Member Blogs > Books Tell You Why

  • Barbara Kingsolver and The Role of a Writer

    Sun, 05 Apr 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Since ancient times, the jury has been out on what the role of writers should be within a society. Percy Shelley suggested that poets are “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” So then, should writers reflect reality back to their constituents, or help them escape from it? Should they prioritize harsh truths? Should beauty be their art’s sole purview? And how should we, as readers, interpret a writer’s efforts? Contemporary American author Barbara Kingsolver fills an interesting position in this discussion. Read More
  • Visiting Legendary Authors' Homes: Concord, Massachusetts

    Sat, 04 Apr 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Across the country, legendary authors’ homes have been preserved as museums. From the small-town Asheville, North Carolina home of Thomas Wolfe to the famous Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, it seems as though many cities have their own literary claim to fame. One little New England town, however, appears to be wealthier in literary history than others. Concord, Massachusetts once was home to Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau. Indeed, many of these authors’ most notable works of fiction are set in this sleepy town just outside of Boston. Read More
  • Inaugural Poetry: The Influence of Maya Angelou

    Fri, 03 Apr 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Presidential inaugural addresses have provided us with some memorable presidential quotes, including Lincoln’s “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in…” and FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In a way, the inaugural speech is something of a spoken word exposé. While some presidents have succeeded in waxing their own type of poetry, some, too, have invited actual poets to share the stage. In fact, inauguration ceremonies have included a poet Read More
  • Washington Irving: Champion of American Literature at Home and Abroad

    Thu, 02 Apr 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    When "The Legend of Sleep Hollow" was published in 1820, the United States of America was a young nation. American-born authors were decades away from producing central classics like Leaves of Grass and Moby-Dick, and the cultural direction of this brave new world was anyone’s guess. The country was in need of a strong and talented writer to steer her on the right course. This author was Washington Irving. Read More
  • Jane Goodall, Children's Books, and the Unburdening of Knowledge

    Wed, 01 Apr 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    When it comes to knowledge, for better or worse, the trickle-down-effect seems to be the norm. History is littered with examples — from Socrates to Galileo — of those whose ideas weren’t accepted or understood by the masses at the time but later became indispensable to society as a whole. The trend continues. Modern academics and scientists argue and theorize among themselves, and answers to the questions with which they grapple will remain obscure to the general public for years to come. However, with this, as with so many things, Jane Goodall bucks the trend. Read More
  • Emile Zola's Twenty-Novel Experiment

    Tue, 31 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It’s exciting to read a series of books. Nothing beats the feeling of finishing a great book and diving enthusiastically into its sequel. Beyond entertainment and intellectual nourishment, reading a series is also a point of pride. To finish an entire trilogy, or a five-book or seven-book anthology is a feat of discipline worthy of admiration. Yet as far as book series go, not many can beat Emile Zola’s naturalist collection Les Rougon-Macquart, an ambitious literary cycle made up of twenty separate books. Read More
  • Four of the Earliest (and Most Remarkable) Publisher's Dust Jackets

    Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The subject of early dust jackets has been somewhat neglected in bookish circles. After all, how can plain (and often tattered) paper compete with a beautiful binding beneath? Yet early dust jackets have an important place in book history, one full of uncertainty and mystery. Initially, dust jackets were intended to be disposable and thus, most were discarded and destroyed. Few early examples now remain and no one knows with any certainty when dust jackets were first produced by publishers. Moreover, even in cases where early examples have survived, many later disappeared again and remain lost to this day. Below, Read More
  • Andrew Lang: Rooted in Children's Books, Fairies, and Anthropology

    Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Given that he is hardly a household name these days, it is easy to say that 19th Century Scottish historian, writer, and intellectual Andrew Lang deserves more recognition for his contributions to modern scholarship. Were it simply for the fact that the man’s Curriculum Vitae is stunningly long and varied, it might not seem like such a tragedy that Lang hasn’t even a Facebook fan-page to his name. The fact of the matter, however, is that without Lang’s influence, lasting damage might have been done to the field of anthropology. Read More
  • Ian Fleming and the Thunderball Court Case

    Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Ian Fleming began writing the ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, in January of 1961 from his Jamaican home, Goldeneye Estate. His health was failing due to heart disease, and he was feeling burned out on Bond. So, for inspiration, he turned to a James Bond screenplay he'd worked on in 1958 in collaboration with Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ivar Bryce. When Thunderball was published in March of 1961, Fleming failed to credit his collaborators for the part they'd played in the creation of the novel and found himself at the center of a SMERSH-sized lawsuit for plagiarism. Read More
  • Literature and Dictatorship in the Dominican Republic

    Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    What can fiction teach us about political resistance during times of tyranny? While the twentieth century alone has borne witness to acts of terror and dictatorship across the globe, numerous writers have addressed the violence that took place at mid-century in the Dominican Republic. From 1930 to 1961, the country struggled under the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, often referred to simply as “El Jefe.” Read More
  • Ten Things You Didn't Know About Sherman Alexie

