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Literature and Contemporary Chinese Politics

By Audrey Golden. Aug 31, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature, History

What is the relationship between literature and contemporary Chinese politics? China has a long literary tradition, but works written in both Classical Chinese and Vernacular Chinese haven’t always been available in translation to Western audiences. As such, many of us don’t have as much knowledge as we’d like to have about the links between fiction and current sociocultural matters. Let’s remedy that, at least in part, by thinking about some of the greatest known Chinese writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and the role their fiction plays in our understanding of Chinese politics.


Narratives of Great Explorers and Their Cathartic Value

By Alex Marcondes. Aug 30, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: History

As history documents, Ernest Shackleton and his fellow crew members embarked on the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition to walk across the Antarctic continent in 1914. Trapped in ice floes, they were forced to abandon ship several months into their journey and retreat. We struggle, at times, to understand why we're captivated by such endeavors. They failed, after all, and walking across the continent doesn't seem to be an especially worthwhile project. However, there is a measure of catharsis available to all who hear these stories. Just as Aristotle describes the cathartic nature of the theatre, the legends of these explorers bleed us of our insecurities, inadequacies, and hopelessness in the face of seemingly insurmountable anxieties.


Maurice Maeterlinck and the Mystery of Life

By Matt Reimann. Aug 29, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Nobel Prize Winners, Drama

Maurice Maeterlinck was a Belgian playwright and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. If Maeterlinck’s name is new to you, as it may well be, it’s likely because his work is of an uncommon variety. What has certainly hurt the playwright’s longevity is that he chose to pick sides...and lost. Maeterlinck staunchly resisted the aesthetic tides of naturalism and realism, instead aligning himself with the aims and sensibilities of the Symbolist movement. The problem is, of course, that the realistic style has prevailed to this day, while Symbolism has ostensibly perished. Yet, Maeterlinck’s defiance of the dominant trend helped him to admirably explore his principle concern: What lies behind the mysteries of life?


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Notable Quotes

By Brian Hoey. Aug 28, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Drama

“More light!” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s last words

In a letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter, the iconic German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “All poetry is supposed to be instructive but in an unnoticeable manner; it is supposed to make us aware of what it would be valuable to instruct ourselves in; we must deduce the lesson on our own, just as with life.” If his words are to be taken at face value, that makes Goethe himself one of the most valuable teachers the world has ever known.


Ira Levin: Coupling the Creepy with the Conventional

By Neely Simpson. Aug 27, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Horror

“Mr. Levin’s suspense is beautifully intertwined with everyday incidents; the delicate line between belief and disbelief is faultlessly drawn.”
-Thomas J. Fleming, on Rosemary's Baby in The New York Times Book Review

Ira Levin, master of all things creepy, knew as early as the age of 15 he wanted to be a writer. Early aspiration lead to early success, and his senior year at NYU, he entered a half-hour television script he'd written into a contest hosted by CBS. While the script didn't win, it was a runner-up, and shortly after the contest Levin sold it to NBC. So, after graduating from NYU, when he asked his parents if he could stay home to work on his writing, they were supportive. Levin's father told him he could have two years to concentrate solely on writing, and if he wasn't able to make a go of it in that amount of time, it would be time to join the family toy business.


A List of Authors' Famous Last Words

By Matt Reimann. Aug 26, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature

If you spend your entire life writing, it makes sense to make your last words count. Mark Twain recommended employing one's final breath in a deliberate, dignified message. Death is too important an occasion for improvisation or whimsy. Twain wrote, “There is hardly a case on record where a man came to his last moment unprepared and said a good thing — hardly a case where a man trusted to that last moment and did not make a solemn botch of it and go out of the world feeling absurd." After all, no author ought to die failing in the very thing he or she made a living perfecting. Below, there are numerous examples of writers' last words. Some, you'll find, are more poetic than others.


Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Pioneer Fiction, and a Play Gone Wrong

By Nick Ostdick. Aug 25, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Mark Twain

It’s 1876 and two of America’s most revered writers have decided to collaborate on what turned out to be one of the most disastrous plays in American dramatic work – and one that would severely damage a budding literary friendship.


Libraries and Special Collections: The New York Academy of Medicine

By Katie Behrens. Aug 24, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Libraries & Special Collections

There is no limit on the subjects worthy of a special library collection – comic books, calligraphy, automobiles, you name it. But there is something extra special about medical library collections. Medical knowledge has changed drastically in the past 500 years or so, and to see that history with your own eyes can really knock your socks off. The New York Academy of Medicine Library is a phenomenal institution that aims to preserve medical history and make it just as relevant to audiences today.


