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  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , first impressions are everything, , james baldwin, , virginia wolfe, william shakespeare   

    The Ideal First Novel for 10 “Must Read” Authors 

    The list of “must read” authors is long, and differs depending on who you ask. But usually, the authors on these lists are (or were) pretty prolific, and like a pool of frigid water, you may be nervous about diving into their backlists; better to dip your toe in first. Here are 10 ideal “starter novels” for authors guaranteed to be on many, if not most, lists of can’t miss writers.

    Author: William Faulkner. Start Here: The Reivers

    Experts will insist you must read The Sound and the Fury, a real bear of a book. A brilliant novel, sure, but also one that drops you into the deep end on page one and then proceeds to hold your head under water for 300 pages. Instead of tackling what can be a frustrating and difficult read, start with Faulkner’s final novel, The Reivers, which discards most of his heavier literary gambits to tell one of the most straightforward stories of his career, a lightly comedic picaresque about three unlikely car thieves in a small Mississippi town. That doesn’t mean it’s not a brilliant novel—it was award the Pulitzer Prize, after all—but it does mean you’ll get an intro to Faulkner’s sensibility and obsessions without having to parse his peculiarly Southern style.

    Author: William Shakespeare. Start Here: Much Ado About Nothing

    Just about everyone is assigned Shakespeare at some point in their high school or college careers, usually one of the major plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth. Aside from the challenge of reading works designed to be performed, his major works can be dense with allusion, reference, and, of course, wordplay (and in archaic language, no less). What makes Much Ado About Nothing a good choice for a first attempt at the Bard is its sense of fun—it’s a comedy, so the wordplay is less about historical and political references and more about, well, making off-color jokes. Even on the page, it’s hilarious and playful, which takes away some of the anxiety and difficulty.

    Author: Stephen King. Start here: Misery

    King might seem a surprising inclusion here, but as his career has gone on, his literary cred has gone up by orders of magnitude; it could be argued that anyone seeking an understanding of modern literary culture has to be familiar with the man once crowned the Master of Horror. The problem, of course, is that King’s best-known books (the ones most likely to be recommended to a newcomer) are long, and often dense with references to other works written in his uniquely wordy style. Instead of diving into the infinite pages of The Stand, start with Misery, one of the tightest, most-focused books King has ever written. It has the fluid prose and creeping dread of his longer, much-beloved books, minus the over-arching mythology that clutters much of his work, and the supernatural aspects that might turn some folks off.

    Author: Leo Tolstoy. Start Here: The Death of Ivan Ilyich

    The words “Russian novel,” with their connotations of length, complexity, and dour atmosphere, might scare you off of Tolstoy and his contemporaries altogether. Still, some of the greatest works of fiction come from this literary tradition, and Tolstoy’s name is always on the list of challenging must-read authors. Before dedicating a year of your life to War and Peace, pick up the relatively short and uncomplicated The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It’s a powerful story that touches on the themes and techniques the author uses to incredible effect in his major works, but it’s accessible in a way that those other novels aren’t—and deals in universal themes you can appreciate even if you’re not a Russian living in the 19th century. It’s the perfect introduction to Tolstoy’s genius.

    Author: Charles Dickens. Start Here: Great Expectations

    Dickens is one of those oddball literary greats who is also much maligned. Bring up Dickens, and half the room will complain that he was paid by the word and thus wrote sloppy, structureless stories merely designed to entertain, with no greater artistic merit. The other half will ask what, exactly, is the problem with that? Dickens had a way with words, and his storytelling techniques revolutionized literature, but his books are a bit lengthy, and they do get quite complicated. Start with Great Expectations; it’s the novel that would result if you poured all of Dickens’ other works into a computer and had it gin up a more concise, sharply-organized version of the ideal Dickens story.

