Literary Corner Cafe

Friday, March 28, 2008

Ten Questions in Search of an Answer

1. One book that changed your life: As much as I love literature, no book has really changed my life. Many books have enriched it, but not changed it. Maybe I could say "the first book I ever read or was read to me." I think that book probably caused me to fall deeply in love with well written literature.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier - I am just fascinated by the character of Rachel. I also want to work out what really happened and what everyone's motivations were. Generally, however, I only read a book once. I have too many I want to read to be rereading.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Anna Karenina by Count Leo Tolstoy, Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. I find something new in it every time I open it. Alternates would be Joyce's Ulysses and Cervantes' Don Quixote. I could never get tired of those three books in a million years.

4. One book that made you laugh: P.G. Wodehouse’s "Blandings Castle" series. It's always high summer there and always hilarious. I wish the place were real.

5. One book that made you cry: For Bea by Kristen von Kreisler. Books about dogs will get me every time. I'm so glad Bea found the love she was seeking.

6. One book that you wish you had written: None, really, no matter how much I loved them because they weren’t my stories to write or I would have written them. If pressed to choose, though, I'd probably go with one by Thomas Hardy, maybe Tess of the d'Ubervilles or Far From the Madding Crowd. Just not Jude the Obscure. I love Wessex and I love Hardy's tragedy.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: There are several books I really disliked and wish I'd never read, but others liked them, so they have merit. My answer would have to be none.

8. One book you’re currently reading: The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. Yes, it's a marvelous feat of literature, but I think Palliser goes into too much detail. It's "too much of a good thing," though I realize he's replicating the Victorians' penchant for detail, so I forgive him. LOL I hope I finish this book during this lifetime because I have so many more I want to read. I've come more than halfway now and don't want to throw in the towel, though I strongly suspect the ending is going to be a disappointment for me.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: There are many, but for now, let's go with A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. I think about this book a lot, but never actually sit down and read it. I like Forster, though.

10. One book you recommend to almost everyone: That's difficult, since everyone has different tastes in literature. I recommend books based on the individual; I dont give blanket recommendations. I suppose Don Quixote, Edith Grossman translation, though I know everyone wouldn't read it. My reason for recommending it: That book was the basis for the modern novel, the first "real" novel.

Feel free to comment or copy this little survey and post your own "ten questions in search of an answer." I'd love to know what you think.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Readers - An Endangered Species

The "sort of" recent news report that only one in four persons had read a book of any kind during the past year came as no surprise to me, but it was still very disheartening.

No wonder publishing houses are always teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and prefer to publish book after book after book from the “big name” authors, authors with an established following and track record, rather than take a chance on an unknown no matter how sparkling and fresh and original his or her manuscript may be. No wonder the only way some unpublished writers can get their manuscript read is to have a “connection” – to know another (preferably big name) – author or an agent or anyone connected to the publishing world who can give that writer a decent letter of recommendation.

And really, can you blame the publishing houses? The cost of publishing a hardcover edition of a book is very high, and the owners of publishing houses have bills to pay and food to buy just you and I. They have to survive, and I’m glad they do. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have any books to read at all.

Readers, too, must surely feel the brunt this lack of reading is causing. I know I often finish what I consider to have been a wonderful book only to have no one with whom to discuss it. And I love discussing books, both the ones I loved and the ones I didn’t love so very much. No matter how I felt about a book, I gain more from having read it if I can discuss what I consider its merits and shortcomings with other readers. (The subject of an entry to come.)

Reading, of course, is an intensely private affair. Each reader brings his or her own unique experiences and lifestyle to his reading experience and because of this, each reader takes away something different. While it’s nice to read books in privacy and peaceful seclusion, once the book is finished, most readers become much more social beings. If you’re like me, once you’ve finished a book, you gain tremendous insight into its more subtle aspects by discussing it with a group. In fact, most readers long to discuss the books they’ve read with others.

