Literary Corner Cafe

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More About Literary Prizes - The 2007 Man Booker Winner

While Zadie Smith believes literary prizes are only "nominally about literature," and many of them are, I thought the 2007 Man Booker committee did a fabulous job. My favorite, Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain, made the long list, but not the short, but still, I was happy to see Irish author Anne Enright win the prize for The Gathering.

To me, giving the prize to The Gathering was not at all politically motivated (some thought it was "too early" for another Irish author to win after John Banville's 2005 win for The Sea) and it was "all about literature."

It's no secret that The Gathering wasn't the most popular book on the short list. The Man Booker committee was obviously not out to garner popularity votes. Many people didn't like The Gathering's main character, found the overall tone of the book "too bitter," or were simply put off by the writing style. Personally, I loved the book and I congratulate the committee for choosing excellence in writing rather than picking a winner for "other" reasons.

I'd love to know what Zadie Smith (who is a very good writer, though I've never been able to get involved in her books - just personal preference) thinks about The Gathering's win. I've yet to read anything about her opinion on this.

P.S. Indra Sinha's Animal's People, one of the Booker short list favorites, has recently been published in the US. If you haven't read it, it certainly won't be time wasted. And the title character is truly unforgettable.

P.P.S. I realize the 2007 Booker is behind us and the Kiriyama Prizes will be awarded on April 1st. More about those later.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Zadie Smith Speaks, Can We Take Her Seriously?

Published in "The Willesden Herald":

Novelist Zadie Smith, who has received a number of awards including the Whitbread First Novel award for White Teeth and the Orange Prize for Fiction for On Beauty, has caused a stir in the blogosphere and the mainstream media with a blistering attack on literary prizes. Writing in the Willesden Herald's blog she says that most literary prizes are "only nominally" about literature and are "really about brand consolidation for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies and even frozen food companies." Her comments were written in the context of the Willesden Herald's judges decision to cancel their annual award (after short-listing the top 10 stories) because the general standard of submissions was not considered high enough to award the prize. Says Smith, "Just because this prize has the words Willesden and Zadie hovering by it, does not mean that I or the other judges want to read hundreds of jolly stories of multicultural life on the streets of north London."

Okay, thank you, Zadie for your opinion. Opinions are always appreciated, however I don't know how seriously I can take yours on this subject.

It's long been known that literary prizes are politically motivated, given to substandard literature, or yes, "only nominally" about literature, itself. But Zadie, where were you when those committees awarded you your prizes? Out collecting them, of course, no doubt in the hopes of furthering your career, which you did. I didn't want to read a story of multicultural life on the streets of North London when you wrote White Teeth.

Personally, Zadie's comments would carry a lot more weight had she realized what we all know is (mostly) true and not accepted all those "nominally literary" prizes.

You may feel differently, but I found her remarks to be hypocritical.

The Day After the Oscars

See my italicized edits in a previous entry.

Happy Birthday Anthony Burgess, 1917. You gave us one of the greatest opening lines ever, not to mention many wonderful books.

And that opening line was: It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me. From Earthly Powers.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Happy February Birthdays

Happy Birthday to:

Carson McCullers, 1917 and Amy Tan, 1952 - February 19th

Anais Nin, 1903 and W. H. Auden, 1907 - February 21st

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 and Edward Gorey, 1925 - February 22nd

W. E. B. Du Bois, 1868 - February 23rd

Thank you all for sharing your talent and vision. You've greatly enriched our lives.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Something Different - My Picks for the Academy Awards

Since films are fun, and since more and more films seem to be being adapted from novels, we thought it would be fun if I posted my picks for the Academy Award's on Sunday, February 24th. Now, these aren't necessarily the films and actors I liked/like the best, but they're all the ones I feel will win.

Oscar speeches are usually far too long, so I won't bore you anymore here. Instead, I'll go straight to my own personal picks:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis for "There Will Be Blood." Just no other choice. George Clooney was terrific, but not up to Day-Lewis' standard. Tommy Lee Jones and Viggo Mortenson could pose a threat, but I don't think it will be more than a threat. And anyone who thinks the Academy is going to give Johnny Depp, and I love Johnny Depp, an Oscar for playing yet another weirdo in yet another Tim Burton film is...well, wrong. He'll garner lots and lots of People's Choice awards for doing that, but not Oscars.

