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classics

Jul 26 2013

ShareReads: Adventures with the Classics

by Dea Anne M

sharereads_intro_2013

When I was 14, I went into the school library and checked out a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Later that day, my English teacher saw me carrying annait in the hallway. She raised an eyebrow and said, voice dripping with scepticism.

“Don’t you think that’s a little bit much?”

Well, that just made me more determined than ever to read the whole book. What I didn’t admit to myself (or to anyone else) was that as interested as I was in the book, I was even more interested in being seen carrying it around. Trying to impress others with my reading choices was a youthful bit of vanity that it took an unfortunately long time to shake. Anyway, I finally finished the novel though I had no real idea of what I had read. Not that I would have let anyone know that.

High school had its required reading as did college but none of the assigned northangertexts, though interesting enough, inspired me to take up reading classics in my leisure time. The change occurred in my Romantic Literature class when the professor assigned us to choose one of two novels and write a paper about it. I think the only reason I picked Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was because I just didn’t want to read the Last of the Mohicans. I was only a few pages into the book, however, before I realized that I’d fallen in love. Since then, I’ve read all of Austen’s work and have happily reread most of them as well – notably my two favorites – Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

In the years since that first delightful experience with Jane Austen, I’ve brothersexplored classic novels sporadically. I went through a Dostoevsky phase which was pretty heavy going but overall worthwhile (favorite novel – The Brothers Karamazov). After that, I experienced a year long flirtation with the works of Henry James of which (and I’m a little embarassed to admit this) I like most the shortest namely The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller. Thomas Mann followed Henry James then came James Joyce and after that I stopped setting myself the “project” of trying to read any author’s entire body of work.

Lately, I’ve become interested in exploring the classics again though this timedavid I want to take a less studied approach and select books with an eye toward sheer reading pleasure. Remembering how much I enjoyed Great Expectations, I recently checked out Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very long book so it took me a good while to get through and I’m sure that the inmates of my house became less than charmed with my nightly cries of “Poor David!” and “I hate Uriah Heap!” but I really found it that engaging a novel. I followed Dickens with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I’m happy to report that experience as every bit as enjoyable. I suppose I’ve finally learned that I don’t janehave to  read a classic work of literature in order to “improve” myself or (cringe) in order to impress other people. I can just relax and relish the reading experience. As Italo Calvino reminds us in his book of essays The Uses of Literature, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

If you’re interested in dipping into the classics but don’t know quite where to start, check out the “Best Classic Literature Ever” list on the Goodreads website. You can get more ideas from Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list. This last is actually two lists in one – the board’s list which is dominated by classics and the reader’s list which leans more toward genre fiction and includes more science fiction and dark fantasy.

What’s next on my reading list of classics? Middlemarch by George Eliot. Then, who knows, maybe I’ll tackle Anna Karenina again!

What are some of your favorite classics? How do you define a classic?

 PS – This is the last ShareReads post. Hope you had fun with us, and don’t forget to submit your reading and activities completed on our Adult Summer Reading page. Click here to see all of our ShareReads posts this year.

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Jul 10 2013

Rediscovered treasures

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that I am an avid reader of what I might term “culinary literature,” and I suspect that I am not alone with this fondness. Given the huge success of such books as Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, julieKitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, it appears as though many people are interested in reading well-written books that touch on the ways that food intersects with life. Indeed, it seems that every week there’s a new culinary memoir or collection of essays on gastronomy that appears on the publishing horizon and that trend shows no current signs of stopping.

But what about the older treasures?   There is much pleasure in discovering, or rediscovering, the wonderful food writing of the past. This was brought home lambto me recently after reading (I might even say devouring) The Supper of the Lamb: a culinary reflection by Robert Farrar Capon. Ostensibly a cookbook, this literary gem is also about what it means to be human and fully in the world. Capon, an Episcopal priest combines theological and culinary insights in a quirky yet completely readable fashion. Yes, there are recipes here (and they look like good ones) but what truly captivates is Capon’s obvious joy in creation and his love of simple pleasures. First  published in 1969 and reprinted as part of the excellent Modern Library Food series, the book is as strange, moving, funny, and gorgeous today as it must have seemed when it first appeared. Highly recommended.

Samuel Chamberlain and his family lived an idyllic existence in France prior to WWII. When war appeared inevitable, Chamberlain’s company called him home to the small town of Marblehead, MA. Accompanying the family, was Clementine, the magically resourceful cook who had come to work for them. First published in 1943 under the nom de plume Phineas Beck, Clementine In the Kitchen is a charming and funny portrait  of the Chamberlain’s culinary adventures in France and the U.S. courtesy of the indomitable and always interesting Clementine.

I have long been an fervent admirer of the writing of M. F. K. Fisher and A Stew or a Story:  an assortment of short works contains some of her best stewpieces. I particularly enjoyed “Love In a Dish” and “Little Meals With Great Implications,” but all the essays in the collection display Fisher’s trademark wit and beautiful use of the language. Also, included are some of Fisher’s short fiction and travel articles. All in all, the book provides a fine introduction to one of the best writers America has ever produced.

