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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, , , , , , maya lang, , , page to page, , the sixteenth of june, ulysses, 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, , , , ulysses,   

    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 7:46 pm on 2015/11/13 Permalink
    Tags: aubrey-maturin, , , language arts, , , ulysses   

    5 Great Books That Will Expand Your Vocabulary 

    Words are tools. Even if you’re not a writer, you use them every day in order to exist in the modern world (unless you order your daily grande iced sugar-free vanilla latte with soy milk by grunting and pointing). As with any set of tools, the more of them you have, the more accurately and effectively you accomplish a task. Most of us use only about 2,000 words a day or so, although on average we know 10,000 words or more. Considering there are easily more than a million words in modern English, it’s ovious we could all stand to expand our vocabularies. The best way to do so? That’s right: reading. Here are a few books that will expand your vocabulary and entertain.

    Anything by William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare invented or introduced so many words to the English language, we might as well call it Shakespeare’s English. Estimates suggest her coined or brought back into use some 1,700 words, which doesn’t even count the long list of common phrases that come to use right from the pages of the Bard’s plays, from “all of a sudden,” to “one fell swoop,” to “method to my madness.” Pick a play, read it, and gain dozens of words that will astound and amaze.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce
    James Joyce is another author whose use of language is astounding. Ulysses sports about 30,000 unique words—meaning words that don’t occur elsewhere in the book—and Joyce is credited with transforming many words and phrases, such as botch, into new forms and usages. Even if you don’t quite understand the plot or all the signs and symbols—and trust us, many college professors don’t—simply reading the words will introduce you to a huge number of new ones, which you can then pronounce with a distinct Irish brogue, to the annoyance of everyone.

    Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
    Another novel many people keep locked away out of sheer terror, Moby Dick sports about 17,000 unique words and uses them in a much denser way than even Ulysses, offering up a new one in practically every line. Melville’s language is lyrical and dignified, and many words you might not be familiar with can be understood via context, making it not just the painfully detailed story of 19th-century whaling you’ve been dreaming of, but an incredible way to improve your vocabulary without downloading a single app.

    The Aubrey-Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian
    There’s a reason the companion to O’Brian’s classic Napoleonic War novels is called A Sea of Words: the author met very few of them he didn’t like. Following the adventures of British Naval officer Jack Aubrey and physician and spy Stephen Maturin as they engage in espionage and sea warfare in the early 1800s, the books are filled with wonderfully obscure words, ranging from sailing-specific terms (you’ll be capable of being rated as a seaman after reading all 20 of them) to terms that have fallen into disuse (not to mention Aubrey’s famously terrible puns). In-between the thrilling derring-do and intrigue, you’ll absorb one of the liveliest vocabularies in literary history.

    The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
    Yes, you read that right. While her “unique word” density isn’t far above average, Rowling’s obvious love of language introduces plenty of new words to absorb and incorporate into your conversational toolbox. Of special note are the names of spells, often taken from obscure phrases and Latin vocabulary, all neatly packaged with built-in definitions in the forms of the spells’ effects. There’s not a more entertaining set of books to read if you want to walk away with a hefty new bag of words to toss around, though a we’d also offer a warning: if you’re looking to sound erudite in your next job interview, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of pointing your pen like a wand and shouting at the top of your lungs.

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/01/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , gravity's rainbow, , , , , , , reading resolutions, , , the gulag archipelago, the name of the rose, , , ulysses, , ,   

    10 Books You Should Finally Read in 2015 

    Umberto Eco's The Name of the RoseLife’s not getting any easier—and neither are these books. While there’s nothing wrong with reading a brisk spy novel or a weepy romance or a horror novel you have to put in your freezer at night in order to be able to sleep, you know you’ve been avoiding certain novels your whole life. Time to put on your grownup pants and tackle these tomes—and here’s how to do it.

    Ulysses, by James Joyce

    Relax. Ulysses is challenging, but it’s not nearly as challenging as some of Joyce’s other works (did I hear someone scream “Finnegan’s Wake!” in the distance before bursting into tears?). The trick here is to stop trying to comprehend every specific reference to Dublin in 1904 and just get into the rhythm of it. In other words, don’t study Ulyssesread it.

    The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner

    The opening chapter of this novel is one of the hardest to crack in fiction, but the secret to The Sound and the Fury is in the fact that all the information you need to figure it out is right there in the story. The trick? Remember that if you take away the technical virtuosity and literary technique, what you have left is a rip-roaring soap opera about a family destroying itself.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

    The real challenge of Infinite Jest may be its gonzo science-fiction universe. With wheelchair-bound Québécois assassins, years named after consumer products, and women too beautiful to view safely in full daylight, Infinite Jest takes a while to acclimate to. The secret here is to view the book not as a heavy work of literary genius, but as a roiling comedy that uses its ridiculous setting and details to craft a series of darkly hilarious set pieces.

    Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

    Moby-Dick has the distinction of being perhaps the most well-known novel no one has read. Its reputation for 19th-century density and complex language makes it fearsome. The trick to Moby-Dick? It is hilarious. There are more dirty jokes in this book than you can shake your peg-leg at (see what we did there), and the whaling stuff? Absolutely thrilling, once you get used to the rhythm of the language.