Visiting Halldór Laxness’s Home

By Audrey Golden. Aug 23, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature, Nobel Prize Winners

Have you ever thought about taking a trip to Iceland? If you fly into Reykjavík, you’re only a short drive from Gljúfrasteinn, the home of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Halldór Laxness. Laxness was born in 1902 in Reykjavík, and he traveled through Europe in his 20s before settling down in Iceland. Some of the author’s most prominent works include The Great Weaver from Kashmir (1927), Independent People (1935), The Atom Station (1948), The Fish Can Sing (1957), and Under the Glacier (1968). A short while ago, we took a tour of his home and learned more about Laxness’s possessions, writing habits, and deep love for the landscape of his country.


Six Interesting Facts About Ray Bradbury

By Neely Simpson. Aug 22, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Science Fiction

Ray Bradbury revolutionized science fiction, bringing it to the forefront of American pop culture. He inspired and continues to inspire countless innovators and creatives who have come after him. The innumerable list of people who call themselves Bradbury fans includes vanguards such as Stephen King, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg, Stan Lee, Ursula Le Guin, Hugh Hefner, Buzz Aldrin, R.L. Stine, and Neil Gaiman. Here are six interesting facts about the man who unlocked the doors to America's imagination.


The Inspiration Behind Herman Melville's Moby Dick

By Leah Dobrinska. Aug 21, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, Book History

We often wonder at, marvel over, and debate the inspiration behind great works of literature. Is Philip Roth's work autobiographical in some cases? Was there an actual "Uncle Tom" figure who inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe? And so on. In the case of Moby Dick, Herman Melville's personal whaling experiences as well as accounts of the whale, "Mocha Dick," undoubtedly played a role in the novel's composition. However, one tale in particular must have had particular resonance. After reading the story of the doomed Essex, a whaling ship from Nantucket that came face-to-face with a seemingly deranged whale, Melville set out with fervor to pen his masterpiece. While Melville’s tale culminates with the attack of the long-sought Moby Dick, for the captain and crew of the Essex, their encounter with a massive, dangerous whale was only the beginning. The story of the Essex is a haunting one, and it’s bound to make even the heartiest of seafarers shudder.


Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Brontës?

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

Topics: Legendary Authors, Quizzes

The Brontës remain one of history's most famous literary families. Of the six siblings, two died during childhood. The remaining three sisters, Anne, Charlotte, and Emily, became published authors during their lifetimes. Although all three died young, their writings have endured as literary classics. How well do you know the lives and works of this legendary family? Take a moment to test your knowledge with the following quiz:


The Quotable Ogden Nash

By Brian Hoey. Aug 19, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry

“How are we to survive? Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry acceptance of our predicament. We don't have to like it but we can at least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves.” -Ogden Nash

Truly, Ogden Nash's humor is still alive and well. A look at both his written verse and some of his off-handed remarks is delightful, and it proves just how impeccable his wit and timing continue to be.

Searching for Antiquarian Books in Kyoto

By Audrey Golden. Aug 18, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Book History, Book Making

If you can’t read much Japanese, you’ll likely have some difficulty finding books of any particular authors on your list. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t wholly enjoy browsing in Kyoto’s antiquarian bookstores. Indeed, from Ukiyoe (woodblock prints) to handmade artists’ books, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful objects lining the shelves of the shops in Japan’s former imperial capital.


The Quiet Achievement of Evan S. Connell, Jr.

By Matt Reimann. Aug 17, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, American Literature

In the Santa Fe nursing home in which Evan S. Connell, Jr. spent the final years of his life, he spoke so little that some residents thought him to be mute. He kept to himself, generally, granting few interviews and was perpetually turning down teaching positions. Spouseless and childless, some might say Connell lived the definition of a solitary life. It seems as if writing was where he displaced the majority of his vitality. Connell has a reputation among writers and readers for valuing his writing above all else. There’s one anecdote where the author, upon seeing two attractive girls sunbathing on the roof outside his writing room, drew the blinds. Finally able to return to writing free of distractions, he was happy.


