Literary Corner Cafe

Sunday, December 30, 2007

James Joyce and Dubliners

Here at Literary Corner Cafe, the other editors and I have been reading the fifteen short stories contained in Dubliners by James Joyce. None of us had read this book before, though some of us had read Ulysses, and now we wonder why we ignored Dubliners for so long.

Dubliners contains some of the most evocative and beautiful short stories ever written. We know some readers who have avoided Dubliners because they were forced to read Ulysses in school and found it either hard going or didn't like the (then) postmodernist writing style. To those people we would say - please be assured Dubliners is very, very different.

Dubliners is written in a very straightforward, realistic style. Joyce's intention in writing these marvelous stories, at least in part, was to give us a realistic view of middle class Dublin in the early twentieth century - and he certainly succeeds spectacularly.

The stories remind us of the view of Limerick presented in Frank McCourt's equally marvelous memoir, Angela's Ashes, however the people who populate the pages of Angela's Ashes are far poorer (in a monetary, though perhaps not a spiritual, sense) than those who populate the pages of Dubliners, the time period and city are different, and the stories in Dubliners have more of a haunting, melancholic feel and lack the humor of Angela's Ashes. These comments are not in any way a criticism of either book, however. We've found both to be superlative, with a writing style that perfectly suits the subject matter.

Here at Literary Corner Cafe, we've been very impressed by the way Joyce begins his stories with child protagonists and then ages them through the final, beautiful, haunting story, "The Dead." This is a story every lover of literature needs to read, even if he or she skips the ones preceeding it.

Dubliners was written when Joyce was only twenty-five-years-old. It's hard to believe anyone that young could write so spectacularly, but then we knew Joyce was an exception - and a genius. Ulysses shows us that genius in full flower. Dubliners shows us that genius as it's just beginning to blossom.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Guess the Book!

Can you identify the following well known/classic books? And their authors?

T J by H F

T M O T F by G E

T A O I by E W

T P P by C D

A C Y I K A C by M T

They really aren't very difficult.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Great News - For Us at Literary Corner Cafe and for Book Lovers Everywhere! :)

Our Web designer, who is one of the very best in the business, but such a perfectionist, has assured us that the "new and improved" Literary Corner Cafe will be back online on or before January 18, 2008. We're so happy! We can't wait to bring you daily news from the world of literature as well as book reviews, in-depth articles on publishing and the writing process, puzzles and games and so, so much more.

Be sure to stop by and visit us in 2008! :) We'll be so happy to welcome you! :)

The Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read (We'll Just Start With Five)

Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin - This is definitely an "arty," literary novel. It's beautiful and it's terribly, terribly sad. Consisting of two seemlessly interwoven stories (one, the story of Dostoyevsky's disatrous honeymoon in Baden-Baden with his new bride, Anna Grigoryevna, the other the author's own pilgrimage to Dostoyevsky's last home in St. Petersberg), this book is like nothing I've ever read before. It's definitely a much overlooked classic of Russian literature.

Artemesia by Anna Banti - So many people have read Susan Vreeland's account of the life of Italy's Artemesia Gentileschi, others have read Alexandrea La Pierre's, but nothing comes close to Anna Banti's dreamy, hallucinatory book. Making this book all the more remarkable is the fact that the manuscript was destroyed in a fire and Banti, dedicated to her art and craft, rewrote it.

Sepharad by Antonio M. Molina - Linked stories of Spanish Jews in exile under the regimes of both Stalin and Franco, this is a gorgeous, elegiac, and very erudite book. We travel from Madrid to Paris to Russia and encounter such diverse characters as the author, himself, Primo Levi, and even Franz Kafka. Sepharad is not only beautiful and important, it's a book like no other.

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester - Think a triple chocolate fudge cake with fudge frosting and double choclolate fudge ice-cream on top is decadently delicious? You might, but you won't after reading The Debt to Pleasure. This is the most darkly delicious book I've ever encountered and its protagonist, Tarquin Winot, is the most darkly delicious and unforgettable anti-hero. Not only will you learn the history of the peach in this fascinating book, you'll also see how a master author peels away his character's layers of veneer like an onion, slowly allowing his reader to savor each new revelation.

