Member Blogs > Books Tell You Why

  • Lust for Life: Irving Stone's Biographical Fiction

    Tue, 14 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Historical fiction, of which biographical fiction is a subset, can in many ways be considered one of the earliest literary trends. Writing about history, sometimes real and sometimes imagined, connects Homer’s Iliad (c750 BC) to Shakespeare’s history plays to Robert Coover’s The Public Burning (1977). In the case of the earliest English language novels, it was popular to market even fantastical novels as being the stuff of historical or biographical truth. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688) and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), for instance, were presented to contemporary readers in the style of biography, journalism, and recovered documents. In this way, it is easy to Read More
  • Literary Activism: The Influence of Politics on People

    Mon, 13 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    In 1979, South African writer Nadine Gordimer gave an interview* with The Paris Review where she discussed at some length the importance of politics and political activism in her work. “But the real influence of politics on my writing is the influence of politics on people,” Gordimer said. Gordimer is a prime example of a literary activist. Here, we explore her work as well as that of a number of other important writer-activists. Read More
  • The Quotable Henry David Thoreau

    Sun, 12 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It has often been said that the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson are best experienced as a series of profound quotes strung together. While that may be the case, Henry David Thoreau, one of Emerson’s fellow seminal transcendentalists and the author of Walden (1854) and Cape Cod (1865), has an oeuvre that is equally laden with excellent quotations. “The mass of men,” he says in Walden, his classic rumination on solitude, self-reliance, and nature, “lead lives of quiet desperation.” Sometimes the cure for that desperation, Thoreau’s writing seems to suggest, is an expertly deployed quote. Read More
  • What Good Is a Diary?

    Sat, 11 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Who is a diary written for? Is it for the writer’s sake, so she may one day recall her past? Perhaps it’s for close friends and family to inherit. Maybe it’s for some distant reader, an audience miles and years away. Or maybe it’s for no one at all — an act of self-expression to be merely “drunk by the ghosts,” as Kafka says. It often feels that way. If you’ve ever kept a diary or journal yourself, you might cringe at the very idea of re-reading it, let alone granting access to others. And we know there are few Read More
  • What's Your Favorite Curse Word: The Proust Questionnaire's Legacy

    Fri, 10 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It’s how Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton concludes each interview. A handful of questions adopted from famed French interviewer and journalist Bernard Pivot, Lipton’s inquiries are designed to not only entertain but also probe the psyches of his guests to discover what turns them on, turns them off, moves them, and makes them tick. Lipton gives a nod to Pivot as his inspiration for the final segment of each episode, and he also briefly acknowledges Marcel Proust — author of the seminal novel À la recherche du temps perdu, or In Search of Lost Time — who popularized the questionnaire Read More
  • Fly Fishing Chalk Stream Rivers with Sir Edward Grey

    Thu, 09 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    First published in April of 1899, Fly Fishing by Sir Edward Grey embodies the qualities that make first editions in angling literature such attractive collectibles. Written in a warm and intimate style, this book is an engaging and thoroughly delightful piece of literature which effortlessly throws down a sturdy bridge between Grey’s world and ours. Read More
  • Shirley Ann Grau and the Importance of Place in Literature

    Wed, 08 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    The setting of a novel or a short story often goes a long way in securing its readership. And the act of describing setting is an art form. Include too much detail and readers are, at best, overwhelmed and, at worst, bored. Include too little detail and readers are lost and confused. Finding the sweet spot when it comes to describing place and setting sets a good writer apart from a great one. Shirley Ann Grau is one of the greats. Read More
  • The Inescapable Humanity of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    Tue, 07 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein are considered by many to be the defining triumvirate of early science fiction. While the three of them, together, pushed the use of science and technology beyond their earlier status as mere narrative devices to a level on which they could set the parameters for high-minded thought experiments, Heinlein has always been somewhat of an outlier. He was, after all, the only one of the three with no formal scientific training. It is perhaps this fundamental truth about him, that writing was his primary concern and vocation, that enables him to cut Read More
  • Historical Literary Depictions of Sir Thomas More

    Mon, 06 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    In 16th Century England, Sir Thomas More had a vast reach. From law and literature to religion and politics, there wasn’t a sphere he didn’t touch. He’s remembered both for his life as a lawyer, writer, and counselor to Henry VIII, and for his death as a Catholic martyr. His legacy lives on through the works that he penned as well as those that others penned about him. Here, we delve in to some of the many depictions of Sir Thomas More. Read More
  • Libraries and Special Collections: The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection

    Sun, 05 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    An incredible collection of rare books and manuscripts lies deep in southern Mississippi in the university town of Hattiesburg. It is both internationally known and a very well-kept secret. If you have a passion for children’s literature, you may want to seek it out one day. The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi is one of the premier archives in North America for children’s books, manuscripts, and other paraphernalia available for research and study. And it only began 48 years ago. Read More
  • Quiz: Which Founding Father Are You?

    Sat, 04 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    American legends are especially rich surrounding the Founding Fathers. From George Washington and the cherry tree to Benjamin Franklin flying a kite, the stories are compelling and diverse. While it's tempting to summarize these men (and women, too!) in a few sentences or anecdotes, inevitably they are much more complex. For example, far from being a stoic, refined leader, George Washington at the crossing of the Delaware told an obese colonel, "Shift that fat ass, Harry. But slowly, or you'll swamp the damn boat!" As we celebrate the independence of the United States why not take a few moments to Read More
  • Tom Stoppard: Better to be Quotable Than Honest

    Fri, 03 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    “It seems pointless to be quoted if one isn’t going to be quotable…it’s better to be quotable than honest.” –Tom Stoppard, 1973 Many are, no doubt, familiar with Tom Stoppard’s work without being aware of it. The prolific Czech-born British playwright’s talents extend beyond the stage to the screen and the radio. Not only will many who would otherwise avoid absurdist drama have delighted in his 1988 Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love, still others will have seen 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade without knowing that Stoppard had a hand it. Read More
  • Ten Essential Summer Reads

    Thu, 02 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It’s summer, and readers do what everyone else does when the weather’s nice — they go outside. But what book to pick? The answer isn't always straightforward. The spirit of summer may be a little more difficult to pin down than that of, say, Christmas. But we insist it's not hard to find the perfect book to enjoy on the beach, in your garden, or at a vacation home this season. Below, we’ve compiled some of our favorite summer reads to make your decision a whole lot easier. Read More
  • George Sand: Radical Feminist of the 1850s

    Wed, 01 Jul 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    Like her contemporary George Eliot, George Sand was, in fact, a woman writing under a male pseudonym. During her prolific career as a writer, Sand penned novels and plays featuring rustic French landscapes and strong, feminist protagonists. In many ways ahead of her time, George Sand attacked life with a vivacity and brusqueness that made her both a disgrace to proper society and the fascination of those inside it. Read More
  • What's in a Name: Alternate Names for Three Famous Literary Characters

    Tue, 30 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    It’s perhaps one of the most famous moments of dialogue from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Romeo tries to convince Juliet how little it matters what her last name is or which house she comes from: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Not to quibble with one of most revered technicians of the written word the world has ever seen, but I disagree. There’s something crucial to the sound or vibe of the right name for the right character.   Read More
  • Top 10 Quotes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince

    Mon, 29 Jun 2015 08:00:00 Permalink
    To know The Little Prince is to love The Little Prince. For those of us already familiar with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's great novella, these quotes will be a charming walk down a familiar path. For those as yet unfamiliar with this children's classic, we hope the following quotes will whet your appetite for more. Read. Enjoy. Then let us know which of your favorites we missed! Read More
  • 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
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