Bibliotherapy

The Little Paris Bookshop

I recently read two novels about traveling bookshops.  The first book is Parnassus on Wheels (1917) by Christopher Morley and the second is The Little Paris Bookshop (2013) by Nina George.

Parnassus on Wheels is the story of Helen McGill, a single woman in her late thirties who lives on a farm with her brother.  When a traveling bookseller named Roger Mifflin tells her that he wants to sell his wagon and its many books so he can go back to New York, she decides to buy it and to set out on an adventure.  Not only does she find adventure, she also finds love.  Roger has a knack for finding out what books people might want to read and then pulling out an appropriate book from his vast collection.  Helen tries to duplicate Roger’s technique with varying results.

One of the many funny incidents in the novel occurs when Helen tries to sell books to various people who say they don’t need any more books because they recently bought a 20 volume set entitled The World’s Great Funeral Orations from another traveling bookseller.

The Little Paris Bookshop is the story of Jean Perdu (literally John Lost) who specializes in finding out what people need to read for their wellbeing and then insisting that they purchase only the books he recommends.  He has a gift for determining what books others need to read to heal their wounded psyches, but is unable to heal himself from the crippling loss of his lover who left him 21 years before the events in the novel.  Jean, like Helen McGill, has a mobile bookshop.  His is on a barge in the Seine River in Paris.  After he finally reads a letter his lover had sent him shortly after she left, Jean decides to travel on his barge to the town where she lived.  He, like McGill, has many adventures along the way and finally finds peace and love.  This novel is much more complex that Morley’s novel and much more graphic.

Both novels, but especially The Little Paris Bookshop, are about something called “bibliotherapy“: the idea that reading books about a problem you have can actually heal you.  Jean Perdu is definitely more than a bookseller, he is a “bibliotherapist.”

The idea of books being a therapeutic tool is not new. In fact, it goes all the way back to ancient Greek times.  An inscription above the door of the library at Thebes announced that therein was “Medicine for the Soul.”  The word “bibliotherapy” was not coined, however, until essayist Samuel Crothers recommended that books be used as therapy in a 1916 Atlantic Monthly article.  In that article Crothers described his proposed treatment technique and named it “bibliotherapy.”  While some embrace the idea of books as a therapeutic tool, many others dismiss it as being useless – and a possible source of malpractice law suits.

In an appendix in The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, lists books that she thinks could be useful in curing your emotional maladies.  It is titled “Jean Perdu’s Emergency Literary Pharmacy: From Adams to Von Arnim,” and is described as, “fast-acting medicines for minds and hearts affected by minor or moderate emotional turmoil.” She goes on to say that it is, “to be taken in easily digestible doses (between five and fifty pages) unless otherwise indicated and, if possible, with warm feet and/or with a cat on your lap.”

Below are a few of her recommendations:

Barbery, MurielThe Elegance of the Hedgehog.  An effective cure in large doses for if-such-and-such-happens-ism.  Recommended for unacknowledged geniuses, lovers of intellectual films, and people who hate bus drivers.

Cervantes, Miguel deThe Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.  To be taken when your ideals clash with reality.  Side effects: Anxiety about modern technology and about the destructive effects of machines, which we fight as though they were windmills.

Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking, trans. Tony Ross. Effective against acquired (rather than innate) pessimism, and a fear of miracles. Side effects: Diminished numeracy skills; singing in the shower.

Twain, MarkThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  To overcome adult worries and rediscover the child within.

You may find Parnassus on Wheels (which is in the public domain) a bit trite, but it’s an easy,  fun book to read.  The Little Paris Bookshop is much more substantive.

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Words at Play

word-by-word

Perhaps you have never heard of a lexicographer named Kory Stamper, but she is very popular with word nerds.  In addition to her public relations duties with Merriam-Webster she gives talks about words and has recorded numerous short YouTube videos about them.

Recently Stamper completed a book titled Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries that is receiving excellent reviews.  A Mentalfloss article lists 10 things they learned about the dictionary from Stamper.  Many of her YouTube videos are available here.

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Going to Hell in a Hen Basket

Book TV recently aired a panel discussion on the English language featuring Robert Alden Rubin, author of Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms, and Allan Metcalf, author of From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generation.  Rubin spoke first and presented a very funny lecture on malapropisms complete with his own delightful drawings (which also appear in his book).  Metcalf then spoke about various words, but you may find his delivery a bit dry – especially after Rubin’s performance.