Woman in the Dunes by Kobe Abe - Freedom means doing what you want when you want to, right? Not in Kobo Abe's gorgeous Woman in the Dunes, it doesn't. Although recalling both Kafka and Beckett, Kobo Abe is truly in a class by himself. This book says so very much, but it does so in the most understated manner, making its impact all the greater. Definitely Japanese surrealism at its finest.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Amazon Buys J.K. Rowling's Handwritten Book at Auction: Good or Not So Good?

I'm not sure what I think of Amazon buying J.K. Rowling's handwritten book at auction for millions of dollars. Sure, it's nice the proceeds are going to a children's charity. I think I would have been happier had the buyer been someone other than Amazon. Amazon has always had an exceptional talent for causing drama and inciting arguments on its site, and the purchase of Rowling's book is no different.

I wanted to take a look at the book (and it is lovely), and I also took a quick look at the heated conversations going on about it and Amazon's purchase. Why couldn't Rowling just have given millions to her charity? Perhaps she wanted to publicize it in order to increase awareness of its existence. That's fine and good. But why did Amazon buy the book and make such a huge deal of it on their site, inviting people to comment, i.e., argue? That is not fine and good.

Amazon is a great place to buy books online when one doesn't want to go into a "real" bookstore, and I'll still continue to buy from them from time to time, but I hate the online fighting, the ridiculous "ranking" process (does anyone in the world think Harriet Klausner's reviews are good - still, keeping her as the number one reviewer stops the others from fighting for that spot), and most of all the votes on comments. Next, Amazon will have people voting on votes, as in "Do you think these votes are correctly given?" I realize they want to prolong a person's stay on their site and I can't blame them for the, but personally, I think they're going about it in the wrong way.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why Exceptional Writing, Not Merely Adequate Writing, Matters

There's been so much debate over popular novels and their lack of exceptional writing. Many think popular novels don't require exceptional writing as long as the writing's clear and makes good sense, i.e., is adquate. While each writer will have his/her own unique voice, I think any writer, whether he/she chooses to write highly literary novels or more formulaic "pop" fiction, needs to strive to write exceptionally, not merely adequately.

Writers are wordsmiths. They're supposed to be in love with language, not just storytelling. (Of course, to be an exceptional writer, one must be in love with, and exceptionally excute, both.) As wordsmiths, writers must learn and respect the power of words. The pen truly can be mightier than the sword, but only in the hands of a master.

If writers want to be understood, if they want their stories to be truly memorable and live on in the hearts and minds of their readers, they need to use the precise word called for, not just one that's grammatically correct. They need to show us, precisely, why the countryside is so beautiful in summer, why the city is so sinister in dense fog; they need to make us feel the fear in the kidnapped victim's heart, or the joy or heartbreak in their protagonist's reactions. If they don't, their writing, while adequate, will lack imagination and crystal clarity and it won't become memorable. Their books may be "all the rage," but only for a little while and not with those to whom literature really matters. They'll quickly be forgotten and join the long line of oop.

A writer paints "word pictures." With those word pictures, he or she is conveying something of importance, at least to him or her, and hopefully, creating art. Adequate writing, while fine for a high school book report, simply won't do for a novel whose creator hopes will be appreciated, discussed intelligently, taken to heart, and live on. And on.

Writers who don't take the time to find the precise word, the most beautiful phrase, the most sinister, the most captivating, are cheating both themselves and their readers. Worse yet, while perhaps proficient in craft, they're devaluing the art of novel writing, lowering it to the level of reportage. If you're a lover of words, and you write novels, don't let this happen to you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Salon's "Best Books" of 2007...and Mine

The year 2007 was, as Salon says, a pretty quiet one in the publishing world. For some, that's good news, for others, not so good. Salon's just released its ten best books of the year, five of them fiction and five of them non-fiction. I'm really only interested in the fiction, and I agree with all but one major exclusion.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz was a terrific book. It was a little to "streetwise" for my taste, but just because it wasn't to my taste doesn't mean it was less than a superlative book.

