Talking About Books . . .

In the 1880s, there was a popular French parlor game in which someone would be asked to write answers to a list of questions.  One question might be, “what is your favorite virtue?”  Another might be, “what is your idea of misery?”  Then everyone would discuss the answers to analyze the psyche of the person who answered the questions.  One woman who played the game with gusto was Antoinette Faure who kept the answers in a red leather journal.  Marcel Proust played the game with her twice, and then published the questions and his responses in an article in 1892.  Since then, this game – with many different questions being asked over the years – has become known as the Proust Questionnaire.

In 1983 Vanity Fair magazine began asking notable people to fill out the questionnaire, and each month the magazine publishes someone’s responses.  Rachel Madow, Boris Johnson (the mayor of London), Dolly Parton, Terry Gross, Elmore Leonard, Herman Wouk, Danielle Steel, and Mary Tyler Moore are some of the most recent respondents.  You can view the questions and answers of some of the luminaries here.  The caricatures of those who are featured are almost as much fun as their responses.

You can take the questionnaire here by clicking on “take the Proust Questionnaire.”     When you complete it, your answers will be compared with those of the well-knowns who have taken it, and you will be told whom you are most like.  My answers, for instance, were most like those of Carl Rove.  No comment.

You can even buy the book, Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire, if you want to really get into it.

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“Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context.  There is no theme except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, primarily historical in focus, and will occasionally be controversial.  Finally, we hope that the selections will resonate beyond the subject of the book from which they were excerpted.”  That sums up what they do at delanceyplace.  I’ve been receiving their daily e-mails for about two months, and usually find them quite interesting as well as quite varied.  You can see the current day’s offering here, and subscribe to their service.  If you don’t want to get yet another daily email, you can look through the delanceyplace archives which go back to 2005.

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In 2005 Sarah L. Johnson, a Reference Librarian and Assistant Professor at Eastern Illinois University, published a book entitled Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre.  In 2009 she published a second volume on the same subject.  She has also been kind enough to contribute an article that lists 20 historical novels (along with lists of other similar novels that you might enjoy) to Bookmarks Magazine.  The 20 works includes medieval mysteries, inspirational fiction, westerns, family sagas, and multiperiod epics among others.

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Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers is a roman à clef novel (one in which real people appear, but with fictitious names) that was never published though a few chapters did appear in Esquire – much to the horror of those who knew him, and saw themselves portrayed in a very unfavorable light therein.  The big question is: was the book ever completed?  The article “Capote’s Swan Dive” in Vanity Fair doesn’t answer the question, but it does present some interesting insights into the issue, and into the mind of a very complex man.

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Question: What do the movies Mary Poppins, Forrest Gump, The Shining, and Interview with the Vampire have in common?  Answer: In each case the book’s author disliked the movie made from it.  Mentalfloss has compiled a list of 11 authors who hated the movie versions of their books.

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I recently read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat a fascinating book by Dr. Oliver Sacks.  Each chapter in the book is about a different neurological disorder.  With each new chapter I remember thinking, “This is so strange it can’t be true.  He must have made it up.”  Well, the book was published in 1985, and it has not been denounced as a hoax, so it must be true.  Sacks has written a number of other books about odd disorders such as the one featured in his latest book Hallucinations – one of the disorders from which he suffers.  He is also a victim of face blindness, the inability to remember the faces of even those closest to him.  He can remember information about everyone he meets, but he can never remember their faces.

New York Magazine has an interesting article about him that you might enjoy.

You might also enjoy a two part segment that 60 Minutes did earlier this year.  The first part is on face blindness (and features an interview with Dr. Sacks).  The second part continues exploring face blindness then explores the opposite, super recognizers – people who never forget a face.  Both are fascinating.

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On Point is an NPR interview program from WBUR in Boston which is hosted by Tom Ashbrook.  While many of the segments are book related, all of the broadcasts are well worth your time.  When you go to the On Point site, you will find many, many archived programs about various subjects including books, music, politic, and science.  The programs are archived here.  The book-related programs are found here.  Once you get to the bottom of a list of programs, click on “Older Entries” to see earlier broadcasts.  Authors interviewed include Michael Chabon, Lois Lowery, John Grisham, and Toni Morrison.  Book-related topics include the role of government, the Bible, Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

While looking through the archives of On Point I ran across a program featuring Richard D. White, professor of Public Administration at LSU.  The discussion was about Professor White’s recent book entitled Will Rogers: A Political Life.  You can hear the program here

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Finally, someone has discovered (and documented) what happens in bookstores during the night while we are asleep.  There’s even a video of the exposé.

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Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post book critic and author Michael Dirda is my absolute favorite book critic, and author of books about books.  I am constantly amazed at how much he knows about both fiction and nonfiction.  I highly recommend two of his books, Classics for Pleasure, and Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education.  Both books are filled with essays that will keep you reading long after you should be asleep or at least doing other things.

Wouldn’t it be fun to go book shopping with one of the best read men in America?  Well, writer John Lingan got that chance, and tells us about it in an article in The Paris Review.  There will be at least two take-aways from this article: First, you will undoubtedly come up with a list of books you positively must read.  Second, you will know what the term bibliomaniac means.

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Let the lists begin!  Yes, it’s time for all the lists of “best books of 2012.”  So, here are a few of the lists:

The New York Times100 Notable Books of 2012

The Washington Post’s 10 Best Books of 2012

See all Washington Post book lists here.

Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2012

The Huffington Post’s Best Books of 2012

Slate’s Staff Picks for 2012

Look for more “best books of 2012” lists in my “Lagniappe” post later in December.

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