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  • Tara Sonin 3:30 pm on 2017/08/24 Permalink
    Tags: , cat on a hot tin roof, , , darkness and light, , , Good Advice, , , , , , , , ,   

    The Gothic Novel Survival Guide 

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    So, you’ve found yourself in the 18th or 19th century, stuck in a gothic—or Southern Gothic!—novel. Surrounded by mysterious settings, dangerous characters and a bit of romance, these novels can prove fatal, but nothing you can’t survive, if you follow these instructions:

    1. First, are you in Europe or America?

    The Gothic genre originated in Medieval Europe with The Castle of Ontranto, the story of a man who undoes his life while trying to prevent a prophecy from coming true (think Macbeth meets Oedipus Rex) while Southern Gothic novels like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are the American response to the popularity of this genre, and deals with the South’s blood-tainted history as a result of slavery. So, depending on where—and therefore, when— you are, you play by different rules.

    2. If you’re in Europe, figure this out first and foremost: if there’s magic, hide on the sidelines.

    Look, I’m not saying Dracula isn’t kind of sexy (especially the Gary Oldman movie version), but in the Gothic genre, magic and mystery almost always spell death. The people who survive are the ones who don’t get mixed up in it. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, wishing for eternal youth has horrific, murderous consequences when a man decides to trap his youth inside a painting, but ultimately damns his soul. (The servants survive though, so probably best to stick to the downstairs parts of the great, gothic houses.)

    3. Are you a woman? Then decide: villain, or victim?

    There are two types of women in gothic literature. There’s the mysterious, often off-the-page villainess (such as Rebecca, in the classic gothic novel about a woman unraveling the truth about her new husband’s dead first wife) and Jane Eyre (whose romantic anti-hero Rochester keeps his mentally unstable wife locked in an attic until she tries to burn their house down). But there are characters like Jane, who is in many ways a victim of circumstance—an orphan, abused, forced into a life of servitude—and Nelly, in Wuthering Heights, the narrator of the story and servant to the family. She isn’t culpable for the tragedy that ensues as a result of Catherine and Heathcliffe’s romance, but she witnesses it, and lives to tell the tale. As I said before: villains usually have a tragic end, but as far as gothic literature goes, they’re usually the most infamous (and interesting) characters.

    4. If you’re in a Southern Gothic novel, outrun your past—fast.

    In books like The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and plays like Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the characters are obsessed with events that happened in the past that they cannot undo. If your past is haunting you, it can be almost as powerful as the magic present in the European gothic novels. For the characters in The Sound and the Fury, three brothers fixating on what happened to their youngest sister, Caddy, caused the ruin of their entire family; and in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick’s inability to confront the truth about his sexuality led to tragedy both for his marriage, and a close friend. If you’re going to survive the Gothic South, either make peace with the past, or invent yourself a new one.

    On second thought, these books may be much more fun to read than they are to live through, but with these steps, you’re primed to make it to the 21st century intact. Unless, of course, I’m one of those gothic villainesses haunting you from the shadows of your past, waiting to take you down.

    What tips would you offer someone who’s just trying to live through a gothic novel?

    The post The Gothic Novel Survival Guide appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 2:53 pm on 2017/07/19 Permalink
    Tags: be the book club you wish to see in the world, , , Good Advice, , , into the water, , , the jane austen book club, , wine   

    The Introvert’s Guide to Being a Book Club for One 

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    Reading is usually a solitary activity (unless you live in New York City and ride the subways, in which case you have been subjected to either some deranged person reading out loud from a book or someone reading along with you over your shoulder on a packed train). That’s one reason reading remains a powerful experience—you’re not part of a hive mind audience, you’re all alone, just you and the words someone else created, crossing space and time to find you.