More and more people are forming reading groups in an attempt to overcome the literary isolation most of us face. But even forming a book group can be difficult. People in rural communities will probably find it more difficult to form a reading group than those in large cities. Even in large cities, you can run into problems. If you only read highly literary fiction, for example, or sci-fi/fantasy, it might be hard to find enough people with the same taste to form a group. If the going gets too rough, and you really can’t stand being a solitary reader, you might want to consider widening your own tastes.

Literary isolationism is, unfortunately, increasing year by year. How can we, as avid and concerned readers, help to reverse this sad trend and whose responsibility is it, ultimately, to ensure that future generations will love to read as much as we do?

I don’t know about you, but I developed a love for books and reading at home, before I ever attended school, even before kindergarten. The members of my family were readers and they did everything they could to foster my interest in books, including reading to me, buying me books, and taking me to the library and bookstores. I’ve always considered myself so lucky they did because unfortunately, teachers let me (and my fellow classmates) down in this respect. The only book I can remember reading (or being assigned to read) in high school was Quo Vadis. I had a lot of catching up to do.

Today, many parents seem more intent on parking their children in front of the television or giving them latest video game, than reading to them or taking them to a library or bookstore. And this is such a shame. Children love good stories. Young children especially adore books with brightly colored, well-drawn illustrations. Their interest in books can be captured so early and so easily, yet sadly, so often, it just isn’t.

Teachers, like parents, need to be more aware of the needs of the students under their care, and reading, make no mistake, is a need. Sure, some people don’t like it, but everyone, I think has a need for stories in their lives. Oral storytelling, as a tradition, existed long before published books did. Sometimes I think the propensity of some young people today to tell the most outrageous lies stems from a lack of stories in their lives, not a surfeit. Teachers, especially teachers of younger students, should make sure fiction reading is a part of the regular curriculum. Surely, no young student of five or six is going to groan more at the prospect of an exciting story than he will at the prospect of a math lesson.

If there’s a young person in your life, give him or her books for birthdays, books for graduation, and books for Christmas. Give him or her books just because you love him. They needn’t be novels. Some members of my family are voracious readers, but they read memoirs, non-fiction, or technical books. The important thing is, they’re reading and they’re loving it. Books are an integral part of their lives.

As an avid reader and as one who cherishes the books she owns, I want to see more truly great books published, not fewer. I want my favorite authors to feel it’s worth their while to keep on writing books, not give up due to a lack of readership or large advances. And, I want to share these books with my fellow readers.

Readers have become an endangered species, and all of us need to take responsibility to ensure than we don’t one day face extinction. Buy books for the children in your life. Foster their innate love for stories and let them know this need in them can be fulfilled throughout their life. Take the time to get to know what the reading tastes of the people you love are, or might be, then get those people interested in books. Instead of going on a date to a movie, try going on a date to a bookstore/cafe once in awhile. If you’re a parent, do more than just buy books for your children. Read to them, or discuss the book with them after they've read it. Insist that the reading and discussion of books be a part of your child’s classroom activities. Join or start a book group, either online or “in real life.” Tell people about this literary blog and other literary blogs you find interesting.

Books and reading have the power to change lives and with the power to change lives comes the power to change the world.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reading Groups: How Large or Small Should Your Group Be?

Any time two or more people get together on a regular basis to discuss a book, those people are taking part in a reading group. Two people, however, aren’t really enough to provide the stimulating discussion and variety of opinion that form the basis of any really superior reading group.

Here at Literary Corner Café, we feel the ideal size for a reading group is between eight and twelve members. Some people might prefer a smaller, cozier group, but if several members drop out or can’t make it to a meeting, for whatever reason, then there might not be enough people in attendance for good conversation.

On the other hand, a group larger than twelve will almost certainly lose the cozy, informal feel most readers prefer and will need to be run on a more formal basis, almost certainly with the aid of a formal moderator. When all’s said and done, it really depends on personal preference.