This was so easy, I get no points for this one.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Javier Bardem for "No Country for Old Men," though Hal Holbrook for "Into the Wild" could be a sentimental upset much like Alan Arkin was last year. I hope not, though, as Bardem was truly magnificent and no one, absolutely no one deserves a win more this year. Javier Bardem is consistently magnificent. Just watch him in "The Sea Inside" or "The Dancer Upstairs" and you'll see what I mean.

So glad he won. He's so magnificent.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Julie Christie for "Away From Her." If there's any justice, the beautiful and talented Julie Christie will win, though Marion Cotillard could be an upset as Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose." I can't see anyone else winning. Christie's performance was far more intense, however. This is an actress who's had some very good roles ("Doctor Zhivago" and "Darling") and some very bad ones ("Don't Look Now"), but "Away From Her" was intense, heartbreaking, and intensely heartbreaking.

I really thought Christie would win, but I'm glad the award went to Marion Cotillard. She was truly great as Edith Piaf. I'm buying the DVD today.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Ruby Dee in "American Gangster." I know I'm swimming against the tide in not choosing Cate Blanchett, but again, if there's justice in this world, Cate will never again win another Oscar. Personally, I think history will judge her a very mediocre actress, much like the colorless Gwyneth Paltrow. And the Academy likes sentimentality. Give the eighty-plus-year-old Ruby the win even though her role was a bit "lightweight" by Academy standards. Heck, so was Arkin's and he didn't have a whole lot of screen time. And there's always an upset. Right?

It's good to know performance won out over sentimentality. Tilda Swinton gave, by far, the best performance. Ruby Dee has given many, many, many great performances, but this wasn't one of them. Again, glad I was wrong.

Best Animated Feature: "Ratatouille." How can anyone resist this charming film? Or Remy? And the Academy loves animals, even animated ones. ("Happy Feet" really wasn't better than "Cars.") Well, anyone who can make me love a rat, and in the kitchen, too, deserves several awards.

My favorite film of the year. It would have broken my heart had it not won this category.

Best Art Direction: "Atonement." It was just beautiful. And beautiful in a very artistic way. This is one of those cases where the film was actually better than the book. And I'll admit, I'm not generally an Ian McEwan fan, but I did love "Atonement."

This was a hard category as all the films were deserving, but I can live with "Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street." I'm just sorry I didn't choose it. LOL

Best Cinematography: "No Country for Old Men." This was a hard one for me because all the films are so worthy. And I really wanted to choose "Atonement," but if you've seen "No Country for Old Men," you'll know what I mean when I picked it for the winner. If you haven't seen it, you might not "get it."

Again, all the films were worthy, but I was surprised at "There Will Be Blood's" win. Could it have been the fire on the oil rig?

Best Costume Design: "Atonement." Again, just beautiful. And the Academy has been veering away from truly lavish costumes and going more for originality and authenticity in period design. (Hooray!) In that case, "Atonement" should win, hands down.

So sorry not to see "Atonement" win in this category. Maybe they are going for the truly lavish?

Best Directing: Joel and Ethan Coen for "No Country for Old Men." Joel was nominated for "Fargo" but lost to Anthony Minghella for "The English Patient." Though not everyone in Hollywood likes this duo, this is is just their year to shine.

And shine they did. Are they no longer quirky, but mainstream?

Best Documentary Feature: "No End in Sight." It's topical and important. And it gives the Academy a chance to make a political statement, something many of its members love to do.

So hard to predict. I took a chance and missed.

Best Documentary Short: "Sari's Mother." Heartbreaking and poignant.

Again, took a chance and missed.

Best Film Editing: "The Bourne Ultimatum." It's a fast paced action film, that's why. It sure wasn't my favorite film of the year. I don't even like Jason Bourne. I found him annoying. LOL

I didn't care for the film, but the editing was spectacular.

Best Foreign Language Film: "The Counterfeiters" (Austria). I actually hope I'm wrong with this one. I loved Poland's entry, "Katyn," but I just don't think it'll win. It's director has already won a Lifetime Achievement Award, something that counts with the Academy. However, both films are set against the backdrop of WWII, the Academy's "favorite" era, so right now I think this prize is up for grabs.

