Talking About Books . . .

Go Set a WatchmanWe are reaching the end of 2015, and, as always, there are many lists that tell us which books were the best of the year. Additionally, there are a few lists out that laud notable books of past years. Here are a few of those lists:

Buzzfeed features the Goodreads website list of the best books of 2015 . . .

Refinery29 has a list of 30 memoirs you have to read . . .

The New York Times has a list of the 100 most notable books of 2015, and (under “Related Coverage”) links to the 10 best books of 2015 as well as notable children’s books of 2015 . . .

Literary Hub lists 15 books by women authors that have been overlooked this year . . .

Amazon has several lists of the best books of 2015 by different categories . . .

The Guardian has so many best books of 2015 categories that I can’t list them all here, but you will find them on their books homepage . . .

NPR has what it calls its “Book Concierge” of the best books of 2015 . . .

and the BBC has a number of lists concerning the greatest British novels of the twentieth century – as chosen by non-Brits.

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Raise your hand if you ever studied how to diagram sentences in school. Now, raise your hand if you enjoyed it. I don’t think many of you raised your hands – especially to show your love for diagramming. Regardless, I think you will enjoy a chart from Pop Chart Lab that shows you the diagrams for the opening sentences of a few great novels. Click on the chart to enlarge it, then use the arrow keys to move around it. The opening sentence of Man of La Mancha is probably the most complex diagram of all, but the opening sentence of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea struck me as being quite complex for a writer who was known for his economy and conciseness in writing.

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I have been amazed to see the same authors on the bestseller lists year after year after year. Can every book they write be that good? According to author Tim Parks it doesn’t matter whether their books are jewels or rhinestones. Certain writers are immune to the rules of publishing that control the destinies of lesser-known authors. He explores this subject in a New York Review of Books article.

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Clive JamesIn an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books writer Morten Høi Jensen pays tribute to the multi-talented Australian-born writer Clive James. If you’re not familiar with James, Jensen’s article is a good place to make his acquaintance.

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“Two wicked persons, who should have spoken very differently of me, in consideration of earnest respect and gratitude, have (as I am told, and indeed, to my personal knowledge) coupled with this separation the name of a young lady for whom I have a great attachment and regard. I will not repeat her name—I honor it too much. Upon my soul and honor, there is not on this earth a more virtuous and spotless creature than that young lady. I know her to be innocent and pure and as good as my own dear daughters.”

In a letter to his manager Arthur Smith, Charles Dickens justifies his separation from his wife, and defends the innocence and purity of his lover Ellen Ternan, an actress who was 27 years younger than he was. Frankly, I see this as another example of a famous writer (like Tolstoy) who could offer great character analyses, but who had trouble being objective about his own life and motives.

Smith showed the letter to a number of people, and it found its way into the New York Tribune on August 16, 1858 – without the permission  of either Smith or Dickens.  It then made its way around England.

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Slaughterhouse-FiveCoincidentally, I ran across a New Yorker article about another author and his wife – Kurt Vonnegut and his first wife, Jane. She, like the wives of many other authors, believed that he had the talent to become a great writer while he had grave self doubts that only she could mitigate. The article make a good case for the idea that she was his muse, and that he would, perhaps, never have become an author at all without her steadfast encouragement. Unfortunately, Kurt and Jane would ultimately divorce. So it goes.

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Frank the VoiceThe Financial Times reviews some books about the life of Frank Sinatra in a somewhat unflattering article (“. . . even some of his closest friends called him ’the Monster’”). But if you’re interested in exploring the life of one of the greatest entertainers of the twentieth century, that article is a good place to start.

Fritz McCameron, who partners with me on the weekly Big Band musical program “Music on the Sunny Side” on WBRH public radio (soon to be available via the internet), has high praise for the two volume Sinatra biography penned by James Kaplan.

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