What defines a novel or a short story? In the age of e-books, novels and short stories clearly don’t need to be physical objects with pages that you hold in your hands. But must these works take certain forms? Certainly, many writers from the early twentieth century and onward have pushed the boundaries of the literary form, from Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), which was initially published as short-story pieces and poems in various journals, to a work like Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979) or Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000). Of course, if we’re being honest, books like Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) pushed similar formal boundaries decades earlier. Yet those texts share at least one thing in common: if you want to buy a hard copy, you can still do so. What about novels that require social media platforms in order to exist? We’re thinking specifically about Teju Cole’s “Hafiz” (2014), a work published in its entirety on Twitter, one tweet at a time.
Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but it seems from a literary perspective that a writer’s request that her work be burned upon her death is ill-advised at best and disingenuous at worst. The prospect of a literary canon that fails to include Franz Kafka, for instance, is almost too sad to contemplate, but he instructed his literary executor to destroy his unpublished writings upon his death. Luckily, as we know, Max Brod flagrantly violated Kafka’s wishes, thereby earning the gratitude of a century of readers and writers. Vladimir Nabokov, too, wanted his unfinished works burned, but his wife and son found themselves unable to comply. For book-lovers, this is a fortuitous trend, but for authors there is a clear message: if you want your works burned, you have to do it yourself.
The Czech writer Karel Čapek introduced the world to the word robot, by way of his play, RUR, (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1920. The name, deriving from robotnik, Czech for “forced worker,” has been used since by countless high-minded writers and storytellers to answer two principal questions: What would civilization look like if androids liberated humans from the work they perform today? And would these androids ever be exploited by their creators, or develop competing interests of their own? Though some authors, of course, have been less ambitious, answering the more simple question: What if a character happened to be made out of nuts, bolts, and software, or perhaps synthetic flesh?
But let’s get back to the question of the miniatures. Toward the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, interest in Bulgakov resurged enormously in Russia. In response, in part, to his exclusion from the Russian literary canon during the era of the Soviet Union, a number of Russian presses have begun re-printing the novel in its original language. As if alluding to the once-clandestine nature of the book, many of these presses have created miniatures, often in multi-volume sets, of the novel. We’ll give you some information that will help you to track down some miniatures for your collection.
Maybe you’ve read Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago or you’ve seen the film of the same name from 1965, directed by David Lean and starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Or perhaps you’re familiar with “Lara’s Theme,” the song from the movie. At any rate, we bet you’re at least a little bit familiar with the love affair between the fictional characters of Yuri and Lara. A new book by Anna Pasternak, the granddaughter of Boris’s sister Josephine, reveals details of the love affair between Boris Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya, which served as the inspiration for the novel. The book is entitled Lara: the Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago. It was released in January 2017.
We don’t often think about where a particular novelist or poet was when she or he wrote a well-known work. When we do, most of us are unlikely to imagine the confines of a prison cell. However, many canonical works of fiction, as well as significant twentieth-century political texts, were drafted while their writers were incarcerated. In some cases, the texts directly address the writer’s imprisonment, while in others, the claustrophobic walls of a prison cell appear to have enabled the imaginative capacities of the novelist.
Are you interested in Scandinavian design, or aesthetic forms that emerged from the Nordic countries, after World War II? Then you might be interested in learning more about collecting related design books. When we talk about Scandinavian design, we’re largely including Finland, too, although it’s not technically part of Scandinavia. Rather, it’s one of the Nordic countries, of which the Scandinavian nations of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are also a part. However, when the popularity of design from the Nordic countries reached the United States in the 1950s, the common description was “Design in Scandinavia.” This depiction comes from a traveling exhibit of the same name that featured Scandinavian arts and crafts, as well as industrial design. We’d like to talk a bit more about the exhibit, and introduce you to some interesting and rare books you might seek out for your collection.
In 1940, Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon appeared in English. While Koestler, a Hungarian-born author and journalist who later immigrated to Britain, wrote in German early on, he later began writing and publishing in English. The novel has an interesting backstory to it. Koestler wrote the novel in German (indeed, the last novel that he wrote in German), yet for decades, readers, scholars, and other interested parties had only known the novel in its English translation. While attempting to escape to the U.K. during the early years of World War II, Koestler convinced his lover, Daphne Hardy, to translate the novel into English. Everyone assumed that the original German-language version of the novel had been lost, and the English translation became the first edition of the text for all intents and purposes.
However, in 2015, a researcher in Switzerland discovered an original German-language version of the novel, reopening the background to Koestler’s famous twentieth-century work and to numerous political issues surrounding translation, wartime violence, and totalitarianism.
Children's literature today is as celebrated and lauded as literature for adult audiences. Entire sections of libraries are dedicated to it. Scholarly publications are dedicated to giving it advanced critical thought. Distinguished panels are put together annually to award the year's best and most important examples of literature for children. In recent years, it has become so popular that entirely separate best seller lists have been established in order to accommodate all of the worthy books being published for children. In short, it is hard to imagine a world in which children's books are not a large part of childhood. However, books written specifically for children are actually a rather new development in the greater history of literature.