Large groups also restrict your choice of meeting place. Whether you decide to meet in a private home, a restaurant, or in a coffee shop, a large group is going to be more unwieldy and sometimes, more unwelcome.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

April is National Poetry Month

In April 1996, the Academy of American Poets established April as "National Poetry Month." The goals of "National Poetry Month" include increasing the attention paid to poetry and poets, by both individuals and the media; to cultivate our rich poetic heritage; and to publicize books of poetry and magazines devoted to the art. In short, "National Poetry Month" hopes to increase the visibility of poetry in our American culture.

"National Poetry Month" brings many diverse lovers of poetry together: booksellers, publishers, literary organizations, libraries, schools, non-profit organizations, and of course, poets, themselves. There are many activities connected with "National Poetry Month," including readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and many other events.

"National Poetry Month" has become wildly successful. It has grown and grown over the years to become the largest literary celebration in the world.

Poetry has been described as "painting with words." It can often express what we had thought to be inexpressible. It can rouse us to action or comfort us with its solace. Why not take the month of April to explore the beauty and majesty that is poetry?

You can learn more by visiting Block off some time in April to do so now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Few Writers on Love

Tonight, my husband and I watched the film "La Vie en Rose," the biopic about the great Edith Piaf again. Piaf was so "in love" with love. Love, along with singing, were the only driving forces behind her life. The film made me dig through my quotes and pull out a few about love. Make of them what you will.

"One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love." - Sophocles

"We love because it's the only true adventure." - Nikki Giovanni

"Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing." - Goethe

"Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about really is worth fighting for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk everything, you risk even more." - Erica Jong

"Sometimes love is stronger than a man's convictions." - Isaac Bashevis Singer

"Love is the master key that opens the gates of happiness." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

"Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." - Rainer Maria Rilke

"Where love is, no room is too small." - Talmud

"Loves makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." - Zora Neale Hurston

"Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired." - Mark Twain

"Love is more than three words mumbled before bedtime.
Love is sustained by action, a pattern of devotion in the things we do for each other every day." - Nicholas Sparks

"Love doesn't make the world go round, love is what makes the ride worthwhile." - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why Not Start a Reading Group?

Despite the fact that one in four people say they read no book at all last year, readers are finding book groups more and more popular. And with good reason.

For most of us, a book’s more fun to read when we read it with others. We gain insight into the characters, structure, theme, and more when we can discuss our views with others who’ve read the book. We learn more about why we liked a certain book or why we didn’t. And if we’re flexible and open-minded, we just might find some of our views changing. Reading groups encourage us to read more, read regularly, and to read books we might not have otherwise chosen. As an added benefit, those who join reading groups are bound to make new friendships and strengthen existing ones.

If you can’t find a reading group that fits your needs, you might want to consider starting one yourself. At first, this could seem like a daunting task, but as you move ahead with your plans, you’ll find that starting and maintaining a reading group is not only rewarding and enriching, it’s also a lot of fun. Here at Literary Corner Cafe, we want to help you start and maintain your very own reading group, and we also want to help you make sure your group is the group you want it be.

In the coming weeks, we'll be giving you our tips and suggestions for starting and maintaining a reading group. And, if you have questions, or simply want an existing group showcased on Literary Corner Cafe, be sure to drop us an email! :)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

National Book Critics Circle Award Winners

National Book Critics Circle Award Winners

The winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards, presented on March 6th in New York City, are:

Fiction: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Nonfiction: Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington

Autobiography: Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Biography: Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal

Poetry: Elegy by Mary Jo Bang

Criticism: The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross

Here at Literary Corner Cafe, we've only read the fiction, autobiography, and biography winners, but we can certainly recommend those to anyone.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday Kenneth Grahame, 1859

Happy Belated Birthday Gabriel Garcia Marquez (March 6, 1928)

Happy Belated Birthday Kobo Abe (March 7, 1924)

Thank you for your gifts of enduring literature.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Book Review - The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor

William Trevor's often been referred to as "the Irish Chekhov." I think this is a little unfair to both Trevor and Chekhov, since each is unique, but like Chekhov, Trevor is a master at "capturing the moment," and he's certainly one of the greatest short story writers who ever lived. The very fact that he hasn't yet been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature is simply confirmation of something most of us knew all along anyway: that the prize is often more of a political endowment than a literary one.

