Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, is one of the most celebrated authors in all of American literature. Born in Florida, Missouri in 1835, Twain moved to Hannibal, the town that inspired the location for some of his most famous novels, when he was four years old. He began his career working as an apprentice printer before moving on to work as a typesetter. His brother Orion had recently purchased The Hannibal Journal, and Twain frequently contributed articles and sketches to the publication. He later went on to realize a lifelong ambition of working on steamboat, a vocation which provided him with his pen name. “Mark twain” means the depth of the river measures twelve feet, which meant the water was safe for the steamboat. Twain worked on steamboats until the Civil War, at which point he enrolled in the Confederate Army for a period of less than a month. After the war, he moved to Nevada to be with his brother who was working there as a secretary to the governor. Twain worked briefly as a silver miner, and this experience inspired him to write his first successfully published piece of fiction. Though Twain is best known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, his first short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is more representative of his great achievements as a humorist.
English novelist Charles Dickens is indisputably one of the most important figures in English literature and perhaps the most financially successful of his Victorian contemporaries. Dickens published most all of his novels serially with installments appearing monthly and, in some cases, weekly. His novels, including such standouts as A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol, are counted among the great classics of English literature. His works have been adapted across multiple mediums. His influence on the language can be easily traced, with one notable example being his character Ebeneezer Scrooge, whose surname is a commonly-used sobriquet for the stingy and ungenerous. And the novel that kicked off this legendary career was The Pickwick Papers.
“As a passionate believer in the democracy of reading, I don't think it's the task of the author of a book to tell the reader what it means…Anyway, I'm not in the message business; I'm in the "Once upon a time" business.” ~Philip Pullman
The democracy of reading. The fact that every single person who picks up a Philip Pullman book (and the selection to choose from is a good one!) can and should form for him or herself the meaning and message between and within the lines. What a lovely thought! We like this idea. After all, it’s the books that tell you why. And Philip Pullman is a master of writing a good story for readers to consume and enjoy. Do you know much about this modern-day legendary author? If not, here’s a brief introduction to Philip Pullman.
There were only two authors whose work I encountered in each year of high school: Shakespeare and John Steinbeck. His novellas like The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, his novels The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, even his inspiring Nobel address, informed my burgeoning understanding of what an American writer sought to accomplish and examine. Steinbeck turned his attention and sympathy toward that majority of people—those who toil, who care for their family, who seek joy and exaltation in however rare supply those delights may be. His style, mixing the merits of both American plainspokenness and figurative language, comforts me whenever I need to pull something off the shelf.
If you’re traveling to Dublin anytime soon and are a James Joyce fan, you might want to set aside at least a couple of days for visiting the dozens of locations connected to some of Joyce’s most famous works. Most notably, visitors to Dublin can trace the path through the city that Leopold Bloom takes on June 16, 1904. In addition, visitors can walk by the house—which was listed for sale the last time we were in Dublin, if you’re in the market—that served as the setting for “The Dead,” Joyce’s last story in his famous collection Dubliners (1914). Are you interested in hearing more? Let us tell you a little bit about James Joyce’s Dublin.
John Steinbeck’s timeless novella Of Mice and Men was published in 1937 to considerable acclaim, and the reading public’s appreciation of the text has hardly diminished since. What began as a perplexing work eyed warily by Steinbeck’s agents has gone from being a Book of the Month Club selection on its initial publication to one of the most widely read and assigned books on high school curricula throughout the country. Here are a few interesting facts about it.
Rudyard Kipling remains a polarizing figure. As we’ve written before, his favor among his countrymen and literary critics has ebbed and flowed as societal and cultural norms have shifted. A Nobel laureate who has been referred to as everything from “a complete man of genius” by Henry James to “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting” by George Orwell, Kipling at least merits our study. And for many, his works are highly-sought after collectibles.
If you’re traveling to London anytime soon and are an avid reader or collector of nineteenth-century British literature, why not plan a stop at the former home of Charles Dickens? We’re willing to guess that you’ve read at least one of Dickens’s novels, if not many of them. While he also wrote a number of works of nonfiction, drama, and poetry, Dickens is known best for his fiction (and largely his novels). You’ve probably read, or seen a film adaptation, of the novella A Christmas Carol (1843), in addition to reading novels such as The Pickwick Papers (1837), Oliver Twist (1839), David Copperfield (1850), Bleak House (1853), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861). Dickens is, perhaps, one of the most widely read English-language authors of the nineteenth century, and for Dickens' collectors or fans, it’s actually pretty easy to make a stop at his family home, which is now a museum that’s open to visitors.
What would our world look like if the Axis powers had won World War II? How would our daily lives have been transformed if the United States had been sympathetic to Nazi Germany? Posing “what if” questions about World War II and its aftermath has been popular among some of America’s most widely read authors. Notably, both Philip K. Dick and Philip Roth have imagined alternate histories in which Nazi Germany won the war. While the series The Man in the High Castle takes its title and storyline directly from Dick’s novel of the same name, we’d like to explore the literary precursors to the show and to consider the ways in which writers wield great power in the writing (and rewriting) of our histories.