Literary Corner Cafe

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mainstream Fiction versus Literary Fiction

There's been so much debate over mainstream fiction versus literary fiction. In general, mainstream fiction (the works of authors such as Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Jonathan Kellerman, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz, just to name a few) concentrates far more on plot, while literary fiction concentrates more on character and character development and change.

Of course some mainstream fiction contains wonderfully developed characters, e.g., Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen and Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe. However, in mainstream fiction, the emphasis is, and always will be, on plot.

On the other hand, although literary fiction concentrates more on character and character development, that's not to say good literary fiction lacks a plot. Yes, some of it does, but much of it certainly does not.

For me, at least, the works of the brilliant Nobel Laureate, Jose Saramago certainly have a plot, as do those of fellow Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison. The plot's a little slower than what's found in mainstream books, but "Incident A" still leads to "Incident B" still leads to "Incident C," etc. And that, of course, is a plot.

Literary fiction, i.e., character driven fiction, is often perceived as being "better" than mainstream fiction, despite the fact that mainstream fiction is far more popular. I think it's just a matter of personal preference. Certainly there are extremely well written plot driven novels just as there are poorly written character driven ones.

In general, I think people turn to plot driven novels when they're looking for diversion and entertainment and to character driven books when they want to delve into the inner workings of the human spirit - when they're looking for books to enrich both mind and soul.

It should be remembered that one of the most important things in life is balance. Although we all have our preferences, surely we all need a bit of both entertainment and enrichment. And who's to say entertainment is not enriching? Even though I greatly prefer literary novels, I do enjoy intricately plotted Victorian novels to help me through the too-long-for-me winter months and I love comic novels when relaxing in the summertime.

Whatever kind of book you choose, for whatever reason, treasure it. A good book, a really good book, is a connection between the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader, a very special gift that lives on forever.

Happy Birthday Lewis Carroll

Happy Birthday Lewis Carroll, 1832! You are a favorite of many readers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Birthday to Three Great Authors

Happy Birthday to three great authors:

Robert Burns, 1759

W Somerset Maugham, 1874

Virginia Woolf, 1882

And a Happy Belated Birthday to Edith Wharton, 1862, whose birthday was yesterday, January 24th.

You've all enriched our lives so much!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

You can now visit and see what's going on there.

I'll soon be writing a blog there as well as here and our Web developer will be blogging as well.

We'll still planning on being "live" with the fully renovated site soon.

Thanks for reading. :)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

For us at Literary Corner Cafe, winter is a time to sit back and relax by a cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea or cocoa and read an intricately plotted Victorian mystery. We've already read Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night, and for the most part, we loved it. Now, we're focusing on Charles Palliser's The Quincunx.

Some of us are finding The Quincunx a fascinating read, while others are having a hard time getting "into" the book. The problem? The two editors who are having a difficult time with the book like chidren, but they don't enjoy child narrators and The Quincunx begins with a child narrator who feels we must know every little detail of his life.

The consensus among people who've read the book seems to be that The Quincunx is a slightly superior book to The Meaning of Night and certainly more intricately plotted. The Meaning of Night, however, started with an unforgettable first sentence and a great hook and only got better from there. We're going to continue with The Quincunx, of course, and hope the book gets more and more involving with each page we turn.

We do know one thing for sure. We'd better speed up our reading of this "big book." Still on tap for us before spring makes its much anticipated arrival are Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White and Charles Dickens' huge masterpiece, Bleak House.

Wish us luck! :)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Benjamin Franklin!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father of the United States, but he was an author as well, and he was born on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. (Older calendars give his birth date as January 6th.)

Benjamin Franklin was formally educated only to the age of ten, but he learned about printing, publishing, and writing from his older brother, James, who published the New England Courant, to which Benjamin became a contributor.

Later, he became an extremely wealthy man by writing Poor Richard's Almanack, under the name, Richard Saunders, and by publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette. Not all of the content of Poor Richard's Almanack was original. Franklin "borrowed" much of it, something not everyone is aware of. In 1758, Franklin stopped writing his almanac, but that year saw the publication of Father Abraham's Sermon, now highly regarded as the most famous piece of literature published in Colonial America.

Franklin began writing his autobiography in England in 1771, an autobiography that saw many adventures and was finally published after his death in its original form by John Bigelow. Franklin's autobiography is one of the greatest autobiographies, not only of its own time, but ever written.

Franklin, who loved both politics and technology, wrote extensively about these subjects. He wrote many speeches for the Constitutional Convention, papers on science and economics, including one titled, A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper-Currency, as well as writing about education, philosophy, and religion.

In 1773, Franklin published two essays: Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One, and An Edict by the King of Prussia. While very satirical, these essays were also very, very pro-American, as Franklin was one of the most pro-American men who ever lived.

Benjamin Franklin did not believe in slavery and he published numerous articles decrying its existence. Two of the most famous are: An Address to the Public, which was published in 1789 and A Plan for Improving the Condition of the Free Blacks, which was also published in 1789.

Most of Benjamin Franklin's writings, which are far too numerous to list here, in a simple blog, can be found online.

Our country, and indeed, our very lives, would be far less rich had it not been for Benjamin Franklin.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin! The United States is proud of you and will treasure you always.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Amazon's Kindle - Yes or No?

For me, a committed bibliophile, the answer has to be a rousing "No."

Bibliophiles are in love with books. We love the way books look, we love (or hate) the cover art (but it always interests us), we love the way books smell, we love the way they feel, we love their weight in our hands, we love the fact that the pages yellow (or we hate the fact that they do), and on and on and on.

Yes, the Kindle is no doubt convenient, but despite the fact that you can read War and Peace (or something equivalent) on it, it just isn't, and never will be, a book.

