the Read More
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Notable Quotes

    Fri, 28 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    “More light!” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s last words In a letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter, the iconic German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “All poetry is supposed to be instructive but in an unnoticeable manner; it is supposed to make us aware of what it would be valuable to instruct ourselves in; we must deduce the lesson on our own, just as with life.” If his words are to be taken at face value, that makes Goethe himself one of the most valuable teachers the world has ever known. Read More
  • Ira Levin: Coupling the Creepy with the Conventional

    Thu, 27 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    “Mr. Levin’s suspense is beautifully intertwined with everyday incidents; the delicate line between belief and disbelief is faultlessly drawn.” -Thomas J. Fleming, on Rosemary's Baby in The New York Times Book Review Ira Levin, master of all things creepy, knew as early as the age of 15 he wanted to be a writer. Early aspiration lead to early success, and his senior year at NYU, he entered a half-hour television script he'd written into a contest hosted by CBS. While the script didn't win, it was a runner-up, and shortly after the contest Levin sold it to NBC. So, after graduating Read More
  • A List of Authors' Famous Last Words

    Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    If you spend your entire life writing, it makes sense to make your last words count. Mark Twain recommended employing one's final breath in a deliberate, dignified message. Death is too important an occasion for improvisation or whimsy. Twain wrote, “There is hardly a case on record where a man came to his last moment unprepared and said a good thing — hardly a case where a man trusted to that last moment and did not make a solemn botch of it and go out of the world feeling absurd." After all, no author ought to die failing in the Read More
  • Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Pioneer Fiction, and a Play Gone Wrong

    Tue, 25 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It’s 1876 and two of America’s most revered writers have decided to collaborate on what turned out to be one of the most disastrous plays in American dramatic work – and one that would severely damage a budding literary friendship. Read More
  • Libraries and Special Collections: The New York Academy of Medicine

    Mon, 24 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    There is no limit on the subjects worthy of a special library collection – comic books, calligraphy, automobiles, you name it. But there is something extra special about medical library collections. Medical knowledge has changed drastically in the past 500 years or so, and to see that history with your own eyes can really knock your socks off. The New York Academy of Medicine Library is a phenomenal institution that aims to preserve medical history and make it just as relevant to audiences today. Read More
  • Visiting Halldór Laxness's Home

    Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Have you ever thought about taking a trip to Iceland? If you fly into Reykjavík, you’re only a short drive from Gljúfrasteinn, the home of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Halldór Laxness. Laxness was born in 1902 in Reykjavík, and he traveled through Europe in his 20s before settling down in Iceland. Some of the author’s most prominent works include The Great Weaver from Kashmir (1927), Independent People (1935), The Atom Station (1948), The Fish Can Sing (1957), and Under the Glacier (1968). A short while ago, we took a tour of his home and learned more about Laxness’s possessions, writing Read More
  • Six Interesting Facts About Ray Bradbury

    Sat, 22 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Ray Bradbury revolutionized science fiction, bringing it to the forefront of American pop culture. He inspired and continues to inspire countless innovators and creatives who have come after him. The innumerable list of people who call themselves Bradbury fans includes vanguards such as Stephen King, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg, Stan Lee, Ursula Le Guin, Hugh Hefner, Buzz Aldrin, R.L. Stine, and Neil Gaiman. Here are six interesting facts about the man who unlocked the doors to America's imagination. Read More
  • The Inspiration Behind Herman Melville's Moby Dick

    Fri, 21 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    We often wonder at, marvel over, and debate the inspiration behind great works of literature. Is Philip Roth's work autobiographical in some cases? Was there an actual "Uncle Tom" figure who inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe? And so on. In the case of Moby Dick, Herman Melville's personal whaling experiences as well as accounts of the whale, "Mocha Dick," undoubtedly played a role in the novel's composition. However, one tale in particular must have had particular resonance. After reading the story of the doomed Essex, a whaling ship from Nantucket that came face-to-face with a seemingly deranged whale, Melville set out Read More
  • Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Brontës?

    Thu, 20 Aug 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The Brontës remain one of history's most famous literary families. Of the six siblings, two died during childhood. The remaining three sisters, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily, became published authors during their lifetimes. Although all three died young, their writings have endured as literary classics. How well do you know the lives and works of this legendary family? Take a moment to test your knowledge with the following quiz: Read More
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