Bernice Rubens: The Booker Prize Winner Who Was ‘Better Than Most’

By Nick Ostdick. Aug 16, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Awarded Books, Literature

When asked about what makes good writing, Bernice Rubens replied: “The acid test of good writing, even if it is of violence or cruelty, is that it must make one’s ears water.” Scientific questions about the ability of one’s ears to water aside, that’s a bold statement from the second overall and first ever female winner of the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction, which Rubens won in 1970 for her novel The Elected Member. And yet how truthful a sentiment, wrapped around something of a visceral, bombastic image. Perhaps how true to Rubens as a writer, as well. 


Five Interesting Facts About Sir Walter Scott

By Neely Simpson. Aug 15, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Literature

Sir Walter Scott is credited with popularizing the modern novel and making it a thing of respectability. Additionally, he helped form historical fiction as a genre and put Scotland on the map as a tourist destination. Here are five more interesting facts about the man who gave us the oft quoted line, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!"


Tips for Collecting Caldecott First Editions

Winning a Caldecott Medal is the highest achievement for an American children's book illustrator, and it comes with a huge perk: your book will be remembered. Caldecott Medal (and honor) books are in print for years, and libraries are more likely to keep them on the shelf. These books represent the best and most innovative work in children’s book illustration, which also makes them highly desirable as collector’s items.


Resistance Writers During World War II

By Audrey Golden. Aug 13, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Nobel Prize Winners, History

What is resistance literature? Many academics link the term with early work on postcolonialism. For instance, world literature scholars might point you to Barbara Harlow’s seminal work, Resistance Literature (1987), which discusses the ways in which fiction can help us to think through the struggle against colonial and imperial forces outside the narrowly defined Western world. But can we also give the term other meanings? While imaginative literature that engages with the struggle against colonialism is of great significance to any thinking about power and inequality, we might also think a bit further back to World War II. While their works might not necessarily fall under a rubric of resistance literature, we’d like to highlight some of the resistance writers who took up textual arms against the Axis powers.


Why You Shouldn't Dismiss Ian Fleming's The Man With the Golden Gun

By Leah Dobrinska. Aug 12, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: James Bond

Upon his death in 1964, Ian Fleming’s obituary noted that he “had completed, and was revising, a new novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.” Today, we delve deeper into this posthumous publication. Although not necessarily considered Fleming’s best work, it is a necessary piece of the James Bond puzzle, a prized collectible, and it gives us a final taste of one of the greatest spy novelists of all time.

A History of Drama as Literature

By Alex Marcondes. Aug 11, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Drama

There is an often unthought-of tension between the stage’s representation of drama and the play in its written form. Neoclassical considerations of the stage as immoral, temporary, and material were in stark contrast to its view of printed literature as immortal, spiritual, and morally grounded. These complications have a long history, beginning with Platonic forms, leading all the way to the boom of print culture in renaissance England. Here, we explore a brief history of drama as literature.


Jorge Amado's Influence on Brazilian Culture

By Matt Reimann. Aug 10, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

When Jorge Amado died in 2001, people were already talking about him as Brazil’s cultural ambassador to the world. His novels, translated into nearly 50 languages, made many in the West suddenly familiar with the largest Latin American nation. In 1987, Bantam paid $250,000 for the hardcover rights to his novel Showdown. It was a record purchase at the time for a foreign language book, but international readers readily justified the price. Amado’s emphasis on regional dialect, empowered female characters, anti-racism, folk culture, and the dignity of the worker offer a rich and politically-charged vision of Brazilian life. The author himself declared he had done more to introduce the world to Brazil than any institution, any government effort, did.


Interesting Editions of Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler

By Alex Marcondes. Aug 9, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, Fishing

For many, the allure of fishing is its contemplative nature. No other sport allows the mind to wander for so long, nor do they offer environments conducive to this. This was certainly not lost on Izaak Walton. His The Compleat Angler is a definitive exploration of both the technique and emotion surrounding the sport. For collectors of fishing literature, The Compleat Angler is essential, and its numerous and interesting editions merit our attention.


Best South African Books

By Audrey Golden. Aug 8, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature, Nobel Prize Winners

If you want to learn more about South Africa through fiction, where should you start? The country has a rich modern literary history, including two Nobel Prize winners: Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. Much of the imaginative literature that has sprung from South Africa reflects, in large part, the discrimination and violence of the country’s apartheid past. From depicting realistic representations of Johannesburg to novels reenvisioning the nation with alternate histories, the best books on South Africa allow us to immerse ourselves in the beauty and politics of the now “rainbow nation.”