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We often use idioms, but we seldom bother to analyze them.  When we do, we often find that they are nonsensical.  For instance, what does it mean to “beat around the bush”?  Now, consider the distress of English speakers who attempt to translate foreign language idioms into English.  The literal translations often leave us clueless as to the intent of the conglomeration of words.  Here are 21 examples.

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The Word Detective

Lexicographer John Simpson has penned a book, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, that is both a memoir about his 37 years working on the Oxford English Dictionary, and a wonderful book about the words he finds most interesting.  A Guardian article about Simpson is a must-read for all word lovers.

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Quiz of the Month – May 2017

Below are 30 book titles.  Some are current while others are quite old.  Most are fiction, but a few are nonfiction.  The vowels have been removed from each word in each title.  Can you reconstruct the titles?  And for extra credit, can you name the author (or authors) of each book?  The answers are on my Quiz Answers page.

  1. B_n-H_r
  2. D_n   Q__x_t_
  3. Fr__k_n_m_cs
  4. _   T_l_   _f   Tw_   C_t__s
  5. Th_   Z__k__p_r’s   W_f_
  6. Th_   Sw_rd   _n   th_   St_n_
  7. _r__nd   th_   W_rld   _n   80   D_ys
  8. Fl_w_rs   f_r   _lg_rn_n
  9. _   B___t_f_l   M_nd
  10. S_l_nt    Spr_ng
  11. Th_   M_rd_r   _f   R_g_r   _ckr_yd
  12. Th_   W_r   _f   th_   W_rlds
  13. Th   G_rl   Wh_   Pl_y_d   w_th   F_r_
  14. P_t   S_m_t_ry
  15. Th_   St_pf_rd   W_v_s
  16. Th_   H__s_   _f   th_   S_v_n   G_bl_s
  17. Th_   S__nd   _nd   th_   F_ry
  18. Th_   Gr__t   G_tsby
  19. Th_   P__s_nw__d   B_bl_
  20. G_ns,   G_rms,   _nd   St__l
  21. Th_   _mp_r_r   _f   _ll   M_l_d__s
  22. Th_   F__lt   _n   __r   St_rs
  23. _nn_   K_r_n_n_
  24. G_n_   w_th   th_   W_nd
  25. M_d_m_   B_v_ry
  26. Z_rb_   th_   Gr__k
  27. Th_   M_nch_r__n   C_nd_d_t_
  28. Th_   T_l_nt_d   Mr.   R_pl_y
  29. M_dn_ght   _n   th_   G_rd_n   _f   G__d   _nd   _v_l
  30. Th_   _mm_rt_l   L_f_   _f   H_nr__tt_   L_cks
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Lagniappe

Hemingway Didn't Say That

Who said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”?  Mark Twain?  Nope, not according to researcher Garson O’Toole.  Seven years ago Mr. O’Toole started a website called Quote Investigator.  Recently he published a book entitled Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar QuotationsThe New York Times has a review of the book, and NPR recently featured Mr. O’Toole on All Things Considered.

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Quirk lists the most dangerous libraries in pop culture including one that houses all the books that people dreamed of writing but never did.  Would you have a book in that library?

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The National Geographic Channel has a new series entitled Genius.  The first season’s programs are about Albert Einstein.  The series was inspired by Walter Isaacson’s 2007 bestseller Einstein: His Life and UniverseDiscover magazine features an interview with the creators of the series.

The first episode aired Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. ET, and new episodes will air each Tuesday night at that same time.  You can watch the first episode free for a limited time at the National Geographic website, or you can catch reruns on the National Geographic channel at various times during the week following each episode’s premier.  Find out everything you need to know about the series here.

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City on Fire

Granta, the venerable British literary magazine, recently published a list of the 21 best American novelists under the age of 40.

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When I mention reading ebooks to people, I often get the reply that they prefer the feel and smell of real books – even old books.  According to a Reader’s Digest article scientists think they’ve discovered why people like the smell of old books. Hint: think “chocolate.”

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The Telegraph has published a fascinating literary map of London.  On it, the names of hundreds of fictional characters are place in the areas of London that they’re most associated with.

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Absalom

Literary Hub has an interesting article that features authors talking about the books that made them want to write.  You’ll recognize some of the books, but others – perhaps many others – will be added to your “books to read” list.