    Thu, 26 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Sherman Alexie has been a prolific writer of fiction and poetry for more than twenty years. His works have won numerous awards and have been translated for non-English speaking readers across the world. You may know him as a famous Native American author, but what else should you know about Sherman Alexie? In addition to the fact that he has recently published works of both fiction and poetry (don’t miss Blasphemy or What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned), here are some more facts you may not have known about Sherman Alexie. Read More
  • Small Publishers - Champions of Classic, Strange, and Fine Press Books

    Wed, 25 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Think of your favorite bookstore. Most likely there’s a section in the store labeled “New Releases.” Here you can find titles from authors that any casual reader will recognize: James Patterson, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich. These books are produced and promoted by their publishing companies which are, especially in the case of those three, very recognizable. However, there is a sea of smaller publishers whose books are worthy of the same limelight. These lesser-known companies produce beautifully bound books, forgotten gems and off-the-beaten-path novels. Here is a selection of small publishers that care passionately about books and often express that Read More
  • Tennessee Williams and the Catastrophe of Success

    Tue, 24 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The Glass Menagerie narrowly avoided complete disaster when it premiered in Chicago in 1944 with the inebriated Laurette Taylor in the crucial role of overbearing matriarch, Amanda Wingfield. Taylor was found drunk in the alley behind the theater an hour and a half before the opening curtain. Somehow, despite needing to vomit in a bucket backstage between scenes, she managed to pull off a performance still considered legendary. It was this performance on which hung the destiny of one of America's greatest playwrights: Tennessee Williams. Read More
  • Flannery O'Connor and the Civil Rights South

    Mon, 23 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    By all accounts, Flannery O’Connor didn’t have much of an activist voice in the American Civil Rights Movement despite her role as a prominent Southern novelist and short-story writer. How, then, might we read her works in a 21st-century context? Should we believe the gossip—that she didn’t have much good to say about broadening the country’s conception of equality—even though she appeared to be in favor of integration in her fiction? Many scholars have debated O’Connor’s position with regard to the racial justice, but how should we ultimately remember the author who died just a month after the Civil Rights Read More
  • Libraries and Special Collections: An Interview with Cristina Favretto

    Sun, 22 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Cristina Favretto has served as a special collections librarian at a number of institutions throughout her career. She is currently the Head of Special Collections at the University of Miami; her previous positions include: Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture at Duke University, Curator of Rare Books at UCLA, and Head of Special Collections at San Diego State University. Cristina's goal as a librarian is to build excellent, meaningful collections that are open and significant to the public. She has generously shared her collecting experiences with us in the following interview: Read More
  • LGBT Activism in the San Francisco Poetry Scene

    Sat, 21 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    San Francisco has a long history of activism, and in many ways the city has served as a literal and metaphorical center of postwar LGBT rights struggles. Yet the Bay Area also has an important reputation as the heart of modern and contemporary poetry. Kenneth Rexroth is credited with starting the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1940s, and he famously organized one of the first modern poetry festivals at the Lucien Labaudt Gallery in San Francisco around the same time. Shortly thereafter, Lawrence Ferlinghetti moved to the city and opened City Lights Bookstore in 1953. The now-famous shop went on Read More
  • From Homer to Borges: A List of Blind Writers

    Fri, 20 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    If there’s one thing an author might fear losing, it’s her eyesight. How can a writer continue to work having lost the faculty to see the sliding of the pen or the movement of letters across the screen? Reading, too, becomes a struggle, forcing the author to depend on books being read aloud or to learn a tactile writing system like Braille. For some legendary authors like James Joyce, loss of sight is a terrible obstacle, while for others it’s a changing force, one that ultimately becomes integral to the work and creativity of the author. Read More
  • A Recent History of Children's Literature in America

    Thu, 19 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The genre of children’s literature really must be considered a recent invention, for it's only in the past 300 years that childhood has been set apart as an influential time in human development. For most of human history, children were treated as small adults. Like a snowball rolling downhill, children's literature started slowly and built itself into the multi-million dollar market we know today. Read More
  • James Joyce on Henrik Ibsen: When Genius Recognizes Genius

    Wed, 18 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    In 1901, a young James Joyce was rapidly approaching the end of his studies at Trinity College, Dublin. A quick glance at the legendary author’s corpus, and it is easy enough to discern what he must have studied at school. Traces of St Augustine can be identified throughout his beloved bildungsroman A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), just as a familiarity with Homeric epics must have been a necessity for his great undertaking, Ulysses (1922). These pieces were no doubt common to the reading lists of many of that era’s scholars. Where Joyce’s education may have Read More
  • Exploring Philip Roth's Memorable Protagonists

    Tue, 17 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The best stories have memorable protagonists. Over the course of his illustrious career, Philip Roth has fashioned numerous standouts. Roth said in a 2014 interview republished in the New York Times that his “focus has never been on masculine power rampant and triumphant but rather on the antithesis: masculine power impaired…[His] intention is to present [his] fictional men not as they should be but vexed as men are.”  A look at some of the great Rothian main characters reveals that perhaps it’s the characters’ realistic struggles and less-than-picture-perfect lifestyles that make them as memorable as they have become. Read More
  • Sex, Trash, and Eminem: Five Interesting Facts About John Updike