    Sometimes that solitude gets to be a bit much, and naturally we all have the urge to discuss the books we’ve read, to share our insights and be exposed to someone else’s (or, possibly, just to make fun of the author’s penchant for ellipses or their dreadful Marty Sue addiction). Which is fine if you’re someone who enjoys being with other people—you can join or start a Book Club. A few friends, a bottle of wine, and a book and you’re set to go.

    But what if you don’t like being with other people all that much? What if the thought of offering up an opinion on a book in front of other people makes you nervous? Well, you can still get the benefits of a Book Club all on your own. Here’s our step-by-step guide to setting up an Introvert’s Book Club.

    Step One: Choose a Book

    Obviously you can’t have a book club without a book to discuss. And you might be tempted, out of efficiency or laziness, to choose a book you’ve read already, but we advise you to read a new book for this endeavor. Reading a book knowing you’re going to Book Club it is a different experience, because you’ll be reading with a slightly sharper focus, you’ll be keeping an eye out for discussion points. And, most importantly, you won’t have the option of being lazy and assuming you’ll remember a book you read five years ago. So, pick a new book, like Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.

    Step Two: Choose a Bottle of Wine

    The biggest mistake people make when setting up a Book Club is assuming that the book is the most important aspect of the Club. This is provably false. Book Clubs are all about the free exchange of ideas and the vigorous debate concerning the artistic merit and success or lack thereof regarding a work of art. Alcohol is a helpful lubricant here, a way of loosening you up so you don’t hold back about your opinion of the flashbacks. Choose the wine (or beer or whiskey or whatever) wisely. Of course, books can help here, too; why not read up on wine in Wine by Andre Domine?

    Step Three: Make Notes
    Reading a book with an eye towards discussing it formally is different from just reading it for pleasure. Make notes as you go, circle passages that affect you, scribble insults to the author in the margins, tear out whole pages and pin them to a corkboard—whatever works for you. This isn’t just an exercise; making notes as you go will force you to read thoughtfully instead of passively. You won’t just be enjoying the flow and surprise of the story, you’ll constantly be reading between lines and making connections. Which you’ll need because of…

    Step Four: Locate Discussion Questions

    While some Book Clubs, we’re sure, become mere excuses for some friends to sit around and drink with an air of literary sophistication, the point is supposed to be to expand your understanding of the work (if you’re not certain how Book Clubs work, you can read about them in novels like The Jane Austen Book Clubextra Meta Points if you choose that for your first Book Club read). That’s where the questions come in. Some books come with Book Club Discussion Questions already worked up in the back, and many more have Book Club questions available at the author’s or publisher’s website.

    If there are no prepared questions for you to use, make your own! There are plenty of suggestions for generic Book Club questions (here’s one link), but of course since this is a One Person Book Club, you can do whatever you want, so we have a few suggestions:


      • Did you ever experience the urge to throw this book across the room? Did you? Actually throw it, we mean? If you had the urge, but did not follow through, what restrained you?
      • At any point while reading this book, did you find yourself weeping uncontrollably? Were you on public transportation at the time? Did everyone get up and move away from you?
      • On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to anonymously leave this book on someone’s desk at work with a note suggesting they would enjoy it?
      • If this book were adapted into a film, would you totally go to that theater downtown that’s always empty at one in the afternoon, sit all the way in the back, and watch it unless some kids came in and sat near you?
      • How likely are you to a) name pets after the characters in this book; b) begin dressing like a character from this book; c) use familiarity with this book as a way of judging new people?

    Step Five: Start a Blog

    The key to a Book Club is the expression of ideas and the debate thereon. If you don’t actually comment on the book you’ve read, there really isn’t a club, not even a club of one. So, set up a blog—anonymously if you wish—to be the repository of your bookish thoughts. It doesn’t matter if anyone actually reads it. You don’t have to promote it or send out links to everyone you know. It’s just going to be where you formally organize your drunken thoughts about a book. If you keep it anonymous and turn off comments, you won’t ever even know what other people think, so you won’t have to worry about arguing with people who turn out to be tireless 15-year old trolls whose idea of fun is to argue anonymous with people until they burst into tears. Not sure how to start a blog? Luckily, there’s a book for that.