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I recently reformatted the page “Readings I’ve Enjoyed” on my website because the formatting mysteriously disappeared.  The content was there, but each article had become one long, long paragraph.  There are some articles there that you might enjoy including the short stories “To Build a Fire” by Jack London and “Boule de Suif” by Guy de Maupassant.

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I’ll once again host Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH-FM on Sunday morning, May 7 from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. CT.  The entire show will be devoted to movie music.  Some selections will be from soundtracks while others will be performed by notable singers and musicians who “covered” the originals.  Be sure to join me for a morning of beautiful music from some of the world’s greatest movies.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, May 7, 2017 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  His books include StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond, and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

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Notes on Books I’ve Recently Read

My Life in Court

Louis Nizer (1902 – 1994) was a prominent attorney who was a litigant in many famous trials.  He wrote a book, My Life in Court (1961), about some of those cases and it was on the New York Times bestsellers list for an amazing 72 weeks.  It should be required reading for all attorneys.  His advice on what to do and what to avoid in a trial is worth the cost of tuition to any law school you care to name.  His actions demonstrate that even the best known attorney in the world needs to research every aspect of every case – even if he must suffer through many sleepless nights.  Nizer’s action followed Thomas Edison’s saying that, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

My Life in Court recounts the stories of half a dozen of his most memorable cases.  None is more fascinating that the libel suit that the war correspondent Quentin Reynolds brought against columnist Westbrook Pegler and the Hurst newspaper organization that published Pegler’s scathing rants.

Pegler accused Reynolds of being a coward.  He said that Reynolds was an absentee war correspondent who covered World War II from a safe distance, and fled from danger whenever he could.  He also accused Reynolds of “nuding around” with various people, and of embarrassing a woman when he rose completely nude from the water in front of a boat she was riding in alone.  When Reynolds instituted his lawsuit, Pegler printed more charges against him, and actively tried to convince potential employers to shun him.

Every charge that Pegler made was proven false.  Quentin Reynolds was beloved by the reporters who covered World War II with him, and lionized by the military men who dealt with him.  Pegler’s charge of Reynold’s indecent behavior before the woman in the boat was absolutely refuted by her in court.  She also testified that she couldn’t swim and would never have been alone in a boat. Even more damning to Pegler’s case than her testimony were the photos of Reynolds wrapped up in clothing to keep the sun from shining on him because he was literally allergic to direct sunlight. The jury saw the truth and made the largest award in a libel trial up to that time.  And it was a judgment against both Pegler and the Hearst organization.

During the trial Nizer brought to light some actions by Pegler that made him look like the one who should have been derided in print.  While building a gorgeous country house for himself, using materials that were scarce due to the war, he was publicly urging his readers to detach the metal bumpers from their cars and to donate the metal toward the war effort.  He also claimed (for tax purposes) that his country home was actually a farm.  Nizer proved that it wasn’t and that Pegler had zero knowledge of farming.  Pegler was cowed, but remained defiant.

Nizer’s cases were very diverse.  In one he was the plaintiff’s attorney in a plagiarism lawsuit against comedian Morey Amsterdam and others.  It concerned the popular Calypso song “Rum and Coca-Cola” which was a huge hit for the Andrews Sisters in 1945.  In that case Nizer had to go into great detail about music theory and composition in order to prove his client’s case.  Imagine having a deep discussion with a hostile music expert about each note in a song while the jury and everyone else in the courtroom listens in.  There was no room for error, and Nizer didn’t need any.

In each of the cases in his book, Nizer presents vast amounts of trial testimony and explains his strategy to the reader as he goes along.  He demonstrates patience when he must and becomes an aggressive questioner when that is appropriate.  He is like a chess player: carefully planning his moves and reacting cautiously but decisively to his opponent’s actions.  Time and time again, his opponents underestimate him to their sorrow.  My Life in Court is as riveting as any book or movie you’ll ever encounter about courtroom action.

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It Can't Happen Here

I recently read two novels written by Sinclair Lewis, and they couldn’t be more different.

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has received a lot of attention recently as an example of the great dystopian.  I think that Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here is much more realistic than Atwood’s novel.  In Lewis’ novel Franklin D. Roosevelt is defeated in the 1936 election by Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip who is a charismatic populist with dictatorial tendencies.  Doremus Jessup is a small town newspaper owner who opposes Windrip’s policies.  With terrible consequences for himself and his family, Jessup quickly incurs the wrath of a paramilitary group that supports Windrip.  Jessup then joins an underground group that opposes Windrip and his policies, but that has some harrowing results as well.  This is a truly scary novel.

