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  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2017/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , ana of california, andi teran, , , , dorian an imitation, going bovine, james joyce, , , , , maya lang, , , page to page, , the sixteenth of june, , will self,   

    5 Books You Didn’t Know Were Remakes 

    Many standup comedians have made the amusing joke/observation that us creative humans in the Western world don’t hesitate to remake movies or songs but we never remake books. The most famous variation on the gag—after expressing that sentiment, the comedian mentions that they’re writing a word-for-word remake of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The thing is, authors remake other authors’ material all the time. It’s just that in the world of books they’re called “adaptations” or “re-imaginings.” Here are some books that offer a brand new take on pre-existing works.

    A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley is a remake of Shakespeare’s King Lear
    One of big reasons why Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest author, or playwright, of all time, is because his stories and characters continue to resonate through the centuries. The Bard wrote his stuff 400 years ago, and it’s still solid, because his themes are universal and his characters are relatable. Once in a while, an author will use one of Shakespeare’s plays as a jumping-off point—they just need to update the language. And the settings. And the plots. And into prose from dialogue. Perhaps the best example of Shakespeare 2.0 is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. Because a king deciding which daughter to bequeath his kingdom to is a little irrelevant to the modern United States, Smiley made it about three daughters up to inherit their aging father’s farm. Smiley won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel.

    Going Bovine by Libba Bray is a remake of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote
    Miguel de Cervantes’ epic comedy Don Quixote is about a man with both mental illness and delusions of grandeur—it’s pretty modern and sophisticated for having been published four centuries ago. But hey, funny is funny, and comedy is eternal. Libba Bray deftly reworked the vast, complicated classic into a digestible modern tale set in high school. A regular guy named Cameron contracts Mad Cow Disease, as one does, and suffers from all kinds of delightful hallucinations.

    The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang is a remake of James Joyce’s Ulysses
    James Joyce’s crowning achievement is Ulysses, an astonishingly detailed, hyper-realistic look at a single day in Dublin, Ireland—June 16, 1904. Commemorations of that day are now known as Bloomsday, after one the book’s many, many characters, Leo Bloom. Almost as real as Joyce’s physical descriptions are the richly rendered characters. “A day in the life” is a repeatable formula, but difficult to do well. Author Maya Lang pulls it off with The Sixteenth of June. It’s a cutting, insightful, emotional look at the good people of Philadelphia on June 16, 2004. A couple of people even throw a Bloomsday party! (Of course, if you want to get technical, Ulysses itself is a remake of the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey.)

    Ana of California by Andi Teran is a remake of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
    You can’t improve on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s moving story of plucky, idiosyncratic red-headed orphan Anne Shirley charming the once crusty townsfolk of Avonlea. You can only re-create it in another time and place. At its core, Anne of Green Gables is a story about how hard it is to a new place, and fit in while maintaining your identity and integrity, and Andi Teran maintains all of Montgomery’s themes in her Anne reimagining, Ana of California. And she does it quite well, telling the tale of a teenage orphan named Ana Cortez who leaves the foster care system and East L.A. for a farm work program in Northern California.

    Dorian by Will Self is a remake of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
    What if Oscar Wilde were Bret Easton Ellis? Then he’d write Dorian. Of course, Will Self already wrote this book in 2002. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray story of a fresh-faced man and his grotesquely aging portrait called out and satirized the superficial. Self logically adapted the novel to take place in the equally hollow and image-conscious world of the 1980s London art scene.

    What are your favorite literary remakes?

    The post 5 Books You Didn’t Know Were Remakes appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2017/01/13 Permalink
    Tags: blooming, , , james joyce, ,   

    10 Things You Never Knew about James Joyce’s Ulysses 

    On the list of long, difficult books, Ulysses by James Joyce is easily in the top five. It’s one of those books everyone generally feels should be read, but may also be too intimidating to actually read. But it’s not as hard to read as its reputation might imply—deeply compelling, even amusing, from chapter to chapter. It’s also a source of some incredible trivia and surprising facts that might make it a little easier to contemplate. Without further ado, here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Ulysses.

    By the time he wrote it, Joyce hadn’t lived in Dublin for years
    Ulysses famously takes place over the course of a single day—June 16th, 1904—in Dublin, Ireland. Much of Joyce’s energy is expended on recreating Dublin, from the smells and sights to the layout of the streets. To this day, you can walk the city, following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, and see much of what he would have seen. Yet when he wrote the book, Joyce hadn’t lived in Dublin for years—working almost completely from memory in the days before Google Street View.