    Book Clubs can be raucous, fun gatherings of like-minded people seeking to elevate their conversation. Or, they can be one-person efforts to be more mindful of your reading. What do you say—will you start a One Person Book Club?

    The post The Introvert’s Guide to Being a Book Club for One appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Heidi Fiedler 3:30 pm on 2017/01/06 Permalink
    Tags: Good Advice,   

    7 Titles to Help You Design Your Year 

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    Designers don’t just make things pretty, they use their training to test and try until the objects of their attention are streamlined and functional. If you read that and thought “My entire life could use a designer’s touch,” you’re not alone. Lately, designers are turning their attention from consumer goods to people, and the result is elegant and peaceful—just what we could all use a little more of this time of year. The books on this list will help you start thinking like a designer, understand yourself more deeply, and curate your life so it feels perfectly you!

    Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
    Written by two smarties at Stanford, this book takes a problem-solving approach to creating a life that feels meaningful and customized to you, rather than filled with shoulds and to-dos that don’t inspire you. Try building a prototype of your new life, find your way through a day, and practice the art of iteration to make small changes that add up to transformation over time. Regardless of what you want your life to look like, having a process you can trust will empower you to make the changes you’ve only dreamed about until now.

    Start Where You Are, by Meera Lee Patel
    This lovely journal is filled with prompts that will help you get to know yourself better, which, whatever method you prefer, is pretty much always the first step in designing a life that feels intentional and inspiring. Patel’s gorgeous illustrations will unlock your daydreams. Quotes from artists, writers, and others who have decidedly untemplated lives give courage. Loads of blank space leaves room for your creativity and imagination. This is the perfect book to help you dream big this year.

    Design the Life You Love, by Ayse Birsel
    “Learn by doing” is sort of the designer’s unspoken motto, and this book embodies that spirit. Filled with interactive pages that invite readers to work out their next steps directly in the book, this title is a customizable stepping stone to building a life you love. It’s also totally realistic, recognizing the constraints we all have around time, money, location, age, and more. But as any designer will tell you, having total creative freedom is a recipe for overwhelm. But finding a way to make something beautiful and be creative while still following the rules? That’s when magic happens. If you’re feeling stuck trying to tackle complex problems, let this book help you simplify and suggest solutions.

    The 52 Lists for Happiness, by Sasquatch Books
    If sitting down and redesigning your life in one sitting sounds a little overwhelming, why not tap into your inner wisdom a little each week? A follow up to the popular The 52 Lists Projectthis journal encourages self awareness in 52 bite-size portions. By making lists like “things you don’t have to change about yourself” and “things you’re curious about” each week, you’ll get to know yourself a little better. Calls to action at encourage readers to use your insights in daily life. And by focusing on the positive, you may be surprised to find you actually love the life you already have!

    Let It Out, by Katie Dalebout
    If you’re tired of reading self-help that feels loud and bossy, you may be craving more time with your own intuition and inner wisdom. This interactive guidebook includes journaling prompts, exercises, and techniques that will help you coach yourself and find the answers that make sense for you. Whether you’ve kept a journal for 20 years or never made it past the first few pages in your diary, this book empowers you to do what works for you and take time to listen to your own heart.

    The Well Life, by Briana Borten and Peter Borten
    The word “balance” sounds appealing, but what does it really mean? Written by a coach and and a doctor who specializes in Eastern medicine, this book simplifies the concept by breaking it down into three areas: sweetness, structure, and space. Is it just me, or does that sound so right? We all need pleasure, but we can go a little crazy without some predictable rules. And the best way to know how much we need of each is to make space in our schedule to check in with ourselves and do whatever our body is asking for right that moment. Filled with personal stories and practical techniques you can try in your own life, this book is a permission slip to reinvent yourself in delicious ways.

