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The Birth of the Harry Potter Phenomenon

By Katie Behrens. Jul 31, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Children's Books, Book History

July 31 may seem an unremarkable day to some, but not to fans of Harry Potter. It’s Harry’s birthday as well as that of his creator, J.K. Rowling. The publication of the Harry Potter books has unquestionably changed children’s literature and arguably the world. How did this genre-busting phenomenon even begin?

     
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Best Books on Nigeria

By Audrey Golden. Jul 30, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Nobel Prize Winners, History

For a number of decades, Nigerian fiction has played an important role in expanding our thinking about Anglophone fiction and postcolonial literature. While novels like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) have been staples on high school and college literature syllabi for years, more recent texts by young writers like Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and Teju Cole are helping to redefine the contours of contemporary Nigerian fiction. If you’re planning a trip to Lagos anytime soon, you might pick up one of our top picks for the best books on Nigeria.

     
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Five Early Stories of The Lord of the Rings

By Katie Behrens. Jul 29, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book History, J. R. R. Tolkien

As literature endures down through the generations, the details surrounding a book’s birth into the reading world are often forgotten. Even with the immense popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work today, some of these details remain buried in letters and essays. Here are five such interesting tidbits about the early years of The Lord of the Rings that you might not know.

     
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Beatrix Potter: Rebel With a Cause

By Neely Simpson. Jul 28, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Illustrators, Children's Books, Biographies

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter, who was very naughty ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden, and squeezed under the gate!

Like the mischievous, furry, little protagonist who propelled her into a wildly successful publishing career about as fast as he was able to get himself into trouble in Mr. McGregor's garden, Beatrix Potter had a rebellious streak a mile wide. Although she has become a household name as the author of enchanting children's stories, both her stories and her vocation ran much deeper. A constant disappointment to her parents because of her independence and refusal to adhere to the precepts of a privileged woman of Victorian society, Potter's stories are filled with spirited critters who are constantly breaking the rules laid down for them. Had Potter been the proper Victorian daughter her parents craved, she would have focused all her energies on social standing and making an advantageous marriage. Rather, determined to do something with her life, she passionately and rebelliously poured herself into pursuits in science, publishing, and conservation.

     
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The Thundering, Cocky Canon of Hilaire Belloc

By Matt Reimann. Jul 27, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Children's Books

As a man of letters, Hilaire Belloc epitomizes diversity of expression. He was a poet, journalist, novelist, historian, lecturer, politician, essayist, and critic. His boisterous expression earned him the nickname “Old Thunder,” as he used books, articles, pamphlets, and podia to get his many messages across. Yet for his posterity, writing some 150 books has perhaps done more harm than good. It has left decades of readers with the question: Where does one begin with such an oeuvre? In the end, it would be foolish to neatly summarize Belloc’s various and complicated writings, but it would be even more foolish to ignore them altogether.

     
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Right When Other People Are Wrong: George Bernard Shaw's Best Quotes

By Brian Hoey. Jul 26, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Nobel Prize Winners, Drama

“All Shaw's characters are himself: mere puppets stuck up to spout Shaw.”
-Fanny’s First Play (1911), Epilogue

     
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Interview with Mark Eisner, Translator and Editor of Pablo Neruda

By Audrey Golden. Jul 25, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Literature, Interviews

In 2004, Mark Eisner's edited bilingual collection of Pablo Neruda's poems, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, was published by City Lights. It has gone on to receive much acclaim, and indeed is the bestselling edition of Neruda's poetry in America. Eisner is currently at work on an important documentary on the late Chilean poet, The Poet's Calling. We had the opportunity to interview him about the process of editing and translating Neruda, as well as the work he has been doing on the documentary film that's currently in production.

     
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The Apple and the Tree: Three Lesser-Known Literary Families

By Nick Ostdick. Jul 24, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

When talking about literary families, everyone knows about the Brontës. But while the Brontës may be one of the most famous literary families, they’re certainly not the only family of wordsmiths across the literary landscape. Here are just a few examples of lesser-known clans with a proclivity for pen and paper, and who also help illustrate that age-old question: Can the ability for great storytelling be taught, or is it simply in the blood?

     
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Raymond Chandler: Making Pulp Serious

Raymond Chandler is one of those rare authors that reminds the literary establishment that genre has no bearing over a book’s quality. Chandler bridged gaps in his career. His work helped bring crime fiction to academics, and the serious novel to Hollywood studios. He considered himself an intellectual snob and loved Charles Dickens, Henry James, and Ernest Hemingway. He was a man who studied Greek and Latin, but Chandler emphasized that his own strange preferences brought him to the world of the detective story.

     
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Top Ten Children's Books to Beat the Summer Blues

By Katie Behrens. Jul 22, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Children's Books

School’s out for summer, and days are brimming with possible adventures. Every kid longs to make their summer months memorable. Whether or not there are exciting vacations or summer homes in store for the young ones in your life, these children's books will take them on some wild rides.

     
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Take a Tour of Zadie Smith’s London

By Audrey Golden. Jul 21, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Awarded Books, Literature, History

There’s only one London, right? While major urban centers throughout the world might occupy only one location on a map, many residents of global cities might argue that there’s more than one version of the place in which they live. One such spot might be Zadie Smith’s London. Most of her works of fiction take place in the London she grew up in — an area of North London that’s not typically frequented by tourists coming to see the Thames River, Buckingham Palace, or Big Ben. As such, reading Smith’s novels provides us with a different kind of tour of London that’s not circumscribed by notable landmarks but instead by fictional Londoners in the contemporary metropole.