I preferred "Katyn," but really did think this would win, and so it did.

Best Makeup: "La Vie en Rose." Transforming a young Marion Cotillard into an elderly Edith Piaf will not go unrewarded.

And it didn't.

Best Original Score: "Atonement" (Dario Marianelli). Again, just lovely.

Who can forget the sound of the typewriter keys integrated into the lovely music?

Best Original Song - "Falling Slowly" (Once). And if not that, then "That's How You Know" (Enchanted).

The only one "Oscar worthy," in my opinion.

Best Short Film, Animated: "Madame Tutli-Putli." The short films are so hard to predict and I think the nominees in this category all have a chance, but this one's so creative and imaginative, I'm putting my hopes on it.

I originally picked "Peter and the Wolf," then changed it. I overanalyze and it gets me every year. LOL

Best Short Film, Live Action: "Tanghi Argentini." Utterly charming and fun. And history tells us that the Academy loves lighter fare is this category.

I preferred this to "Les Mozarts des Pickpockets," which I had originally picked as the winner. Again, I overanalyzed instead of going with my instincts and it got the best of me. It was so good to see Owen Wilson looking healthy, if a bit subdued.

Best Sound Editing: "Transformers." I know, I know, some of you didn't like the film, but I still think it's going to win this category. Personally, I thought the film was awesome and fun. One of my brothers had all the transformers, every single one, and now his son does. So, in a way, I grew up with them. I think the sound technicians, and they are the ones voting here, are going to love this one. They worked hard on it.

I still think "Transformers" should have won. I always will.

Best Sound Mixing: "Transformers." See above.

But what do I know about sound editing. ;)

Best Visual Effects: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

I am very puzzled by "The Golden Compass' " win here. To me, it was the weakest of the nominees.

Best Screenplay, Adapted: "No Country for Old Men." It really was superb and this is the year of the Coen brothers. (I'm not really a fan, but I have to give credit where credit is due and it's due here in a very big way.)

I'm becoming a fan of the Coen brothers.

Best Screenplay, Original: "Juno." It charmed many and was very well done, despite a few problems with the dialogue. Personally, I don't feel it's "Oscar worthy," but I think it'll be chosen. I'd love to see "Ratatouille" win, but I don't think the Academy, despite its love for animals, is going to give this award to an animated feature, no matter how popular or how good.

I was turned off, rather than charmed, by this film, but I knew it was riding high on a wave of popularity.

Best Picture: "No Country for Old Men." Anyone who thinks "Juno" will win picked "Little Miss Sunshine" last year and was wrong. "Juno," though charming to many, just doesn't have that "Big Picture" feel, and the Academy isn't that fond of comedy. Besides, this year's dramas are really "heavy hitters."

Yes!

One thing I do know for sure: Time will tell. LOL

Monday, February 18, 2008

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

This post presents the final five of the "Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read," compiled by three of our editors.

Two Lives by William Trevor - Okay, I "sort of" cheated here, as master writer, Trevor's Two Lives consists of two distinctly different novellas - Reading Turgenev (Booker nominated) and My House in Umbria, however the volume I have contains both, so I "cheated" and called them one. Both novellas focus on women who live a fantasy life because they simply can't face living their own. Most people seem to prefer Reading Turgenev, though both novellas bear Trevor's trademark spare prose, tragedy, and deep insight into what it means to be human.

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hanson - It's hard to believe the author of this book about a young Canadian postulant usually writes Westerns. Mariette in Ecstasy is absolutely flawless, perhaps one of the most flawless books I've ever read. The prose, especially the description, is beyond beautiful, but the plot is stunning as well. As you read more and more deeply into this book, you'll wonder more and more just exactly who Mariette is, and where the line is drawn that separates madness from faith.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton - If you haven't read this slim volume, you're really denying yourself the most wonderful experience. Written in 1907, it's author called it "a very melodramatic sort of moonshine." Although the book contains such histerically funny goings-on as an elephant chase and a hot air balloon race, it's actually a very serious look at society in a London that never really was. But, who is the man called "Thursday?" Read it and find out.