    What books will help you design your life in 2017?

    The post 7 Titles to Help You Design Your Year appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 9:04 pm on 2016/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , Good Advice, , inspiration, , , , , ,   

    Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors 

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    It’s that time of year again, the magical, horrible month when authors, aspiring and otherwise, attempt to write an entire novel in 3o days. Some do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, some do it to finally check write novel off of their bucket lists, and some do it just for the experience. Whatever your reasons, it’s always one of the most difficult and most rewarding writing exercises of the year.

    NaNoWriMo is like a marathon: it requires a lot of inspiration to get you over the finish line. This can come in many forms, but every writer knows that fiction itself is the most nourishing thing a writer can take in. Here are five novels about fictional authors that have something to teach anyone trying to crank out a novel-length story between now and November 30.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Lesson: Fiction is Powerful Stuff

    Spoilers ahead!
    McEwan’s twisty novel tells the tale of Briony Tallis, bestelling author. As a child, Briony commits a terrible act that impacts those around her in awful ways. As time goes by, however, the victims of her immature mistakes recover and go on to live their lives, although they refuse to forgive Briony even as she declares her intentions to do what she can to make things right. The final, devastating twist reveals that Briony has been writing the story all along, and rewriting history to make it happier—in real life her victims never recovered and died young, unfulfilled. The lesson in Briony’s deception is dark and powerful: your experiences are just the inspiration for your stories. Dark or not, the things that inspire you to write don’t have to be rendered accurately. As a writer, you can change everything to suit your purpose, so don’t hesitate to embellish, deceive, and omit.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
    Lesson: Novels Change Lives
    Kurt Vonnegut was a writer who somehow combined not taking himself seriously with powerful writing that still sparks arguments to this day. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut’s alter-ego, writer Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s stories), travels to a low-rent convention in Ohio, where he’s destined to meet an insane fan who believes Trout’s speculative fiction is real. Vonnegut uses this premise, as always, to explore free will and existence in various absurd and darkly humorous ways, but the takeaway for anyone who finds themselves depressed and frustrated on, say, day thirteen of NaNoWiMo, is simple: what you write is like wild magic. Once it’s released into the world, you have no control over how it will affect other people. That sort of crackling, electric possibility should inspire anyone to finish what they’ve started.

    The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
    Lesson: Think Before You Write

    Nathan Zuckerman may be Roth’s greatest creation, an author avatar who remains fascinating throughout nine novels. In the first of the Zuckerman Opus, Nathan struggles with something all writers should think about: balancing honesty with artistry. As Nathan struggles with the fallout from writing about his own Jewish community in a negative way (prompting questions of his responsibility to not fan the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment versus his need to be honest in his writing), every author working on a NaNoWriMo book should take the hint and ask themselves some honest questions about their inspiration, motivation, and how their work might affect their intimates and the community around them.

    The Dark Half, by Stephen King
    Lesson: Don’t Shy Away from Darkness

    Writing is confessional. In fact, the more you attempt to obscure the personal demons and angels that inspire your work, the more artificial it will seem to readers. King’s horror novel is, on the one hand, the story of a writer whose public works don’t sell well, but whose trashy crime novels written under a pseudonym sell like hotcakes. When he “kills off” his pseudonym, however, his dark half seems to come to life and launch a violent killing spree. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he’s crazy or if there’s some other explanation, but the takeaway for a NaNoWriMo writer is this: don’t fight your true muse. If there’s daylight between the books you think you should be writing and the books you’re actually inspired to write, use this month to indulge your id and just write whatever your Dark Half wants to write. You’ll be amazed how easy writing suddenly becomes.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Lesson: Just Finish It

    Chabon, inspired by his own out-of-control manuscript, offers up Grady Tripp, a writer who has been working on his second novel for seven years, amassing more than 2,500 manuscript pages. That Grady Tripp should be the patron saint of NaNoWriMo might not be obvious; after all, the point of this month is to finish a novel. But reading about Grady’s increasingly disorganized and hectic life is precisely the sort of inspiration you need, because in a sense that unfinished novel is the cause of all of Tripp’s problems. Reading Wonder Boys right before NaNoWriMo will offer up all the inspiration you need to ensure that on Day 30, you’ll be typing THE END instead of allowing your novel to spiral off into a madness of endless revisions.

