Talking About Books . . .


Back in 2010 Veronica Roth, then a 21-year-old creative writing major at Northwestern, wrote in a blog that she would like to jump into a pool filled with mini-marshmallows.  At this point in time she could probably afford to jump into a pond of mini-marshmallows due to the success – financial and otherwise – of her Young Adult series that began with Divergent – yet another take on a dystopian world where a young girl beats the odds against her.  Amanda Dobbins fills us in on the details here.

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Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman didn’t like each other, but things became really bitter when McCarthy appeared on Dick Cavett’s public television show in 1979.  He asked her which writers she thought were overrated, and she repeated a stinging comment she had made on a previous occasion about Helllman.  “I said once in an interview that every word she writes is a lie,” McCarthy sniped, “including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ”  That TV appearance and the lawsuit that followed are the subjects of a new play which features actresses portraying the two deceased writers, with Dick Cavett, who is alive and well, reprising his TV role and adding commentary to the proceedings.  The New York Times reviewed the play.

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Shakespeare was, without a doubt, a brilliant playwright, but his real life dealings with other people may have left something to be desired.  For example the first performance of Henry IV, part 1 featured two comic characters – a fat, drunken knight named Sir John Oldcastle, and his profligate friend John Russell.  John Russell was the name of the husband of Lady Elizabeth Russell, a very powerful woman in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and John Oldcastle was an ancestor of Lady Russell’s close friend Lord Cobham.  Perhaps feeling the political pressure, Shakespeare renamed the men Sir John Falstaff and Bardolph for the second performance of the play.

Shakespeare’s cheeky move may have cost him an indoor theater where his plays could have been performed year round.  It also caused the financial ruin of James Burbage according to Chris Laoutaris who tells this story and others in his new book Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe.  The book is reviewed by Anne Somerset in the Literary Review.

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Question: Which country reads the most?

Answer (sort of): It’s not the United States.

Here are the top 30 countries.

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In 2007 Nancy Horan published Loving Frank, a novel about the illicit relationship between the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney who were both married when their affair began.  It is a novel based on facts about their love affair and its tragic end.  Now Horan has published Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a similarly structured novel about Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his American-born lover-then-wife Fanny Van de Grift Osborne.  Under the Wide and Starry Sky was a recent pick for the Today show’s book club, and is reviewed here.

Stevenson and Wife

The review includes a reference to a painting by John Singer Sargent titled Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife (shown above).  It gives you a clue about the relationship between Stevenson and Osborne.  That’s Osborne in the chair on the right edge of the painting.

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The estate of Margaret Mitchell has authorized Donald McCaig to write a novel about the early life of “Mammy” from Gone with the Wind.  The book, Ruth’s Journey, will be published by Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) in October.  In a New York Times article Peter Borland with Atria Books describes it as “a book that respects and honors its source material, but it also provides a necessary correction to what is one of the more troubling aspects of the book [Gone with the Wind], which is how the black characters are portrayed.”

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First Amazon increased the amount you must purchase to get free shipping from $25 to $35, and now the fee for Amazon Prime has increased from $79 per year to $99 per year.  Has Jeff Bezos decided that it’s time for Amazon to start making a profit?  Since we live in a “what have you done for me lately” world, the question is will longtime customers continue to buy from Amazon?  I suspect that we will find out soon.

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“. . . books struggle to compete with new forms of media that better grab our attention. Our smartphones and tablets chirp or vibrate when we receive e-mails and text messages. Notifications from social networks and apps force their way onto our devices through pop-up notifications. As books sit silently on shelves, our culture risks having great voices and ideas drowned out.”  Could Spritz be the answer?

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A new comic novel about Hitler has sold 1.4 million copies in Germany and will soon be available in English.  An article in The Guardian explains what’s going on.

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Will and Ariel Durant

This past December an unpublished book written by Will Durant was found in his granddaughter’s attic.  The book, Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War and God, will be published by Simon & Schuster this fall.  Durant and his wife Ariel wrote the 11 volume The Story of Civilization which sold millions of copies years ago, but the set is now only available in e-book format.  I featured an excerpt from volume 3, Caesar and Christ, on my “Readings I’ve Enjoyed” page.  The Durants won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.  Their books are a pleasure to read and I highly recommend all of them.

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Proust and the Squid

Our brains treat print reading and online reading differently.  In fact, cognitive neuroscientists are growing alarmed about the changes in the wiring of our brains as we spend more and more time online reading e-mails, tweets and such.  Even Maryanne Wolf, an expert on reading and the human brain and author of Proust and the Squid, is seeing disturbing changes in her own brain as she spends much of each day on the internet.  A Washington Post article explains the potential problem.


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