    Mon, 16 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Throughout the canon of twentieth century American literature, there is no author whose greatness is as hotly contested as that of John Updike. While his skill as a prose stylist is almost universally acknowledged, a dozen critics will give a dozen different viewpoints on whether beautiful prose is enough for a literary work and whether said prose is really all Updike gave his readers. Regardless of whether Updike is, as Harold Bloom asserts, “a minor novelist with a major style,” or, as Philip Roth contends, the 20th Century’s Nathanial Hawthorne, the prolific writer’s impact on American letters is wide-reaching and Read More
  • Libraries and Special Collections: The Chester Beatty Library

    Sun, 15 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    You may be surprised to learn that one of the most premiere collections of ancient books, scrolls, and manuscripts from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East is located in Dublin, Ireland. I happened to stumble upon the incredible wealth of the Chester Beatty Library by accident when traveling, and it remains one of the best museum experiences of my life. Tucked away in Dublin Castle, this is one stop not to be missed by any bibliophile. Read More
  • Caring for Rare Books Bound in Vellum

    Sat, 14 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Vellum is a printing material which was used as early as 2000 BC. It frequently appears in old, rare books as well as maps, deeds, and other important documents. It is valued for its distinct feel and assumed nobility. Gutenberg printed bibles with it; the Declaration of Independence is written on it; and the UK still prints its Acts of Parliament on vellum for archival purposes. Read on for a brief history of vellum and some insight into vellum preservation best practices. Read More
  • A Glossary of Book Terms Part II: The Art of the Book

    Fri, 13 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The vocabulary of the rare book world can be daunting, especially for new collectors. In this series of blog posts, we attempt to explain and illustrate some of the basic terminology. Our last post focused on the anatomy of a book; here we turn our attention to printmaking and decorative features.  Read More
  • A Writer with a Gun: Ambrose Bierce and American Short Stories

    Thu, 12 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Ambrose Bierce caused quite a ruckus as a writer. Public opinion surrounding the man can be summed up in one fact: he carried a gun to ward off detractors. Bierce was sarcastic, brutally tasteless and very good at not making friends. He was also a fantastic wordsmith. For being such a divisive a public figure, he backed it up with a commitment to his craft. His extensive repertoire covered all facets of prose from journalism to poetry and most famously, short stories. Bierce’s trailblazing life would end under mysterious circumstances in Mexico. To this day no one knows exactly how Bierce Read More
  • Poetry: All in the Family for Stephen Vincent Benét

    Wed, 11 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Poetry seems to have been woven into the DNA of Stephen Vincent Benét. Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on July 22, 1898, Benét was the youngest child of Colonel James Walker Benét and Frances Neill Rose Benét. Both of the elder Benéts were avid readers with a keen appreciation for poetry. Frances Benét herself wrote poetry, and Stephen said of his father, "[he] was interested in everything from Byzantine Emperors to the development of heavy ordnance and was the finest critic of poetry I have ever known." Read More
  • Sir Thomas Malory: Arbiter of English Mythology?

    Tue, 10 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It seems a bit odd that J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings (1954, '54, '55) and The Hobbit (1937), sought to craft a distinctly English mythology, when by all accounts such a thing already existed. The stories that comprise the King Arthur legend have circulated in France and England since the Middle Ages. Films that depict mythic tropes likes the sword in the stone and the famed round table run the gamut of decades and genres. As such, they've generated classics of children’s cinema (1963's "The Sword in the Stone") and absurdist comedy (1975's "Monty Python and the Read More
  • Join Us at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair!

    Mon, 09 Mar 2015 10:30:00 Permalink
    There are just a few days left before the 34th annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair--and we at Books Tell You Why are looking forward to more than just the sunshine. It's the oldest book fair in the Southeastern United States, and it never fails to provide fascinating books and literary conversation. If you find yourself in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area between March 13-15, be sure to stop by. We'll even provide you with free tickets. Read More
  • Douglas Adams: Turning Science Fiction into Comedy

    Mon, 09 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It’s a well-told story: a man is hitchhiking his way across Europe, has a few too many pints at the pub, lies down in a field, looks up at the stars, and thinks, “Hey, someone should write a guide to hitchhiking across space!” The British writer Douglas Adams (1952-2001) admitted that he’d told the story so many times, he wasn’t completely sure which parts were true and which were embellished.  Read More
  • James Bond and the Recusant Catholic Connection

    Sun, 08 Mar 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    One the occasion of its release in 2012, the James Bond film, Skyfall made quite an impression. Not only did it accomplish the sizable feat of breaking new thematic and emotional ground in a series that stretches back more than five decades, but it also managed to subtly reveal new information about James Bond’s notoriously obscure background. Read More
< prev next >

Looks like you are ready to submit this application

If you are satisfied that your application is complete, go ahead and click "submit this application."
Otherwise, click "review this application" to review your answers or make additional changes.