     
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Trigger Mortis: A New (and Authentic!) James Bond Novel

By Andrea Koczela. Jul 20, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: James Bond, Book News

James Bond fans have reason to rejoice: the Fleming estate has authorized a new James Bond novel, slated for publication September 8, 2015. Set just two weeks after the conclusion of Goldfinger, the book brings back legendary character Pussy Galore. Moreover, the novel includes unpublished writing by Ian Fleming himself. 

     
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Book-to-Film Adaptations of Adichie’s Novels

By Audrey Golden. Jul 19, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Movie Tie-Ins, Book News

Garnering more critical acclaim than many contemporary writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has already had one of her novels adapted to film with an all-star cast, and another is in the works. Are book-to-film adaptations all that we hope for when we love a novel? For instance, when we encounter a compelling text, is the power of the book enlivened or diminished on the silver screen? In recent years, a number of works of postcolonial fiction have been adapted for the cinema, such as Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. In general, they haven’t done too well with critics or audiences. Can we expect something different from Adichie’s works when they hit theatres?

     
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William Makepeace Thackeray's Imprudent Marriage

By Neely Simpson. Jul 18, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, History

"If people only made prudent marriages, what a stop to population there would be!"
-
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray, best known for novels like Vanity Fair and Catherine, did not make a prudent marriage. He seriously considered marrying for money, but when he met Isabella Shawe, he married for love. Although theirs can’t be considered a marriage that was full of happiness and good times, it certainly spurred him to prolific writing. For most of his career he had to "write for his life," as he called it, not only to support his family, but also to pay for the treatments and care required for his wife who fell into so deep a depression, she was often catatonic.

     
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Libraries & Special Collections: Saving Timbuktu's Manuscripts

By Katie Behrens. Jul 17, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Libraries & Special Collections, Book News

Ancient manuscripts are delicate things. They can be burned, eaten by insects, or destroyed by water. Once lost, their content is lost forever. Their irreplaceability is what makes them valuable. The manuscripts of Timbuktu in the West African nation of Mali were recently saved from total destruction by a quick-thinking librarian and a vast network of volunteers ready to sacrifice everything to save their history.

     
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Should You Read Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman?

By Andrea Koczela. Jul 16, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Pulitzer Prize, American Literature, Book News

Over the last several months, speculation ran high about Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman. Then, following the release of the book on July 14th, negative reviews flooded the news. Not only have critics claimed the novel is “a mess,” many have been shocked by Atticus' transformation from hero to racist. Beyond the literary merits of the book, strange circumstances surround its publication. So the question arises: should one read the so-called sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird?

     
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Richard Russo: Defender of the Writing Life

Richard Russo believes in books — the people who write them, the people who publish them, and the people who get them into the hands of readers. As one of three Vice Presidents of the Author's Guild, along with Judy Blume and James Shapiro, he has put on the mantle of defender of what he calls, “the writing life.” As such, he says he wants to see all areas of the literary "ecosystem" flourish. To maintain the health of this ecosystem, he has taken an active role in promoting young writers, supporting libraries, and advocating for the diversity of the publishing industry.

     
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Lust for Life: Irving Stone's Biographical Fiction

By Brian Hoey. Jul 14, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Biographies

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 take a blasé attitude toward biographical fiction. To do so, however, would be to tragically overlook the literary contributions of Irving Stone.

     
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Literary Activism: The Influence of Politics on People

By Nick Ostdick. Jul 13, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, History

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.

     
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The Quotable Henry David Thoreau

By Brian Hoey. Jul 12, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

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.

     
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What Good Is a Diary?

By Matt Reimann. Jul 11, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Rare Books

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 breaches of confidence so severe as stealing a peek at someone else’s personal entries. It sometimes feels as if diaries are best written and not read. And if that’s the case, what good are they, anyway?

     
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What’s Your Favorite Curse Word: The Proust Questionnaire's Legacy

By Nick Ostdick. Jul 10, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature, Drama

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 in the early part of the 20th century and from whom the questionnaire received its name. 

     
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Fly Fishing Chalk Stream Rivers with Sir Edward Grey

By David Eddy. Jul 9, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fishing, Modern First Editions

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.

     
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Shirley Ann Grau and the Importance of Place in Literature

By Leah Dobrinska. Jul 8, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

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.

     
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The Inescapable Humanity of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

By Brian Hoey. Jul 7, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature, Science Fiction

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 to the heart of human truths in ways his contemporaries sometimes couldn’t. Nowhere is this fact better on display than in his magnum opus, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

     
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Historical Literary Depictions of Sir Thomas More

By Leah Dobrinska. Jul 6, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Biographies, History

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.

     
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Libraries and Special Collections: The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection

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.

     
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Quiz: Which Founding Father Are You?

By Andrea Koczela. Jul 4, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, Quizzes

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!"

Why not take a few moments to learn a bit more about the Founding Fathers? Take our brief quiz and discover which Founding Father (or Founding Lady) you would be.

     
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Tom Stoppard: Better to be Quotable Than Honest

By Brian Hoey. Jul 3, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Movie Tie-Ins, Drama

“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.

     
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Ten Essential Summer Reads

By Matt Reimann. Jul 2, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Modern First Editions, Rare Book Gift Ideas

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.

     
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George Sand: Radical Feminist of the 1850s

By Katie Behrens. Jul 1, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors

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.

     
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