    Joyce’s wife is at its core
    The date covered in the book, June 16, 1904, is today known as Bloomsday (after the main character), and is celebrated in literary circles the world over. It wasn’t chosen randomly—that was the date of Joyce’s first official encounter with his future wife, Nora, who also serves as the template for Leopold’s wife Molly. Nora and Joyce had an, um, erotic encounter on a park bench on their first date, and as their love letters, attest their ardor for one another never waned—thus explaining why the date remained important to Joyce.

    Its last line is a climax
    There are various schools of thought on the “best” way to read the book, but one thing is for sure: you won’t take it all in on your first go-round. One thing that’s easy to miss the first time is that the final lines of the book are culmination of a lengthy stream-of-consciousness peek into Molly Bloom’s mind as she pleasures herself (composed of eight of the longest sentences in history), making that last line a literal climax. Which partially explains why …

    It was banned in the U.S. for 12 years
    Ulysses was initially serialized between 1918 and 1920, and published as a novel in 1922. But it was labeled pornographic and banned in the United States until 1934. Which, okay, there’s a lot of sex in it, and Joyce does celebrate the smuttier side. Which makes sense, because …

    It’s a comedy
    Much is made of the literary allusions, the structural basis in Homer’s The Odyssey, and other erudite aspects of Ulysses. That makes it easy to forget that Joyce is sending up many of those stuffy conventions. His big joke was to use Homer’s structure to tell a story filled with masturbation and scatological jokes, even while littering the work with obscure references to keep critics jumping through hoops. In other words, when you study Ulysses, Joyce is laughing at you.

    There’s an app for that
    Adapting this novel into any medium is going to be a challenge, but trying to cram it into a graphic novel seems particularly insane. Artist Robert Berry has decided to try, and he’s doing so through the modern-day media of the app, posting each page as he finishes. He estimate it will take about a decade to get through the whole book.

    You can read just three chapters and grasp the narrative
    As we mentioned, people have been arguing about the “best” way to read Ulysses more or less since it was published. Critics disagree about whether every chapter is necessary; even the book’s most ardent defenders will admit some of the chapters are a bit more obtuse than others. (A few even argue you can get away with reading just one chapter!) There are more than a few defenders of the notion that you can get the TL;DR version of Ulysses by reading the following chapters, and nothing else: “Telemachus,” “Calypso,” and “Penelope.” You’ll be missing out on a lot of great stuff, but you’ll also be able to fake your way through a conversation about Joyce’s masterpiece.

    You can’t read it “cold”
    Many folks have made the mistake of trying to read Ulysses like it’s any old ordinary novel. It isn’t. Joyce said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” In other words, the allusions and references are the point. No matter who you are, you’re going to have to do a little research.

    It has somehow been filmed twice
    Surprisingly for one of the most interior, detailed stories of all time—a story seemingly impossible to adapt—Ulysses has been made into a movie twice. A 1967 version attempts to follow the story, and uses many lines straight from the page. In 2003, Bloom, starring Stephen Rae, took a looser approach in an attempt to approximate the novel’s “stream of consciousness” style. How successful either is at recreating Joyce’s masterpiece is definitely up for debate.

    Have you braved the journey of Ulysses?


    The post 10 Things You Never Knew about James Joyce’s Ulysses appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2016/12/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , james joyce, , not to be continued, the crimson petal and the white, the magus   

    6 Famous Novels That Don’t Have an Ending 

    If you tried to write a novel last month, you know how difficult it can be. Just finishing a book—no matter how long it takes you—is quite an achievement, let alone in one month. In fact, chances are pretty good that by the end of National Novel Writing Month, many of you fell short, and you closed out the month without a finished manuscript on your hands. But ask yourself—does that matter? Some of the most celebrated novels in history are similarly minus an ending. It’s true—here are six examples of novels that have been published and praised despite the fact that they’re clearly unfinished.

    The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
    Pynchon unfolds The Crying of Lot 49 like a detective novel. Along the way, Oedipa Maas goes from determined to worrying about her sanity, from intensely interested in the mystery to being almost exhausted by it. Just as she seems about to give up, a final clue draws her to the titular auction, and readers might be forgiven for assuming at least some resolution to the mystery would be on offer, but instead, the book ends just as the auction begins. To paraphrase Willy Wonka, we get nothing. Now, Pynchon’s probably the genius here, but wouldn’t it be fun to imagine that he also tried to write a novel in one month, and just typed out “The End” when the deadline hit?

    Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce
    Finnegans Wake, Joyce’s final work, is possibly the most famous novel that basically no one has actually read. Incorporating poetic language, coined words, and seemingly nonsense phrases, the book is either the work of a genius beyond most people’s ability to appreciate, or the ultimate joke from a literary prankster. Either way, one thing is certain: in as much as Finnegans Wake has a plot at all (and critical opinions differ on this point) it certainly has no ending; the final line is actually the beginning of the first line, making the whole thing an endless loop that you can simply continue reading, onward, forever.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    Wallace was a writer who eschewed and disdained neat plots and simple resolutions. While Infinite Jest has the superficial look of a normal novel with a beginning, middle, and end, once you think about the final pages, you realize that a great many very important aspects of the plot are simply not resolved at all. You have to consider the prologue, in fact, to even have the slightest glimpse of how everything turns out, and even that keeps thing pretty ambiguous. Wallace’s skill is such that the lack of an ending isn’t apparent at first, but creeps up on you as the story lingers in your head, like a sore tooth you can’t help but poke at.

    The Magus, by John Fowles
    Fowles is a writer you expect tricks from, and The Magus , his first novel (though third published) is more or less all about tricks—and a trick itself. Nicholas, a recent Oxford graduate who takes a teaching position on a remote Greek island and meets the manipulative, psychologically tricky Maurice Conchis. Conchis plays what he calls the Godgame, composed of psychological games. At first Nicholas believes this to be all illusion, but slowly realizes he is being subsumed into the Godgame as a puppet and performer. As his grip on reality crumbles, the reader can be forgiven for being unsure of events—and then the book just ends with a quote in Latin, outcome vague. Fowles continued the trick by giving different answers to questions about the ending every time he was asked.

    The Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay
    If you’ve never heard of The Picnic at Hanging Rock, you’ve missed a novel that created a sensation upon publication, both in Australia and internationally; the film adaptation was Peter Weir’s fourth directorial effort. The story about students from an elite women’s college who disappear mysteriously during a day trip to Hanging Rock near Victoria was elevated to pop culture immortality when the publisher suggested Lindsay remove the final chapter, which explained away the mystery. As a result, the novel has no actual ending, and no way for readers to guess what happened. This is partially because Lindsay’s intended ending is quite, quite bonkers. You can read it in the posthumously published The Secret of Hanging Rock if you want, but this is one book that’s improved by a lack of ending.

    The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber
    Faber’s tale of a self-interested Victorian man, his mad, beautiful wife, and the prostitute he incorporates into his household is mesmerizing in its complexity, exploring these lives in fascinating detail. As William’s utter lack of interest in the women who are tied so closely to him leads to tragedy, there is wide latitude on how to interpret the events that occur—especially because the fate of the characters is not clearly stated, leading to endless discussion about the path of each character’s fate. Any novel that ends with the feeling that there’s a chapter or two missing should be a failure, but Faber’s genius is that he makes it work.


    The post 6 Famous Novels That Don’t Have an Ending appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ginni Chen 5:30 pm on 2015/11/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , epictetus, james joyce,   

    What Do I Do When A Book Makes Me Feel Dumb? 

    ginni0202Dear Literary Lady,

    What do you do when a “great” book just makes you feel dumb?

    –R.F., Austin, TX


    Dear R.F.,

    I had a professor in college who once told me that, year after year, James Joyce’s Ulysses remains on the list of greatest novels ever written, but very few people have ever actually read it. He then painstakingly guided my class through every page of the novel until we all, finally, “got it.”

    I am endlessly grateful to that professor, and I like to think about that class whenever I plod through a book that makes me feel dumb. In addition to teaching me a whole lot about James Joyce (which, let’s be honest, has helped me feel a lot less dumb in even the snootiest of literary situations), that professor and that class also taught me the following:

    1. As mentioned above, a lot of people don’t actually read the “great” books
    We all know what books are supposed to be great, what books an erudite person should have read and loved, and what books “smart people” read. But very few of us ever get around to reading more than a few of these in our lifetime. If you’re tackling some tough texts, remember you’re already ahead of the people who didn’t even try.

    2. A lot of great novels are great for reasons other than being enjoyable
    If you’re having trouble getting through a novel that’s purportedly one of the greatest ever written, consider the fact that many literary masterpieces aren’t masterpieces because they’re fun. They might be inventive or pioneering or avant garde for their time. Or they might be entirely typical for their time or historically accurate or embody the principles of a literary movement. They may be lauded for any number of reasons, and not necessarily because they’re a rollicking good-time read. So it’s okay that you may not exactly enjoy them.

    3. Some books are meant to be taught
    Some books are so challenging they’re only comprehensible when you have a knowledgeable person to guide you. That could be anyone, from a favorite professor to a literary critic to the one person in your book club who brags about reading it in college. Of course, many of us don’t have the benefit of literary instruction in our adult lives, so we grope our way through difficult novels on our own. If you’re reading one of these books solo, cut yourself some slack.