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra was wonderful. Written in the style of a detective novel, it gives the reader, not only a fabulous literary experience, but also makes him or her feel as though he or she is right in the middle of Mumbai. I recommend it highly.

Tree of Smoke was a really wonderful novel of Vietnam and I'm not even "into" novels about Vietnam and the Vietnam War. However, I wish someone could write a review without using the word "feral," though. LOL It's so overused, it's become a cliche.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon was one of my very favorites. I loved looking at this imaginary world of the Jews in Sitka, Alaska. This says a lot for the book, because generally I don't like novels sets in cold places (brrr!) or novels in which someone is investigating a crime. But this book was really terrific and the pages just flew by.

Salon's fifth "best fiction" of 2007 is Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. It's a good book, but here's where Salon and I part company. Angelica, by Arthur Phillips was, far and away, the very best book published in 2007 and sadly, so overlooked. I think many people who read Angelica didn't really understand it and were put off by its open end. However, Phillips plays fair with his readers and all the puzzle pieces are there for any astute and attentive reader to put together. Angelica is the perfect combination of art and craft. In my opinion, it deserves the Number One spot on any "best fiction" list.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What I think most people think. LOL

I think if asked which was the better book, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night, most would give the nod to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Here, I have to dissent and choose The Meaning of Night.

While I loved reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and I found Clarke to have a wonderful imagination, the book was poorly structured. It lacked focus, it lacked an overriding dramatic question, and it lacked necessary conflict between Strange and Norrell. Some of the things Jonathan Strange did, especially near the end, seemed to come "out of the blue."

The Meaning of Night is told, rather than shown, in true Victorian style, and also, in true Victorian style, it meanders, but it has an overriding story question and pinpoint focus. It's moving along at a very leisurely pace, something I really don't mind, but readers who want a faster paced novel should look elsewhere. As for me, I love it.

And also in true Victorian fashion, an aside: I stole something from Katie Holmes! No, not her name and not her husband! LOL I greatly prefer my own husband, thank you very much. It's her new haircut, though mine is not nearly as radical and it's several inches longer. I was ready for a change, however. I'm getting tired of the long, stock hair many women my age have. This cut has movement and style. I like far.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why do I want yet another book for Christmas?

I guess I want another book for Christmas because I'm a book lover, a bibliophile. It's now cold where I live and I love to read during the winter months when outside activities just aren't as much fun for me. During the winter, my attention turns especially to Victorian mysteries, whether actually written during the Victorian age or simply books that have successfully adopted the Victorian style. Lately, I've been reading The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox but making slow progress due to all the work Literary Corner Cafe requires.

Now I've asked for Palliser's The Quincunx for Christmas. Why? LOL It's a huge book, but it's also a book that fascinates me and a book I've been meaning to read for quite some time. And I've heard several people say The Quincunx is a lot like The Meaning of Night only better. So, I can't resist! I'm also a fan of intricately plotted books as I love intricate plotting in my own work.

In the meantime, hundreds of as yet unread books sit on my shelves and my huge, beautiful site awaits. Today, I may post a screen shot of what we've done so far with the main page of Literary Corner Cafe so people aren't directed to the ugly Network Solutions page.

It seems I have nearly around-the-clock work to do right now - addressing Christmas cards, baking cookies for the little ones in my life, buying and wrapping presents, putting up decorations and the tree, and today I'm supposed to get my hair done. But the site takes first priority with me. When did it not? :)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A huge, huge, facelift!

Literary Corner Cafe ( is turning into a huge, huge project. We still hope to have it back online before the end of the year (in fact, right around the end of the year), but it's evolved from a "simple blog with comments" to a huge, interactive Web site.