    Author: Haruki Murakami. Start Here: A Wild Sheep Chase

    Murakami is another mainstay on the list of challenging contemporary authors, and it’s usually because people recommend his most famous works first—dense bricks like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle1Q84 or Kafka on the Shore. These books are brilliant, but they are also difficult to parse, unique in both style and structure, not to mention imagery. To ease into Murakami, start with A Wild Sheep Chase—it’s got all the trademark weirdness, but within a much more straightforward story. It will help you feel like you “get” Murakami, even the parts you don’t, so by the time you read one of his “must-read” books, your head (probably) won’t explode. Some might argue for Norwegian Wood, which has more in common with traditional Western literature, but that one is an outlier in his bibliography, and won’t prepare you for the epic strangeness of his major works.

    Author: Ernest Hemingway. Start Here: The Sun Also Rises

    Anyone seeking to pad out their reading resume will be eventually directed to Hemingway; love him or hate him, there’s no arguing that his style and approach to fiction—both very consciously honed and developed—changed everything. His influence is immense, so you simply have to read him, if only to decide for yourself if his reputation is deserved. You might be advised to start with The Old Man and the Sea because of its relative simplicity and slim page count, but don’t—it’s an outlier, his final major work, and doesn’t represent what made Hemingway Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises is the ideal starting point—the story is engaging in ways that some of his other novels aren’t, yet it also features the Hemingway “style” at its most controlled.

    Author: Virginia Woolf. Start Here: A Room of One’s Own

    Virginia Woolf’s contributions to modern literature are everywhere—subtle, often hidden or downplayed, but there nonetheless. But reading her major works of fiction if you’re not a student of literature can be daunting, so instead, start with her excellent, book-length essay, which implements a fictional narrator and story, and yet is nonetheless considered non-fiction. If you think it takes great talent to pull something like off, you’d be right. The benefit of starting here is that you’ll get a much clearer idea of Woolf’s literary sensibility and thematic focus before diving into her fiction.

    Author: Toni Morrison. Start Here: The Bluest Eye

    Morrison is one of the most important writers of the 20th century; her work is consistently beautiful and poetic. But you shouldn’t just dive into Beloved—as incredible as that book is, it is one of the densest popular literary novels ever written, a book in which Morrison’s prose resonates, where an unexpected structure and layered allusions to myth and history form something greater than the sum of its parts. Instead, dip your toe in with The Bluest Eye, Morrison’s first novel, and which shows the beginnings of her style while keeping the number of characters and the branches of the plot more limited than her later work, which will allow you to pay closer attention to the smart things Morrison is doing on the edges (and to listen to that prose sing).

    Author: James Baldwin. Start Here: Giovanni’s Room

    If you’re looking to master 20th century American literature, you’re going to have to tackle Baldwin at some point. His work is beautiful, but it also focuses on social commentary and criticism; Baldwin was a writer who was part of the world instead of removed from it. This can make his novels challenging, because they are all doing three things at once—telling a story, teaching a lesson, and shining a light on some of society’s worst aspects. Giovanni’s Room is an early novel that has all of that, but the central love story—concerning a man who falls in love with another man while on honeymoon with his new wife—is primal and tortured, compelling and universal. When you consider how ahead of its time this book is, it’s essential reading—and the perfect intro to Baldwin’s body of work.

    The post The Ideal First Novel for 10 “Must Read” Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Tara Sonin 4:00 pm on 2018/04/05 Permalink
    Tags: 100 selected poems, alessandra lynch, , anne carson, autobiography of red, bull, calling a wolf a wolf, courtney peppernell, dalily called it a dangerous moment, danez smith, david elliott, devotions, don't call us dead, , , exlizabeth acevedo, good bones, gwendolyn brooks, kaveh akbar, kiki petrosino, langston hughes, maggie smith, magic with skin on, , , , morgan nikola-wren, nikita gill, no matter the wreckage, , pillow thoughts, , rumi, , sarah kay, selected poems, shakespeare's sonnets, sun yung shin, the collected poems, the essential rumi: selected poems, the poet x, , the rose that grew from concrete, tupac shakur, twenty love poems and a song of despair, unbearable splendor, wild embers, william shakespeare, witch wife   

    25 Must-Reads for National Poetry Month 

    April is National Poetry month, so we’ve got verses and rhymes and metaphors on the brain. Poetry is wonderfully expressive, and features everything from the most intimate of stories to the grandest of adventures. Here are 25 must-reads for the month!