By the Lake by John McGahern - Devoted fans of Irish fiction may have read this lovely book, but we've found it all-too-overlooked. The novel tells the story of the Ruttledges, a farming couple who've left the London rat race for a more peaceful life in a small Irish village. Sometimes criticized as "slow," we find the book to be, not slow or underplotted, but graceful and meandering. It's filled with colorful characters, however, people who simply come to life. This is an intimate book rather than a sweeping epic. Pick it up when you really want to get to know the "people on the pages." And a bonus - the cover art is gorgeous.

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet - We think you'd just love this book, if only you'd heard of it. You don't have to love science fiction or science (Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard figure prominently) to love this novel, which takes place in the American Southwest. It's both whimsical and deep, and the characters couldn't be more real. This lyrically written book bears a quality of magic and that makes it, not only special, but totally memorable.

If you have a "must read" book that you'd like for others to know about, we'd love to hear from you.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday Toni Morrison, 1931.

Thank you for giving us some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking literature the world has ever known. You have enriched our lives beyond compare.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cover Art - Again

I was talking about cover art a few days ago. Well, I was very excited about the publication of Jeffrey Eugenides' anthology of love stories, My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro.

While I despise romances (though they do have their place, I'm not going to put them down, it's all personal preference), I do love love stories. Good love stories. Well written love stories. This anthology promised to live up to my high standards. It contains twenty-six love stories and is six hundred eight pages long. And it's hardcover. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I cherish my hardcover books.

Well, I went to my local Barnes and Noble, very excited about buying the book, only to be totally put off by the cover art - a full color drawing of an anatomical human heart. Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of love and love stories, I don't think of the anatomical version of the human heart. That's just gross. In the end, I didn't buy the book. In the end, I didn't buy any books that day.

You might think not buying the book was stupid of me, and in truth, it may very well be. And I might reconsider and buy the book despite my aversion to its cover art. But this is just an example of how cover art, for good or ill, affects those of us who are very visually inclined.

Cover art aside, I was pleased to see some authors included (Milan Kundera, James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, Robert Musil, William Faulkner, Issac Babel, William Trevor), but dismayed to see a few notables left out (Ivan Bunin, Dostoyevsky, D.H. Lawrence, Banana Yoshimoto, Dylan Thomas, Alexandros Papadiamantis). However, if you're still looking for a belated Valentine's Day gift (and you really shouldn't be), My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead might be just what you're looking for - if you can get past the nauseating cover art. LOL

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday Chaim Potok, 1929 and Ruth Rendell, 1930.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cover Art and Our Choice of Books

How much does cover art influence which books you buy?

Personally, being a very visual person, I greatly enjoy cover art that I find pleasing to the eye. Great cover art always attracts me to a book, but of course I'm not going to buy a book I really don't want to read just because it has a gorgeous cover that I find extremely attractive. Nor am I going to pass up a book I've been waiting to read just because the cover art is less than appealing. (This is the case with the book Animal's People by Indra Sinha. The British cover art was passable, but the US cover art is, in my eyes, an abomination and does this book, which many British readers just loved, a terrible disservice. However, I've been waiting and waiting to read the book since it made the Booker longlist, so I'll have a copy in my Barnes and Noble shopping bag the day it's released in the US.)

Now, if I'm torn between two books and only want to buy one, I might go with the book with the best cover art. And, if I'm browsing, and I love to browse, and see an interesting book, even though it's a book I hadn't planned on buying and definitely don't need, if the cover art is gorgeous, I just might find the book irresistible.

I know some people who find cover art irrelevant. While it's rarely the deciding factor for me, or for most people, I do think publishers should put more thought into their books' cover art and ensure that fact that it's both attractive and eye-catching, relates to the book's content, and is, in some way, unique.

And by the way, my very favorite cover, so far, has been the US edition of Alessandro Barrico's gorgeous novella, Silk.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Memorable Quotes from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

I'm one of the world's most romantic of romantics, so Emily Bronte's magnificently passionate novel, Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite books of all time. With Valentine's Day coming up on Thursday, thoughts of many literature lovers are naturally turning toward romance.

Below are some of my favorite quotes, from both the book and the film (which didn't begin to do justice to the book) :

If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn't love you as much as I do in a single day. Heathcliff to Catherine, speaking of Edgar Linton

I make you my queen. Whatever happens out there, here, you will always be my queen. Heathcliff to Catherine (Hey, Heathcliff, women don't want to be queens, just loved.)