In addition to book reviews (fiction only, for now) on which members can comment, we'll have articles about the writing process, op-ed pieces, grammar "lessons," a forum, a "bookshelf" where members can list their favorite books and make comments about them, author biographies and interviews, author birthdays, an advanced search for books using keywords that will give our members better recommendations than does Amazon, fun polls, "spotlight" features, a book group, reading group guides, literary quotes, news from the world of literature, fun games and quizzes and so much more. All in all, Literary Corner Cafe is going to be the Internet's premier site for readers and writers. Anyone who likes books and literature will want to check it out and probably become a member.

And the layout is gorgeous! So sophisticated! I couldn't believe how gorgeous and polished it was the first time I saw it. Now, I just want to see more of it and I can't wait to introduce it to the world.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Angelica is a Masterpiece

After finishing Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I was quite immersed in the world of Victorian literature, so I picked up a copy of Arthur Phillips' Angelica. I loved his previous book, The Egyptologist, so Angelica seemed like a "sure thing" for me. It was. I don't know when I've enjoyed a book more.

Angelica takes place in late-Victorian London and revolves around the Barton household: Joseph, his seemingly very neurotic wife, Constance, their four-year-old daughter, Angelica, and even their "sturdy Irish maid," Nora. Of course other sundry characters enter the picture, such as actress-turned-spiritualist, Anne Montague, Joseph's "friend," Harry Delacorte, and the lemon cake loving Dr. Miles.

Angelica is the story of many things. It's a ghost story. It's a story of the deterioration of a marriage. It's a story of child abuse and its consequences. It's a story of lust. It's a story of love. Above all, it's a story of ultimate sadness. The book, in Phillips' able hands, is perfectly written. Not one word could be replaced with one better suited. It's a perfect marriage of art and craft. Arthur Phillips proved he certainly knew his stuff in The Egyptologist, and in Angelica, he even tops himself. Missing this book would be missing the reading experience of a lifetime. And don't worry about the open ending. All the clues are there and putting the puzzle pieces together is half the fun.

A book or two more and Arthur Phillips is going to be known as one of our greatest writers ever. His work is mesmerizing.

It Did End!

So, I finally finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and quite awhile ago, too. (I've been sidelined due to an injury.) I found the book enjoyable and I did like "getting lost" in the world or Strange and Norrell. Susanna Clarke is certainly a very imaginative writer, but the book wasn't without problems.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell suffers from a lack of focus. There is no throughline, no dramatic question to answer, and there's far too little interaction and conflict between Strange and Norrell. I have, however, purchased Clarke's book of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and I will probably read the novel she publishes next.

So...foreward! More books await!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Doris Lessing and the Nobel Prize for Literature

I was a little surprised that Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but not disappointed. She certainly deserves it and I'm glad the prize didn't seem to be politically motivated this year.

Lessing's "I don't care" attitude was rather refreshing. It's nice to see an author who cares more about gaining readers and simply writing than garnering prizes and accolades. I'm just sorry the great William Trevor has never won the Nobel. Well, there's always next year! In the meantime, Congratulations, Doris Lessing! This is your year! :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Will It Ever End?

I'm now reading the final one hundred pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. The last few days, I've been wondering if the book will ever end! The problem isn't the length, it's that the book lacks focus.

Don't get me wrong. Susanna Clarke had a marvelous ides for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and she has the most fantastic imagination. But the book lacked a throughline, a focus, and there wasn't enough conflict between Strange and Norrell and the very mysterious Raven King.

Of course, the book has an end. I was being facetious. I can pick the book up. I could, if I wanted, read the final page now. But after slogging through a book sorely lacking in focus, I just want this thing to end. After reading almost seven hundred pages, I'm not about to give up now. I hope I can finish tonight, though. Five new books arrived yesterday and I'm anxious to get to them.

I haven't given up on Susanna Clarke, either. I have her collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and I do expect to enjoy those. I'm also eagerly anticipating the publication of her next novel, and if I'm interested in the subject matter, I'll certainly read that as well.