Now, some people leap to the Kindle's defense and say it's getting more and more people to read. I disagree. People who are inclined to read, read. Nothing can stop them. The people who are in love with the Kindle are the people who have to have the latest bit of technology, whether they make use of that technology or not.

I can see the Kindle's advantage for a busy executive who is committed to frequent travel and must keep up with various newspapers and magazines. However, version 1.0 of the Amazon Kindle isn't quite as "user friendly" as it should be. I've tried a friend's and the keypad makes it difficult to hold and scrolling back to reread a part we didn't quite understand just isn't the same as flipping back the pages.

And how do we give books as Christmas, birthday, and other presents when the Kindle is involved? Do we just buy a certificate and email it to the recipient? Where's the joy in that - for the giver or the receiver?

Givers of books love browsing for just the "right" one, wrapping it lovingly, and maybe inscribing a message to the recipient on the flyleaf. Receivers love to hold a wrapped book in their hands, they love the joy of guessing which one it might be, and removing the wrapping paper to behold a treasure.

And nothing, nothing, for a committed bibliophile, beats sitting by the fire on a cozy winter's day, with a cup of hot cocoa and his or her favorite book to wile away the hours.

The Kindle may have its place in the world of business, but one thing is for certain - it will never replace books in the hearts - and hands - of those who truly love them.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Not a Bad Idea at All! :)

When I retire, I will fill my cellar with rare Bordeaux, adorn my salon with a Fragonard and perhaps a Boucher, and spend my days hunting for antique furniture and rare books in the Quartier Latin.

André Vernet, president of the Paris branch of the Depository Bank of Zurich, The Da Vinci Code

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - I'm Undecided

I have to admit, I expected more when I first plunged into Susanna Clarke's huge Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I'm not usually a lover of fantasy, but I adored "getting lost" in the world of Strange and Norrell. I kept turning pages, wanting to know if their alliance would last and if either would ever encounter the dreaded Raven King.

Susanna Clarke is a marvelous writer with a wonderful imagination. I particularly like her arch tone that is so reminiscent of Jane Austen. The trouble with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is that the book lacks focus. There is no central conflict, no overriding story question to occupy readers' minds. There is also too little interaction between Strange and Norrell and too little of anything from the Raven King. Near the end of the book, Strange makes some decisions that seem distinctly out of character for him, though they are very interesting.

Despite the above, I did enjoy reading the book. I even bought Clarke's book of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and while I haven't read every one, I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I have read. And the cover is gorgeous, with its grey background and bright pink petunias.

Even though I have mixed feelings regarding Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, at this point, I think I will buy the next book Susanna Clarke publishes. Anyone who can write with an arch tone that rivals Jane Austen can't help but get my vote.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read (The Second Five)

At Literary Corner Cafe we're dedicated to bringing you the very best from the world of literature. Together, the other editors and I have compiled a list of the "Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read." (We know almost every serious reader will have read one or more of these literary gems.)

In our quest to help you unearth a real treasure, we present the second installment of five "best books":

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura - Akira Yoshimura is a well known writer in his native Japan, but unfortunately, he hasn't gained the recognition he deserves in other countries and cultures. Shipwrecks, one of this author's finest novels takes place in a medieval Japanese fishing village and centers around nine-year-old Isaku. At fewer than two hundred pages, Shipwrecks is more novella than novel and is distinctly dark and Gothic in flavor. It's unlike any book we've ever read before and we simply can't forget it. We don't think you will, either.

Anya by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer - The horrors of the Holocaust are of interest to many serious readers and there have been many good (and a few great) books written about this terrible historical event. Anya, though great as well, is different. It's more personal, more intimate, and at times, more heartbreaking, than many other books in Holocaust literature. Anya lived an idyllic life in Warsaw, Poland encompassing piano lessons, elaborate dinners, music, and reading. But idyllic lives have a way of being torn apart and Anya's is no exception. Anya Brodman actually related the events in this book directly to its author. Even though we haven't suffered the horrors of the Holocaust ourselves, Schaeffer makes it possible to identify with Anya's pain, her suffering, and ultimately, her courage.

Angelica by Arthur Phillips - What can I write that can possibly do justice to this magnificent book? Arthur Phillips showed us he was a truly first rate author with the publication of The Egyptologist, but with Angelica, he takes his mastery of the novel a step higher. Angelica is the perfect blend of art and craft. It is, far and away, my favorite book of 2007 and I think it's also the best. This is one of those books you read far into the night and just when you think you have it all figured out - you realize you don't. No, Phillips doesn't spell out exactly what happened is this horror novel/ghost story/love story-gone-wrong/mystery, but he does play fair with his readers and all the puzzle pieces are there just waiting for you to fit them together.

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions - When asked what their favorite ghost story is, almost no one mentions The Beckoning Fair One, however this slim book is well regarded as the finest ghost story ever written, even eclipsing Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Like James' classic, Onions' classic doesn't focus on the gruesome details that can often evoke laughter instead of pure horror, but instead focuses on people, on the psychological ramifications of "ghosts." We all have a "dark side"; there are demons that can push every one of us to the edge. Onions knew this and he exploits his knowledge well in The Beckoning Fair One, often cited as "the best ghost story ever written in the English language." We know one thing: reading it at night caused us to lose sleep and turn on the lights.

Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi - Remember Me is such an important and overlooked book. This novel tells the heartbreaking story of seventy-two-year-old Winnie and is set against the backdrop of World War II. Some lives just hurt so much that people need to escape them, they need to become someone else. So it is with Winnie. But can anyone really escape themselves and "become someone else?" Even for a short time? It might seem as though Winnie has succeeded, but when her safety net is shattered, her ghosts of the past come calling. This is a dazzling, spellbinding book and one that's guaranteed to penetrate to the heart of any reader.