    4. When in doubt, look it up
    If you’re feeling baffled by your novel, do some research on it. Reading up on your book can help fill in the blanks if you’re confused by the characters or the plot. It can also give you some pointers on what to look out for in the novel—what themes, what stylistic choices, what plot twists you should note. Learning about the circumstances under which the novel was written or the reason why it’s heralded as such a good book can be helpful, too.

    5. Talk it out
    If you’re struggling to get through a book, find a friend who has read it and talk it out. Engaging in literary discussion with someone will accomplish a couple things. First, you might figure out what it is you’re “missing” in the book that your friend sees. Second, holding up your end of a literary discussion helps you remember you’re not dumb at all. You might be pleasantly surprised at your own ability to articulate why the book just doesn’t do it for you.

    6. Move on
    If you simply can’t get into the book and it’s really starting to get you down, shrug it off and move on. There are so many books to read, and many of them may be just as critically acclaimed or rewarding as the one with which you are currently grappling. Set it aside and come back to it some other time. In the meantime, go out and find another novel that resonates with you.

    Lastly, remember what Epictetus said: “Books are the training weights of the mind.” If it feels like heavy lifting when you’re reading, it’s not because you’re dumb, it’s because you’re working hard.

    Love and paperbacks,
    Literary Lady


  • Jeff Somers 5:30 pm on 2015/05/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , james joyce, kevin birmingham, , , peter finn, petra couvee, , ,   

    Five Books that Tell the Story Behind the Story 

    Sometimes it seems like classic novels have just always existed: they were there before most of us were born, and seem an eternal aspect of the cultural landscape. But behind every novel is a second story, a sometimes-hidden one about how that novel came to be. And these stories-behind-the-stories are sometimes just as fascinating as the novels they produced. Here are five absorbing investigations into what lies behind five famous novels.

    The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham
    When people imagine the classic suffering novelist, they may not realize James Joyce is the original template. He struggled to get his work published in his lifetime, suffered myriad physical maladies exacerbated by constant money troubles, and loved recklessly. His novel Ulysses is one of the most difficult and most celebrated in the English language—and for a time was banned as obscene. Birmingham follows Joyce’s life from the initial inspiration for what became Ulysses in 1904 to its final vindication and publication in the U.S. in 1934. He takes what sounds like a dry legalistic plod and turns it into a thriller, with the Good Guys fighting small-minded bluenoses in the name of one of the greatest novels ever written.

    Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood, by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley, Jr.
    More than 75 years after its publication, it can be difficult for modern readers to understand the phenomenon that was Gone with the Wind when it first published in 1936. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was an instant bestseller, and was quickly adapted into the epic film many of us probably know better than the book. Brown and Wiley don’t waste our time by retreading Mitchell’s life, but rather focus on the mechanics of how a debut novel from an unknown writer became an instant pop culture smash hit that has maintained its grip on the public consciousness ever since.

    So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, by Maureen Corrigan
    Most of us meet The Great Gatsby in school at some point, when, frankly, we’re probably too young and inexperienced to really understand it—but every year people rediscover Gatsby and are amazed at what they find. Corrigan explores the genesis of this incredible novel and how it was conceived and written by a troubled genius, who died thinking he was a complete failure in his chosen field. If your memories of Gatsby are mainly of being bored stiff in a classroom, this incredible exploration will inspire you to give the book a fresh look—and you won’t be disappointed.

    The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée
    Not many novels are used as weapons in a war, but Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago wasn’t just any novel. When Pasternak wrote it in the 1950s, he was the Soviet Union’s greatest living poet, but he knew his story of the Russian Revolution would never be published in his own country. He had the manuscript smuggled out and published in the West, where it became a sensation. And that’s where Finn and Couvée find the amazing hook for their story, because the CIA saw an opportunity to assault Soviet hearts and minds, and had a Russian-language edition printed and smuggled into the U.S.S.R. The story of this classic novel is a spy thriller that could have been told by John le Carré; as incredible a tale as the book itself.

    The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Mills
    Not many people can befriend Truman Capote, write a Pulitzer-winning debut novel, and then retire to a simple, quiet life in their hometown for the next six decades—but that is precisely what Harper Lee did (before letting the world back in, earlier this year, with the announcement of Mockingbird “sequel” Go Set a Watchman). After decades of the author refusing interviews, journalist Marja Mills contacted her, then living with her sister, Alice, in Monroeville, Alabama, and began a friendship that saw the sisters inviting Mills to move into the house next door. For nearly two years Mills spent time with them, and Lee finally gave her permission to write and publish this story, which offers an unprecedented insight into the woman who wrote one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and then promptly fell silent.

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