Talking About Books . . .

Elena Ferrante is a very popular and very elusive writer. I’m assuming that Ferrante actually exists as I write this. Many think that she is simply the pseudonym of another writer. She (or he, as the case might be) has kept everyone guessing for a while now, and there is no resolution to the mystery in sight. Both the Huffington Post and NPR give us some information on the mystery of the elusive Elena Ferrante.

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LOA CoverThe Library of America is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. Without it we would not have access to a lot of great writing by great writers. But the LOA almost didn’t happen.

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“. . .the search patterns of Google users indicate that, in terms of popularity, [Robert] Frost’s true peers aren’t Pound or Stevens or Eliot, but rather figures like Pablo Picasso and Winston Churchill. Frost is not simply that rare bird, a popular poet; he is one of the best-known personages of the past hundred years in any cultural arena. In all of American history, the only writers who can match or surpass him are Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe, and the only poet in the history of English-language verse who commands more attention is William Shakespeare.”

Writer David Orr has authored a book about Frost’s most famous poem “The Road Not Taken” which was published in 1916. That’s right, it’s “The Road Not Taken,” not “The Road Less Traveled” as many mistakenly call it. He also claims that many people miss the true meaning of the poem. Orr’s thoughts are presented in a Paris Review article.

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National Book Award Longlist in NonfictionThe National Book Foundation has recently released its longlist of 2015 award nominees in the categories of Young People’s Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction. Click on any book cover or the author’s name to find out more about the book and its author. Also, note that the judges for each category are listed at the end of the each nomination list. The finalists will be announced on October 14th and the winners will be announced on November 18th.

The 2015 Man Booker Prize shortlist has also been announced. The winner will be announced on October 13th.

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“Write what you know,” is a maxim that writers are supposed to follow in order to be successful. Unfortunately Angela Flournoy set out to write a book about the Detroit that her parents had once lived in. She had no personal experience with the city or the times. She was unsure of how to proceed (of if she should proceed at all) until she read one particular sentence in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, a book of African-American folklore that was collected during her anthropological research in the South. “This line,” she says in The Atlantic, “changed how I thought about the work I wanted to do. It’s not about having a background that lines up with the characters you’re writing about, I realized. That’s not the responsibility of the fiction writer. Instead, you have the responsibility to be sympathetic—to have empathy. And the responsibility to be knowing—to understand, or at least desire to understand, the people you write about. I don’t think the quote means you need to handle your characters with kid gloves—I think it means you have to write something true by at least having a baseline of empathy before you start writing it.”

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Flavorwire lists Agatha Christie’s 10 best plot twists, but the plot twist summaries contain major spoilers. Read the article if you wish, but for those of you who want to know which books are on the list without learning too much, here are the ten books in the article.

  1. Death on the Nile
  2. And Then There Were None
  3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  4. Murder on the Orient Express
  5. Five Little Pigs (or Murder in Retrospect)
  6. Crooked House
  7. Murder at the Vicarage
  8. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
  9. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case
  10. A Murder Is Announced

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Vanity FairThree times recently I’ve read of Becky Sharp, the protagonist in William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, being compared to Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Here’s how Clifton Fadiman put it in his fine book The New Lifetime Reading Plan:

“We can enjoy the well-controlled plot. But mainly we can still enjoy the perfect symbol of Vanity Fair—Becky Sharp. Becky is of course the ancestress of all the beautiful, immoral female adventuresses (Scarlett O’Hara, for instance) who have since enraptured readers.”

If you’re not familiar with Vanity Fair and Becky Sharp you might want to read a fine Wall Street Journal article about both (and about the narrator who speaks directly to us). Then when you’re at your next cocktail party you can casually ask if anyone has ever noticed the similarities between Becky Sharp and Scarlett O’Hara. Then mention the similarities between Amelia Sedley and Melanie Hamilton to really impress everyone. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

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