Make the world stop right here. Make everything stop and stand still and never move again. Make the moors never change, and you and I never change. Catherine to Heathcliff

I want to crawl to her feet, whimper to be forgiven, for loving her, for needing her more than my own life, for belonging to her more than my own soul. Heathcliff, speaking of Catherine

...he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same. Catherine, speaking of Heathcliff

...if everything in the world died and Heathcliff remained, life would still be full for me. Catherine, speaking of Heathcliff

How can you stand here beside me and pretend not to remember? Not to know that my heart is breaking for you, that your face is the wonderful light burning in all this darkness. Heathcliff to Catherine

If you ever looked at me once with what I know is in you, I would be your slave. Heathcliff to Catherine

Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. Heathcliff, to Catherine, after her death

I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul! Heathcliff, after Catherine's tragic death

Monday, February 11, 2008

Do You Feel the Writers Got Enough?

The writers' stike has ended and I'm happy about that, but for now, however, no one seem to know quite how "fair" the new contract is. The West Coast writers seem happier than the East Coast writers and I'm not quite sure why.

One of the problems, I think, is that no one is sure, yet, how much online, Tivo, and DVD content is worth. The writers want to make sure they get their fair share. And they should. The producers want to be sure they aren't paying the writers "too much." It's a complex and complicated issue that will need revision after revision, I'm sure.

No payment for the first seventeen days after Web content goes "live" seems a bit unfair to the writers to me. According to Web statistics, those seventeen days are the days in which the content is going to get the most "hits." And unless the content is extremely popular and visted over and over and over again, the writers will be the ones losing out.

The only "sure thing" is that the world of television and movies, just like the world of books, needs writers and it needs good writers. While TV and film writers more often than not don't have the creativity novel writers have, they can often bring freshness as well as consistency to character and dialogue. They can sometimes make an "okay" film a truly memorable one. And actors have no jobs at all without writers. Not unless those actors are writers as well.

Well, the bottom line is that only time will tell how good and how fair the new writers' contract is. I'm not much of a "TV watcher," but I do love movies, those filmed from original screenplays as well as adaptations of beloved books. I appreciate everything good writers do for us and I wish them the very best.

Happy Birthday Boris Pasternak

Happy Belated Birthday to Boris Pasternak - February 10, 1890. Without this Nobel prize winning author's wonderful Doctor Zhivago, we would have never had the David Lean film adaptation. Many of us, and I am one, were only inspired to read the book after watching the film.

While I love both book and film, and no one could better portray Yuri Zhivago than Omar Sharif or the beautiful Lara better than the still beautiful Julie Christie, the book is richer and deeper and the background of the Russian Revolution is delved into far more deeply. But, I can't read the book every month. I don't have the time and I'll admit - I'm not a fast reader. However, I can watch the DVD set of the film every month, or even every two weeks.

Whether book or movie, Doctor Zhivago is a story I never grow tired of. The sweeping epic of the Russian Revolution that takes us from Moscow to the Urals, interwoven with the intimate love story of a truly good, good man torn between the love of two beautiful and very good women is - simply irresistible.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Alice Walker!

Happy Birthday Alice Walker - 1944. The Color Purple is one of the most gorgeous books we've ever read. Thank you for giving the world this masterpiece.

May you have a wonderful year, with many, many more very happy birthdays yet to come.

Revisiting a Classic - My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

One of our editors is revisting a favorite classic of hers - My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.

For some reason we can't figure out, My Cousin Rachel isn't as widely known or read as Rebecca, and though we feel both are certainly literary masterpieces, at Literary Corner Cafe we greatly prefer My Cousin Rachel over Rebecca (though we do love both).

My Cousin Rachel is a "deeper" book than Rebecca. The characterization is richer and more complex. The plot is far more intricate, maybe too intricate for the taste of some readers and perhaps this is why the book is not more widely read. Maybe it's just a simple case of marketing.

For those of you not familiar with the book, My Cousin Rachel opens in 1840s Cornwall and revolves around Philip Ashley, a young man set to inherit the estate of his cousin, Ambrose, the man who raised him.