    The post Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 7:00 pm on 2016/07/13 Permalink
    Tags: camping, Good Advice, , into the woods, wilderness   

    5 Wilderness Survival Books to Include on Your Camping Trip 

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    For many of us, summer means it’s time to stock up on s’mores supplies, pack up the tent, and head out on a camping expedition. But what if you’re afraid of nighttime noises, wild animals, treacherous cliffs, and other hazards? Here are five books of wilderness survival and adventure to fortify, warn, and inspire you. Tuck a few in your backpack for reading by the campfire.

    How To Stay Alive in the Woods, by Bradford Angier
    This classic book was originally published in 1956, but although technology has evolved in the past sixty years, the hazards one might face in the wilderness have remained basically the same. Angier divided this guide into four handy sections: Sustenance, Warmth, Orientation, and Safety, covering most problems you might encounter in the woods.

    Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, by Lee H. Whittlesey
    Almost 3.5 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year, and a handful of them become victims of either ill fortune or their own stupidity (or some combination of both). In the ’90s, Whittlesey, a Yellowstone park museum technician, decided to compile all of the unnatural deaths that had occurred in the park to help visitors know what to avoid to ensure their safety, and he ended up writing a survival classic. Death in Yellowstone launched a whole series of books featuring other national parks, and is an indispensable guide to what not to do when visiting the wonders of nature. Yanking on a bison’s beard? Inadvisable. Taking a quick dip in a boiling hot spring? Do refrain. Feeding a bear? Not unless you want to be on the menu. Fascinating cautionary tales abound in this book. As Whittlesey noted dryly in one interview, “Yellowstone is not Disneyland.”

    The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, by Michael Punke
    Okay, worst case scenario: you’ve failed to heed the lessons of Death in Yellowstone and you’ve been mauled by a grizzly. In the absence of medical care, your camping companions hastily attempt to stitch you together. Next, they leave you for dead, and you  must crawl for hundreds of miles to reach civilization. This novel, based on the experiences of frontiersman Hugh Glass in 1823, and made into the 2015 movie that finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar, will serve as your handy guide to accomplishing the impossible. It also might remind you of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grailin which a man who looks like he’s near his demise must repeatedly insist, “I’m not dead yet.”

    The Wilding, by Benjamin Percy
    Say you decide to go camping in the Oregon woods with your young son and your irascible father who has recently suffered a heart attack. You’ve heard rumors that Bigfoot dwells in these woods, and you know for a fact that the townspeople in this area are not exactly friendly. Plus, it seems like a crazed bear is pulling an Ahab and stalking you through the woods. How will you survive? The suspenseful, entertaining The Wilding has plenty of tips.

    Listening to Cougar, edited by Marc Bekoff and Cara Blessley Lowe
    Okay, so we’ve covered bears. But what about big, scary cats? In this anthology edited by author, scientist, and behavioral ecologist Marc Beckoff, a variety of writers, including Rick Bass and Barry Lopez, detail encounters with mountain lions. Bass writes about the time his puppy confronted a 250-pound mountain lion, and the other writers examine the cougar from biological, personal, anthropological and historical perspectives. Beckoff has often spotted the cats in his Colorado neighborhood, warning neighbors with young children, and practically walking straight into the predator on one occasion. He writes, “I was terrified and ran up the hillside, in my clogs, yelling all the way, ‘There’s a lion here, there’s a lion here!'” You heard it here first: always make sure your clogs are securely fastened before running for your life.


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