    Devotions, by Mary Oliver
    One of America’s classic poets has a new collection of 200 poems. Follow Oliver through her poetic journey starting when she was only 28 years old through today, with themes of belonging, nature, and the importance of asking questions.

    Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
    If you’re in the mood for emotional vignettes about what it means to be a woman, to be in love, to be marginalized, and to find your strength, this one’s for you. Once you’ve savored it, pick up the more recent The Sun and Her Flowers.


    Calling a Wolf a Wolf, by Kaveh Akbar
    A story of recovery told in verse, this poetry collection is about living with ghosts and learning to love yourself.

    Good Bones, by Maggie Smith
    One of the most famous poems in 2016 comes from a larger anthology that touches on the unique experience of motherhood that is worth reading no matter your stage in life.

    Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith
    A fascinating anthology of poetry about the African-American experience in America. Imagine a world where black men are surrounded by love and happiness…but it exists after death. Themes of death, revolution, police brutality, and so much more are explored in this provocative book.

    The Princess Saves Herself In This One, by Amanda Lovelace
    Another feminist poetry anthology to start your month off right. This collection tackles issues like body positivity, assault, surviving grief, and so much more.

    The Rose That Grew from Concrete, by Tupac Shakur
    A wise soul taken from us too soon leaves behind a legacy of beautiful, poignant writing about poverty, systemic racism, violence, and love.

    Unbearable Splendor, by Sun Yung Shin
    A beautiful collection about identity, family, the immigrant experience, and being a modern woman.

    Dalily Called it a Dangerous Moment, by Alessandra Lynch
    Trauma is an experience that can rarely be defined in words, but this collection rips open the mechanics of overcoming trauma, specifically sexual assault, through the poet’s modern yet timeless way with words.

    Witch Wife, by Kiki Petrosino
    This stunning spellbook on love, being a woman in all phases of life, motherhood, and inhabiting the female body will cast a spell on you.

    Pillow Thoughts, by Courtney Peppernell
    The course of true love never did run smooth, but this poetry collection about heartbreak and finding the courage to move on will smooth over all your rough edges, if you’re feeling particularly jagged after a breakup.

    Bull, by David Elliott
    Another novel-in-verse based on a myth, this time in the young adult genre: Bull tells the story of Asterion, but you know him by another name: The Minotaur. But who was the boy before he was a monster? Irreverent, with equal amounts of humor and tragedy, this retelling is part tragedy, part villain origin story.

    Magic With Skin On, by Morgan Nikola-Wren
    Another tome that spins words like magic, this debut poetry collection is about the connection the artist has with her muse, who is currently nowhere to be found.

    The Essential Rumi: Selected Poems, by Rumi
    Rumi’s poetry is everlasting, and applies to the modern age more and more with reminders to trust yourself, be kind and compassionate, and find love everywhere.

    Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe
    A poetry collection by a classic writer whom you may know a little about, but who otherwise remains a mystery. These poems are dark and haunting, bordering on magical, and explore the intersections of humanity, devotion, longing, and obsession.

    Selected Poems, by Gwendolyn Brooks
    The very first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer prize for poetry definitely deserves to be read. (You may already know one of her famous poems, “We Real Cool”, about the consequences of risky behavior.)

    The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo
    In this recent New York Times bestseller, an Afro-Latina poet struggles to express herself surrounded by family and culture she often feels at odds with. She likes a boy her family wouldn’t approve of; her mother wants her to be a strict Catholic…and performing her poetry is something she craves, but fears could break her from the world she knows.

    Wild Embers, by Nikita Gill
    A feminist collection that blends the world of magic with the world of women. You will be inspired by tales of mythic heroines and how their stories connect with your own.

    Shakespeare’s Sonnets, by William Shakespeare
    He may be known for his plays, but Shakespeare’s sonnets are just as beautiful, tragic, inspiring, and honest about human nature.

    Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
    Switching things up for a novel in verse! This re-telling of a Greek myth is about a boy-monster who flees a tragic upbringing and finds himself turning to a man with a familiar name: Herakles. Geryon finds himself falling for the man, only to be broken-hearted. Love, lust, and coming-of-age can be found in this tale.

    Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, by Pablo Neruda
    Pablo Neruda is one of the 20th Century’s most celebrated poets, infusing his work with Latino history, culture, and imagery. One interesting thing to note about this collection is that the love poems are often tinged with sadness, reflecting the true nature of the feeling we all crave, that can often leave us brokenhearted.

    100 Selected Poems, by E.E. Cummings
    E.E. Cummings may be a classic poet now, but his work is largely considered experimental and different from the norm. Cummings was also a visual artist, and some of his paintings are collected here!

    The Collected Poems, by Langston Hughes
    Fifty years’ worth of Langston Hughes’ most moving poems (many of which haven’t been published in book form before) is an incredible survey of the life and passion of one of America’s most celebrated poet.

    No Matter the Wreckage, by Sarah Kay
    You may have seen her TEDx Talk, but Sarah Kay also has a poetry collection. It’s the perfect anthology of poems about adolescence, femininity, race, culture, and family.

    Poems, by Maya Angelou
    James Baldwin said of this collection: “Black, bitter, and beautiful, she speaks to our survival.” One of our most important and influential writers, Maya Angelou’s poetry deals with the black experience, womanhood, and so much more.

    The post 25 Must-Reads for National Poetry Month appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • 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, , will self, william shakespeare   

    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.

  • Monique Alice 5:35 pm on 2016/06/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , the bard revisited, william shakespeare   

    The Taming of the Shrew Gets a Modern Makeover in Vinegar Girl 

    Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is the latest in Hogarth’s series of Shakespearean classics retold by contemporary authors. With Vinegar Girl, Tyler (The Amateur Marriage) gives us her take on that classic tale of dating disagreeably, The Taming of the Shrew.

    In case it has been a while since you last cracked open the 10th-grade English mainstay, here’s a quick refresher: Renaissance-era Italian noblewoman intimidates area suitors with her intelligence, attractiveness, and impressive command of sarcasm. Younger sister is also attractive but decidedly less opinionated, ergo suitors are smitten. Father decrees older sister must marry before younger sister, as anything else would be unseemly. Younger sister’s suitors put heads and coin purses together to pay off a gentleman brave enough to woo (and hopefully marry) older sister; battle-of-the-sexes-style hilarity ensues.

    From 16th-century Padua, Tyler has updated the setting for Vinegar Girl to a modern-day Baltimore suburb. Kate Battista is a 29-year-old preschool assistant who lives at home with her father, Louis, and her 15-year-old sister, Bunny. Kate is no-nonsense, quick-witted, and beautiful, with interests that include gardening and calling things as she sees them. Louis Battista is a research scientist who is brilliant in his lab but hapless in his own home, relying on Kate to take care of the cooking, finances, and anything else that doesn’t involve correlations or genetic testing. Since the girls’ mother passed away when they were young, Kate also bears most of the responsibility for parenting Bunny. At 15, Bunny is many things Kate is not: approachable, earnest, and exceedingly popular with the boys. Most of Kate’s Bunny-related duties involve chasing would-be paramours away and enforcing curfew—while Bunny would just as soon see her take a long vacation.

    Kate’s in a place in life that will be familiar to anyone who didn’t have it all figured out before age 30. She likes her job…sort of. She doesn’t dislike living at home. Yet it’s clear she hasn’t really chosen to end up where she has, it just kind of…happened. She feels unfulfilled and left behind, as though everyone but her got a memo about what they were supposed to do with their lives. Kate is stagnant, doing the same tasks and following the same routine, day after endless day. So, naturally, something (or someone) has to enter the scene and shake things up.

    That someone is Pyotr Scherbakov, a handsome, good-humored research assistant in her father’s lab. At first, Kate can’t figure out why her father is suddenly tripping all over himself to push the two together, especially since she finds Pyotr somewhat boorish and patronizing (even if he can be a little charming sometimes). Then, the update: instead of it being her sister’s scheming suitors trying to push two lovers together, it’s Kate’s own dad, who’s trying to save Pyotr from deportation. All they need is for Kate to agree to a sham marriage. The only problem? Kate’s having none of it. What follows is a story about how two people with big personalities can bring out the worst and the best in one another.