“Babbitt: a smugly narrow and conventional person interested chiefly in business and social success; Philistine.”  That is a great description of George Babbitt the protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’ 1922 satirical novel  Babbitt.  (In fact, Lewis’ novel gave us the word Babbitt.)  George Babbitt is shallow.  He’s a nice guy, but he “goes along to get along.”  He is a realtor who subscribes to the prevailing thinking even when it means that he’ll charge someone more for a property than it’s worth.  “Everybody does it” could be his mantra.  Babbitt, unlike It Can’t Happen Here, has very little action.  As H. L. Mencken wrote, “There is no plot whatever, and very little of the hocus-pocus commonly called development of character.  Babbitt simply grows two years older as the tale unfolds. . .”  (Mencken didn’t like Lewis’ Main Street either.  In fact, he claimed that, “. . . Babbitt is at least twice as good a novel as Main Street. . .”)

It seems to me that Babbitt is a minor novel compared to It Can’t Happen Here, yet Lewis was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930 based on that novel alone.  Of course It Can’t Happen Here was not written until five years later, so the Committee couldn’t compare the two.  Perhaps Babbitt is a masterpiece and I just don’t get it.  Still, if you choose to read only one of the two novels mentioned here, I strongly suggest that you read It Can’t Happen Here.

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I enjoy reading the early works of well-known authors to compare the quality of their early and later works.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) was Agatha Christie’s first novel.  It is most notable for introducing the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who uses his tiny gray cells to  solve crimes.  Poirot’s occasional sidekick, Captain Arthur Hastings, narrates the adventure much as Dr. John Watson narrated the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Hastings and Watson are equally clueless and befuddled.  (Hugh Fraser, who played Hastings in the British Poirot series opposite David Suchet’s Poirot, narrates the audio book.)  The plot revolves around a man who was poisoned.  Christie, for the first of many times, was able to use the knowledge of poisons that she gained while working in a pharmacy during part of World War I.

The Secret Adversary (1922) was Agatha Christie’s second novel.  It introduces Tommy and Tuppence, a young couple who decide to become amateur detectives.  Their given names are Thomas Beresford and Prudence Cowley.  It’s never made clear why Prudence is nicknamed Tuppence.  The novel is overflowing with unlikely, near catastrophes for the heroes, but we must remember that Christie was just starting out.  Like Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence would reappear in Christie’s stories many times during her long, productive life.

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Out of the Flames

Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar, a Fatal Heresy and One of the Rarest Books in the World (2003) by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone is a remarkable story that centers on the Spanish polymath Michael Servetus (1509 or 1511 – 1553) who is considered the father of Unitarianism (and the first person to accurately describe how blood circulates in our bodies).  The Goldstones take numerous detours from Servetus’ story to tell us about people and events that are, in some way, related to the main story.  Under less capable authors those diversions could have been terribly tedious, but because of the Goldstone’s skill, they add tremendously to the overall story.

For instance, Servetus wrote a number of books – some of which would be used to prove him a heretic – so the authors tell us about Johannes Gutenberg, his invention of the printing press, and his troubled life.  We also learn a lot about the tenacious and vindictive John Calvin who would go to any length to destroy his enemies – and Servetus was one of Calvin’s most hated enemies.  Another figure who is discussed in detail is the equally tenacious Ignatius Loyola, the mirror image of Calvin in religious beliefs, who founded the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits.   “Protestants and Catholics—Calvinists and Jesuits—dug ecclesiastical trenches, two great armies prepared to pound it out.  And they did,” say the authors, “in one of the bloodiest and most barbaric centuries in human history.”

Religious turmoil was only one upsetting element of the times.  Another was the scientific progress made by people like Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and Robert Hooke because many felt that their faith and the very existence of God were coming into question as scientific advances were made.

Out of the Flames is one of the few books to which I have given five stars. You might think that I’m prejudiced because its subject is something that appeals to me, but an incredible 91 percent of those who posted Amazon reviews of the book awarded it either four or five stars.  It’s definitely worth reading.

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Watership Down

Both of the novels below take place in England and are considered books for children, but I think the second is a lot deeper than the first and would appeal to many adults.