Garrison Keillor: Humorist and Book Lover for Our Times

By Matt Reimann. Aug 7, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American Literature

In June 2015, Garrison Keillor announced he would be retiring from hosting his popular radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. At first many people were skeptical that Keillor would truly retire. Like a star athlete, he has a reputation for betraying such promises. Yet this time, it seems to be true. He has already selected his replacement: mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, who has received Keillor’s enthusiastic endorsement. While he may be stepping down, fans can still hope the 72 year-old host will continue to have a contributing role in broadcasting the world of Lake Wobegon. What is Keillor so eager to do in his retirement? “To stay home and read books,” he said.


Five Facts about Alfred, Lord Tennyson

By Brian Hoey. Aug 6, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Literature

More than a century after his death, Alfred, Lord Tennyson remains one of the Anglophone world’s most popular poets. Poems like "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "Crossing the Bar" have become so ingrained in the cultural consciousness that T.S. Eliot’s remark that Tennyson had "the finest ear of any English poet since Milton" seems a bit backwards. No doubt he had a great sense of the way the English language was used, but he also had a tremendous hand in shaping its usage. By the time Eliot would have imbibed the delectable melancholia that so defines Tennyson’s best work, he would have been used to more and more poets doing their level best to sound an awful lot like Tennyson. Here are some interesting facts about him.


Is There a Doctor in the House? The Maladies of Five Famous Authors

By Nick Ostdick. Aug 5, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature

The perceived connection between suffering and the creation of great literary art is something of a well-worn path. Literary scholars and theorists point to examples throughout the canon of American arts and letters to uphold the notion that great stories are born more often than not of mental, emotional, or existential struggle. Such great authors as Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and more recently, David Foster Wallace are remembered as much for their internal battles as their narrative insights into the human condition. On balance, the jury is still out on the necessity of emotional struggle in the creation of relevant, lasting works of literature, but much less is made of the connection between physical suffering or disability and some of the world’s most influential and prolific authors. It’s a thread these five authors share: a physical malady that took its toll on each writer while inevitably influencing their work and their legacy.


A Brief History of the Printing Press, Part I: Gutenberg to Clymer

By Alex Marcondes. Aug 4, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, Book History

High school history told us of the invention of the printing press: when Johannes Gutenberg, in the Holy Roman Empire, launched the world into a new age, defined by the mass producibility of literature. What is not often considered, though, is the initial genius the invention was and the ingenuity required to improve on his design.


P.D. James: An Unlikely Writer

By Neely Simpson. Aug 3, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Biographies, Mystery, Suspense & Crime

When I first heard that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, I immediately wondered:
Did he fall — or was he pushed?
- P. D. James

It's hard to imagine a high school drop-out becoming one of the world's great novelists. In that regard, P.D. James seems an unlikely writer. However, the great P.D. James was a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the page. At the age of 16 she left school to help raise her two younger siblings, and she took a job to support her struggling family. She worked for the Red Cross during World War II and was also a National Health Service administrator. But, she spent the majority of her career with the Home Office of the British Civil Service in the Police and Criminal Law Department. She was the sole breadwinner for her two daughters and a husband who had to be institutionalized after World War II. Additionally, she was appointed as a life "peer" and named Baroness James of Holland Park. She served in the House of Lords as a Conservative and was a governor of the BBC. It boggles the mind that P.D. James found the time to write at all, let alone author 19 novels and 1 autobiography.


Six Interesting Facts About Isabel Allende

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

Topics: Literature

Turning 73 years-old this August, Isabel Allende (pronounced ay-yen-day) is one of the last active members of a talented generation of Latin American writers. Born in Chile in 1942, she now resides in California. She worked as a journalist, fiction writer, and has founded her own charitable foundation. Here are some interesting facts about Isabel Allende, a writer whose kindness and humane sensitivity make an inspiring example of who the modern artist can be. 

Ten Things You Should Know About Richard Wright

By Audrey Golden. Aug 1, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

Richard Wright is a giant name in American literature. His novel Native Son (1940) became a bestseller nearly as soon as it was published by Harper & Brothers, just before the United States entered into World War II. With the release of Native Son, Wright also became the wealthiest African American writer in the country. Yet there’s a lot you may not know about Richard Wright and the influence his life and work have had on thinkers of the Civil Rights movement, anti-colonial figures, and fiction writers from across the globe.


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