Despite my love for Trevor's short stories, I cherish his novels as well, primarily the sad and lovely, The Story of Lucy Gault. Trevor brings to this short book all of his mastery of sorrow and tragedy as well as his skill at capturing the moment.

The Story of Lucy Gault was published several years ago. I may be mistaken, but I don't believe Trevor's written a novel since although he's published two volumes of gorgeously beautiful short stories, A Bit on the Side and Cheating at Canasta. (Since I wrote this review, Trevor published the Booker longlisted novel, Love and Summer.)

The Story of Lucy Gault begins on June 21, in County Cork, Ireland when Captain Everard Gault, an Irish Protestant, married to an Englishwoman, is terrorized by a small group of Catholic boys who are attempting to burn down Lahardane, his ancestral home, during the Troubles of 1921.

A gentle man who only means to frighten the boys away, Gault fires into the group. Unfortunately, one of the boys, Horahan, is wounded, and Gault knows there will be a heavy price for him to pay.

Gault and his wife, Heloise, who have a nine-year-old daughter, Lucy to protect, decide to leave Lahardane in the custody of its caretakers, Henry and Bridget, and flee to England.

There are problems, however. Young Lucy Gault doesn't want to leave the only home she's ever known and the beautiful walled garden and the beach where she indulges her desire for secret swims. When her entreaties to be left behind with Henry and Bridget are denied, Lucy decides to hide in the woods, hoping her parents will think she's run away. An indulged child, but a sensitive one, Lucy knows her parents won't leave Lahardane without her.

Characters in William Trevor's books often get what they wish for, but not in the manner in which they wished for it. Lucy does, indeed, get to remain at Lahardane with Henry and Bridget, but only because her heartbroken parents truly believe her to be dead.

In overwhelmingly sad chapters, Trevor alternates between Lucy's lonely life at Lahardane as she occupies herself with reading novels, beekeeping, and feeling tremendous guilt for the problems she's caused, and the nomadic life of her heartbroken parents who spend their days wandering the hill towns of Italy, taking what solace they can in art, and vowing never to return to Ireland.

Many lesser authors (which is just about everyone, not quite, but just about) wouldn't carry the plotting of their book any further than the above. William Trevor, however, is no ordinary writer. All this sadness is but a prelude to even more sadness yet to come.

Lucy's life will become entwined once again with one of her parents, and she will be offered a chance at happiness. Happiness, however, isn't what Lucy seeks. She longs for redemption and she finds it, or what she can of it, in a bond with the most unlikely person around.

The Story of Lucy Gault is a sad, slow, thoughtful, elegiac novel. William Trevor is a master at portraying the holes and spaces in a life, at letting us know what's missing instead of what's present, in detailing the sadness of a life unlived. His prose is beautiful, rich, and poetic, but precise, with not a word wasted, and no matter what the situation, he never slips into melodrama. Silence and secrets play the biggest role in Trevor's novels.

I thought William Trevor had reached the zenith of his abilities with the beautiful novella, Reading Turgenev (also a Booker nominee), but The Story of Lucy Gault equals, though does not surpasses it. The Story of Lucy Gault is probably the saddest story I've ever read. It's quite possibly the saddest story you'll ever read as well. Haunted forever by the ghosts of the past, The Story of Lucy Gault shows us the truth of the words Trevor wrote in Reading Turgenev:

...only love matters in the bits and pieces of a person's life.

This was, by far and away, my favorite book since I can't remember when.


Recommended: Absolutely, with no reservation.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to:

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), 1904

Tom Wolfe, 1931

John Irving, 1942