The Railway Children (1906) by Edith Nesbit is a beautiful story for children.  It begins when some men come to the apartment of a family in London and insist that the father leave with them.  When he doesn’t return, the three children ask their mother what has happened, but she refuses to tell them anything.  Soon, due to financial hardship, the family is forced to move to a small country cottage.  That’s where the children’s adventures begin.  The coincidences are more than a little too convenient, but children would hardly find this off-putting.  Eventually the children ingratiate themselves to many people – including a mysterious elderly man who rides a train that passes on a railroad track near their home – and the mystery of their father’s disappearance is solved.  Ultimately, their father returns, and all is well.

Watership Down (1972) by Richard Adams is another book that children will enjoy.  It started out as a story that Adams made up for his two daughters as he drove them to school.  It might never have been written down if Adams hadn’t become frustrated with a children’s book he was reading.  Throwing the book against the wall, he declared that he could write a better book than that.  And so he did.

The two main characters in the book are rabbits who are brothers.  Fiver has the ability to occasionally see into the future, but his older brother, Hazel, is often the only one who believes Fiver’s predictions.  When Fiver becomes convinced that death stalks their warren, he insists that the rabbits evacuate immediately.  Unfortunately, only Hazel and a few other male rabbits leave with Fiver.  They set out for an unknown destination that Fiver vaguely sees as a safe haven.  Along the way they have many adventures, and after they get there they decide that they must find some females for their new warren.  That’s when the most interesting part of the book begins.

We don’t think of rabbits as being violent, but these rabbits become so on many occasions.  The leader of a rival rabbit warren is absolutely vicious even when it’s not necessary.  That’s the only aspect of the book that I think would upset young children.

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Life on the Mississippi

Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883) is the latest One Book One Community selection of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system.  Mark Twain is always a good choice, but this book is particularly appealing because it combines history, memoir, and tall tales – along with Twain’s unique humor which surfaces in whatever he is writing about.

He gives us a history of the Mississippi River and details about the towns and cities on its shores; he talks about his years as a “cub” pilot on the river boats and tells tales (both true and made-up) about life on the river.  He describes the ever-changing hazards to the boats, and the dangers of navigating the river at night in the time when you only had moonlight to illuminate the river ahead.  He describes the hairpin turns in the river that got cut through at times (thus considerably shortening the distance between river towns), and teaches us respect for the river pilots who had to know every bend, sandbar, snag, and bank landmark in the 1,000 plus miles of the mighty Mississippi.  You wonder how they could possibly have kept everything straight in their minds, but they had to, and did.

Twain talks about his boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri and about a trip home he made 30 years or so after he left it.  Not only are most of the townspeople he meets strangers to him, but he finds out that many of his boyhood acquaintances are dead or have had pretty sad lives.  The funniest thing to me is his realization that girls he knew when he was a boy are now grandmothers.

Twain often seems to randomly jump from one subject to another, so don’t be surprised to find him giving you river history on one page and telling a tall tale on the next.

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BUtterfield 8 (1935) by John O’Hara is a book we discussed in my Reading the Classics book club.  It’s the story of Gloria Wandrous an amoral young woman who lives in New York City in the early part of the twentieth century.  She is impetuous and seemingly addicted to the “fast life.”  The novel is full of sex, drugs, and violence, and O’Hara is shockingly frank about all of them.  It’s surprising that O’Hara wasn’t censored for the frankness of his writing.  For example, Gloria has an affair with a married man in his wife’s bedroom while his wife is out of town (alarm bells should go off at that), and Gloria leaves the next morning in the wife’s expensive fur coat when she discovers that her lover (now gone off to work) has ripped her party dress while getting it off of her the night before.  Gloria doesn’t seem to know or care that her actions have consequences.

There is nothing uplifting in BUtterfield 8.  Frankly, John O’Hara’s writings are full of depressing people and situations as far as I’m concerned, but the stories are definitely interesting.

You might also be interested in the 1960 film version of BUtterfield 8 that starred Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, and Eddie Fisher (who Taylor had recently married). I doubt that portraying Gloria Wandrous was much of a stretch for Taylor.

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Talking About Books . . .

Born to Run

Most authors never make enough money to quit their day jobs and write full time.  Others, including a few politicians and musicians, make more money with one book deal than most of us would earn in multiple lifetimes.  Here are 10 of the most lucrative book deals of all time.

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Who was Evelyn Wood, and what self-help craze did she start? A Guardian article provides the answer and lots of valuable information.