    In Search of Lost Time (aka, Remembrance of Things Past), by Marcel Proust

    Yes, In Search of Lost Time is easily the longest thing you’ve ever declined to read. What’s remarkable about it is the depth of the personal—you do get the sense of accompanying someone on a sense-memory exploration. The key here is simple: This book is about many things, but chief among them is sex. Start looking for the dirty bits, and before you know it you’ll be in the middle of volume three.

    The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

    Rambling, complex, and filled with lengthy philosophical detours, this novel is pretty daunting. But rather than being a dour, endless novel, The Brothers Karamazov is a raucous tale of drunkenness, murder, and lust. The trick here is to stop trying to catch every detail and just enjoy the main stories: Mitya’s and Lyosha’s. If you understand what happens to them, everything else falls into place.

    Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon

    It’s time. You’ve been avoiding Gravity’s Rainbow since you were a kid. You’ve been avoiding the endless symbolism, the encyclopedic puns, and the faint sense that Pynchon is pulling our legs. But this is a book you can’t dismiss unless you’ve read it, and it’s time. The trick—as with all of Pynchon’s work—is to stop thinking of the book as an awesome piece of serious literature and just enjoy it as a silly farce. This is, after all, a book that includes a bit about a man whose erections may predict rocket attacks on wartime London.

    The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    The language of this book even in translation isn’t complex, and the story it tells isn’t symbolic. The difficulty lies in the subject matter; it’s difficult to imagine that anyone could experience—and survive—what Solzhenitsyn and his fellow prisoners did. The trick here? Every time you finish a page, wiggle your toes inside your slippers and sip something nice and simply be happy it’s a book.

    The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

    When approaching this book nervously, from an angle, you’ll hear some fairly alarming terms, like semiotics or deliberate mistranslation. Fear not! The trick with this admittedly dense and fascinating novel is simple: It’s a murder mystery. Let everything else hit you subliminally, and just concentrate on enjoying the story at its most primal level.

    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

    Cloud Atlas has the difficult novel trifecta: A shattered timeline, an invented patois, and a story involving several sets of characters in completely different time periods. The trick with Cloud Atlas is that it’s like reading seven novels all at once. There is a theme, and a point, but ultimately what this means is that if you’re confused or bored or mildly alarmed by what you’re reading, just muddle through—a new story will begin shortly.

  • Kathryn Williams 4:30 pm on 2014/12/29 Permalink
    Tags: candide, , , , , , the luminaries, ulysses,   

    Literary Astrology: Sagittarius 

    SagitarriusWe come full circle on the Literary Zodiac this month with Sagittarius. Represented by the archer, more specifically a mythical half-horse humanoid archer, Sagittarians (November 22–December 21) are generally good-natured, optimistic, and generous, despite the fact that they’re always given birthday-slash-holiday gifts. They’re known to be philosophical and honest to the point of bluntness. Loving freedom and prone to restlessness, they are travelers who can be both careless and irresponsible and, sometimes, superficial. Sounds a little to a lot like these five literary characters.

    Leopold Bloom (Ulysses, by James Joyce)
    Like his Homeric inspiration, Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s everyman Odysseus, is a wanderer. Ulysses follows Bloom’s movements around the city of Dublin one June Day in 1904. Bloom has a robust appetite and curiosity about the world, even if his philosophizing is a bit bougie. A lover, not a fighter, he is an exceedingly good-natured man, allowing not even a cheating wife or an anti-Semitic slur to get him down—although we have to wonder if this has more to do with a tendency toward the superficial than some inborn equanimity. In his extreme Sagittarian, shall we say, openness, he tends to reveal a little too much about (and of) himself.

    Pangloss (Candide, by Voltaire)
    Voltaire’s naive protagonist could be Sagittarian, but it’s his mentor, Pangloss, who delivers the very definition of optimistic philosophy: the belief that ours is “the best of all possible worlds.” Pangloss clings to this positivity through syphilis, a shipwreck, an earthquake, his own hanging, and a chain gang. And nothing is quite as irresponsible as watching your friend drown because that’s what the bay was made for.

    Tom Sawyer (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain)
    Unlike his lower-class friend, Tom Sawyer has been raised in a comfortable, middle-class home, where all he wants for is adventure, which he will get by hook or by crook. What else could he know but optimism? On the negative side, Tom takes his privilege for granted, resulting in pretty careless, if not downright cruel, treatment of those around him (Aunt Polly, Aunt Sally, Becky, and most notably Jim).

    Thomas Balfour (The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton)
    The Zodiac is a central motif of Catton’s Man Booker Prize–winning novel, where astrological signs characterize twelve principal characters. Thomas Balfour’s sign is Sagittarius, and Catton does a faithful job in sketching him as an Archer. Once a “restless boy,” Balfour is now a shipping agent and has come to this corner of New Zealand as part of an 1860s gold rush. He has a “relaxed sense of entitlement that comes when a lifelong optimism has been ratified by success” and a “generosity of spirit,” though in comparison to a more cultivated associate, he’s described as “blunt as a doorstop.” Ptolemy would approve.

    Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green)
    Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Unflagging optimism in the face of terminal cancer is sexy, which is why YA readers can’t get enough of Augustus Waters, honorary Sagittarius. While Isaac and Hazel might bitch and moan (for good reason and mostly with a sense of humor), Gus remains unwaveringly upbeat, resolute that he and Hazel will travel to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author. This blind optimism does not produce results as expected, but in the end, Gus’s is a harsh but lovely emotional honesty. At times irresponsible, he does nothing, however, without care.

    Who are your bets for literary Sagittarians?

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