    Although Vinegar Girl keeps the spirit and tone of the bard’s classic tale, Tyler has smartly reshaped it to be more egalitarian than the original. For one, Kate (happily never referred to as a shrew) is the actual focus of the novel—everything is told from her point of view. We feel her hurt at being treated like she’s invisible simply because she has her own mind and refuses to act the way society dictates she should. Conversely, we see through Kate’s eyes the way men struggle to live up to society’s expectations of rigid masculinity, even when they’re desperate to show their true emotions. Also, the sisterly relationship between Kate and Bunny gets a good deal more attention than that of The Taming of the Shrew’s Katherina and Bianca. The result is a loosening of the stereotyping of both, as seen through their and the reader’s eyes.

    With its combination of Shakespeare’s classic plot and Tyler’s easy, fluid style, audiences are treated to a lively, fun reimagining of a timeless tale. Vinegar Girl reminds us that, while most flies might prefer honey, some can’t seem to resist a little vinegar.

  • Whitney Collins 7:36 pm on 2015/09/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , cultured cocktails, drinks, , william shakespeare   

    5 Reasons to Drink Down Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas 

    Shakespeare Not StirredCalling all bards, barflies, bookworms, and any and all who enjoy bursting out in uncontrollable laughter: Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas was penned with you in mind. Authored by Caroline Bicks, Ph.D, and Michelle Ephraim, Ph.D—both Shakespeare professors and humor writers—this literary delight serves up hilarious recipes for Bard of Avon–inspired drinks and appetizers, as well as plenty of trivia and illustrations guaranteed to put you under the influence of England’s national poet. Here are five reasons to drink down this uproarious read.

    The chapters
    Had a rough day? Going through a tough time? Never fear, Shakespeare, Not Stirred has a cocktail for that. In fact, each chapter has its own clever theme for whatever ails you, be it comedy or tragedy, from “Now Is the Whiskey of Our Discontent: Drinks for the Domestically Distressed” to “Shall I Campari to a Summer’s Day?: Romantic Occasions.” My personal favorite? “Get Thee to a Winery: Girls’ Night Out.”

    The illustrations
    Within, classic images from the Folger Shakespearean Library have been outrageously doctored (with libations) to feature all of the Bard’s bawdy crew in various states of intoxication: gallivanting with tumblers, tiptoeing over red Solo cups, passed out next to bowls of guacamole, or even staggering home on that long Walk of Shame dragging a sword and gimlet.

    The beverages
    One might fear that a cocktail book written by Shakespeare aficionados could be heavy on the literary and light on the liquor, but rest assured, the drinks featured here are top shelf. Not only are they as clever as Cleopatra (“Et Tu Brut Champagne Cocktail,” “Juliet’s Emoji-to,” “Caliban’s Wrong Island Iced Tea,” and “Kate’s Shrew Driver” to name a few), they are downright delicious. Who could resist “Antony’s Fuzzy Naval,” concocted of lemon, sea salt, peach nectar, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and prosecco? That’s certainly no shot of hemlock.

    The snacks
    Bicks and Ephraim know that any night (midsummer or otherwise) of drinking must include some sustenance, so here they definitely deliver (just not pizza). Alongside the cocktail recipes are delicious snack recipes, aptly called “Savory Matters.” These are not your average soggy bar nachos. These are fine garden party–worthy hors d’oeuvres with laugh-out-loud names, like “Bertram’s Crushed Nuts,” “Hero’s Pity Påté,” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s Brown-Noser Steak Bites.”

    The trivia
    Literary lovers rejoice: in addition to all the food and fun, there are also sectionsthroughout that fall under the witty heading “Mini Bard.” These little sidebars (pun intended) serve up Shakespearean facts and commentary sure to leave you thirsty for more. From insight into Ophelia’s drowning to questions over whether Shakespeare did or didn’t write Titus Andronicus, these savory tidbits are fun to peruse while you’re punch-drunk on the Bard.

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