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Should we learn about authors’ lives before we read their works of fiction?  Some people argue that literary works should stand on their own merits while others believe that knowing about authors’ lives gives us invaluable insights into the meaning of their works.  Does knowing about the life of Charles Dickens (especially his early childhood) help us to understand why he wrote the novels he wrote?  On the other hand, would knowing more about the life of William Shakespeare add to our understanding and appreciation of his plays?  Believe it or not, there is debate – even among authors – about the answer to those questions.  “Bookends,” a feature in The New York Times book section was devoted to this issue a few years ago.

“The Private Life,” a short story by Henry James is mentioned in the Times article.  Read the short story here.

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The Underground Railroad

The 2017 Pulitzer Prizes in journalism, letters, drama and music have been announced.  All of the winners in those categories (along with a brief explanation as to why they were chosen) can be found at the Pulitzer website.  You will also find a list of the finalists for each award and links to the Pulitzer awards for previous years.

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Fans of The X-Files TV series are in for a treat.  On July 18 Audible Studios will release an  audiobook featuring the original stars of the TV series, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, in a new X-Files case.  Some information on the upcoming audiobook is available in a Vulture article and additional information is available at Audible.

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Did you ever wonder where authors get their inspirations for the settings of their novels?  Bustle shows us nine places that inspired famous novels.

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the Immortal Life

The incomparable Oprah Winfrey is turning Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks into a movie for HBO.  Winfrey recently discussed the project in an interview with NBC.

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On April 26 an adaptation of Margaret Atwoods dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale will begin airing as a series on Hulu.  The book’s author and Elisabeth Moss, the star of the Hulu series, recently sat down to discuss the project for Time magazine. You can watch a trailer for the series here.

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The tragic marriage of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is once more in the news with the discovery of some letters that Plath wrote to her therapist.  The last of the letters was written exactly a week before she committed suicide at the age of 30.  A Guardian article about the letters – and much, much more – is a must-read for all Plath fans.

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Quotes of Note

“I do not wish to be ungrateful to Holmes, who has been a good friend to me in many ways. If I have sometimes been inclined to weary of him it is because his character admits of no light or shade. He is a calculating machine and anything you add to that simply weakens the effect. . . . I would say a word for Watson also, who in the course of seven volumes never shows one gleam of humor or makes one single joke. To make a real character one must sacrifice everything to consistency and remember Goldsmith’s criticism of Johnson that, ‘he could make the little fishes talk like whales.’ ” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle commenting on his creations, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson

“Dr. Watson doesn’t write to you, he talks to you, with Edwardian courtesy, across a glowing fire. His voice has no barriers or affectations. It is clear, energetic and decent, the voice of a tweedy, no-nonsense colonial Britisher at ease with himself.  Its owner is travelled.  He has knocked about, as they say, browned his knees.  Yet he remains an innocent abroad.  He is a first-class chap, loyal to a fault, brave as a lion, and the salt of the earth.  All the clichés fit him.  But he is not a cliché.

“Finer feelings confuse Dr. Watson.  He is a stranger to art.  Yet, like his creator, he is one of the greatest story-tellers the world has ever listened to.  On the rare occasions he leaves the stage to Holmes, we long for him to return.  Holmes–mercurial, brilliant, complex, turbulent Holmes–is not safe out there alone.  Oh, he manages.  He can dissemble, go underground, disguise himself to the point where his own mother wouldn’t know him, he can act dead or dying, trawl opium dens, wrestle with Moriarty on a cliff’s edge, or dupe the Kaiser’s spy.  But none of that changes the fact that when he is alone, he is only half the fellow he becomes the moment faithful Watson takes back the tale.” – John Le Carré in the Introduction of Leslie S. Klinger’s two volume annotated collection of the stories of Sherlock Holmes

 “We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse: we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.” – Penelope Lively [not related to me, unfortunately], Moon Tiger

 “When asked how I would like to be remembered, I always say, for about five minutes.” – Actor Martin Sheen

“Make haste slowly” (“Festina lente”) – Ancient Adage

“Revenge is sweet and not fattening.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“The last person to say that to me was Archie Leach, just before I cut his throat.” – Cary Grant’s character in the 1940 film His Girl Friday [It’s an inside joke.  Grant was born Archibald Leach.]

“When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through the bunghole, until he reaches 16…at which time you plug the bunghole.” – Mark Twain

“It broke her heart, and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.” – Nathanial Hawthorne’s reaction to his wife’ distress after he read the conclusion of his book The Scarlet Letter to her

“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” – Woody Allen

 

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