Ambrose married a much younger woman, Rachel, in Italy, and before his death, his letters to Philip indicated that all was not well in the marriage and that Rachel might not be the sweet, innocent girl she presented herself to be to Ambrose. Philip, who genuinely loves his cousin, goes to investigate, but by the time he arrives at Ambrose's villa just outside Florence, Ambrose has died, and, under mysterious circumstances.

Philip returns to England and to the estate he's inherited in Cornwall, but his life is soon disrupted by the arrival of Rachel, herself. From the very beginning, Philip doesn't trust this beautiful and mysterious woman, who at times, seems almost "too good to be true." Complicating matters is the fact that Philip, himself, falls desperately in love with her, though at times, he feels that Rachel is planning on murdering him just like Philip feels she murdered Ambrose.

Although de Maurier's plotting in My Cousin Rachel is indeed intricate, the tension and suspense flow primarily from her richness and complexity of character, instead. We find ourselves desperately wanting to know exactly who Rachel is and what she wants from Philip. Did she kill Ambrose, as Philip suspects or did she love him dearly, as she contends? Is Philip correct in his assumptions about Rachel, and what is he going to do about the fact that he, himself, now loves her desperately? One thing we do know for sure is that the whole scenario is spiraling uncontrollably downward and it's going to end in tragedy - for someone. But who? And what will be the consequence?

Another remarkable thing about My Cousin Rachel is its atmosphere. The sense of foreboding and doom is thicker than an old-fashioned London "pea souper." Once you get "into" the book, you can't put it down and once you finish it, you can't forget it. Ever. I first read the book as a teenager and I can't forget it (nor do I want to) twenty years later.

The only book that comes close to My Cousin Rachel, at least in our opinion, is Arthur Philips' 2007 publication, Angelica, set in late-Victorian London.

While any time is a good time to read My Cousin Rachel, wintertime is best. This is a book meant to be read by a cozy fire, with a cup of hot chocolate or mulled cider in hand. However, I first read it during the summertime, in my mother's beautiful English style garden.

Whenever you choose to read this masterful book, please, just read it. If you love a good mystery, if you love richness of character, if you love everything a master writer can do, you certainly won't regret the time spent with this once-in-a-lifetime book.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens, 1812, Sinclair Lewis, 1885, and Patrick McGrath, 1950.

You have greatly enriched our lives, and especially in the case of Charles Dickens, influenced generations of writers and changed the direction of the modern novel.

A Few Things to Remember When Writing Dialogue

I've always thought dialogue writing was a bit like comedic timing - it either comes naturally or it doesn't come at all. And, to a certain extent, this is true. The very best dialogue writers will always be those to whom the art comes naturally. Like musicians with perfect pitch, some dialogue writers "hear" the sound of the words they write so well, they can tell when they've written just one word too many - or too few. Many writers fill their novels with exposition, in part, because dialogue writing is so terribly difficult for them.

However, with an understanding of the art and craft of dialogue writing and lots and lots of practice, even those with no "ear" for dialogue can master their craft.

One of the first things any writer has to ask himself or herself before writing even one line of dialogue is this: What purpose does dialogue serve in a work of fiction?

In general, dialogue in fiction serves one or more of three main purposes: (1) it advances the plot; (2) it defines character; and (3) it offers exposition.

Read the dialogue you've written very carefully and as objectively as you can. Make sure it conforms to one of the three purposes above. If it doesn't, cut it, because it's going to detract from your work rather than add to it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Quincunx - Updated

We've left the narrator's childhood behind, at least for the moment, and we're finding Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, more and more fascinating.

Although the book is intricately plotted (very intricately plotted), Palliser is such a masterful writer that none of us have ever found ourselves confused or "lost." Just intrigued. More and more and more intrigued.

Like Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night, and Palliser's The Unburied, The Quincunx is "the" perfect Victorian mystery to wile away the last of those long, dark winter days before spring makes it much anticipated arrival. And if you're looking for something a little lighter, try Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.

We couldn't recommend the above books more highly. We hope you'll enjoy them as much as we do.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday Gertrude Stein, 1874 and Paul Auster, 1947.

And a Happy Belated (February 2nd) Birthday to Ayn Rand, 1905 and especially to James Joyce, 1882.

Thank you all for enriching our lives with your works.