Elizabeth David was an elegant and marvelous writer and though DCPL does not own her fine collection of magazine writing, An Omelet and a Glass of Wine, you will find her Elizabeth David Classics: Mediterranean Food, French country cooking, Summer cooking which collects in one volume three of her best known cookbooks: A Book of Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking. Though this is a book of recipes, there is a wealth of David’s wonderful writing contained within, particularly in the prefaces to the chapters. David’s brief treatise on garlic in the French country cooking section alone is worth checking out this wonderful book. You probably won’t actually cook much from Elizabeth David Classics (David was notoriously inexact both in measurements and instruction) but it makes for marvelous reading.

A bit dated, the Compleat I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken still makes for entertaining reading. Ruth Eleanor “Peg” Bracken published the first I Hate to Cook Book in 1960 and it was an instant sensation. Heavy reliance on cans, packaged products, and short cuts goes against today’s  general belief that good cooking must always use the freshest, highest quality ingredients and preferably be a bit (or very) labor intensive. You’ll find no handmade pasta here and you certainly won’t learn how to remove the bones from a chicken without breaking the skin, but if you’re a beginning cook you’ll actually find some usable recipes. Everyone else can enjoy the witty writing, Bracken’s sly sense of the absurd and vintage illustrations by Hilary Knight. Knight is famous for illustrating Kay Thompson’s Eloise.

What are some of your rediscovered treasures?

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Apr 24 2012

The Old Man and the Sea in Four Minutes

by Joseph M

Here’s a really nifty video of artist Marcel Schindler sketching out the plot of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. When it was shared on booklicious, the blogger compared the video to “watching someone read your mind as you read a book.”

Interested in seeing more art inspired by famous literature? Check out this article from The Atlantic for artists’ renditions of Moby Dick, Finnegans Wake, and more!

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Sep 24 2010

Banned Books Week

by Jesse M

Banned Books Week begins tomorrow, as it has every year during the last week of September since its inception in 1982. What is it? Put simply, Banned Books Week is a national celebration of the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.

Why celebrate Banned Books Week?

There are hundreds of challenges to books in schools and libraries in the United States every year (a challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness). According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 460 in 2009; the ALA estimates that “for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported”. To get an idea of the frequency and breadth of book challenges, take a look at this map of book bans and challenges across the U.S. from 2007-2010. So to answer the question “why celebrate banned books week?” I will quote from the ALA website, since they put it much more eloquently than I could:

Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

All manner of books have come under fire at various times over the past century, many of which are considered classic works of literature, including John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. You can view a more comprehensive list of banned or challenged classics here, along with a description of where they were challenged, by whom, and for what reason. Alternately, if you prefer perusing data in a visual format, you can view bar graphs of challenges broken down by year, reason, initiator, and institution.

You may be curious as to what books are drawing the ire of censors these days. If so, take a look at this list of the ten most challenged books of 2009, or this list of the top 100 challenged books of the past decade (which includes, ironically enough, Fahrenheit 451, a classic science fiction novel featuring a future society which has made reading a crime and institutionalized the practice of burning books). You may even come across something you’d like to read!

Happy Banned Books Week!

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Jun 25 2010

Oldies but Goodies…

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it.  The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it.  The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading.  Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

As I Lay Dying coverThe classics never fail to challenge and satisfy my maturing reading habits.  I used to think teaching high school and college English classes had ruined me as a reader. I started looking at books for what they offered for class discussion and as examples of various fiction devices.  I critiqued structure and character development as well as use of setting while I read.  There were some years when I shifted to non-fiction because I could escape these distractions. But I never stopped returning to some of the classics.

Like some people I know who read Pride and Prejudice every year, I return to William Faulkner as my iconic Southern writer who captured aspects of the South, and the world universal, for those willing to bring the tolerance for ambiguity needed to read him. My favorite of his books is As I Lay Dying, which I read every few years as it is both short and layered (something I like because it reflects life as I see it). Over the years of my own life, I find reading it changes.  The book is the same, but I am different.  At least I see relationships, and understanding of duty, and the society which plants that “darn” road by our doors as different with each reading.

If you haven’t read much of Faulkner, I recommend this as a good first step. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective as indicated by the chapter’s heading. The story starts with the mother dying in bed where she can hear one of her sons building her casket.  After she dies, the family sets out to bury her some distance away with “her folks”.  They travel by horse and mule, pulling a wagon with her casket.  They cross rivers, stay at friend’s and stranger’s homes, make important stops in town, and return, most of them, completely changed.

Are you reading books with shifts in perspective, with dynamically changing characters, that address the end of life?  If so, please share your responses and insights.

Thanks, and remember  you can avoid the heat by reading more….

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Feb 22 2010

Literary Inspiration

by Jimmy L

I remember when I was a little boy I was so disappointed to find out that most adult books didn’t have pictures. What fun is a book without pictures? I was outraged. Today, still, I think pictures are a great way to enhance the reading experience. Luckily, I’ve found many others who agree with me. Some of them are visual artists who have been inspired by literature or literary figures. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight two blogs that show off a wide range of literary inspired art.

Picture Book Report

I love this blog. It’s a project where many different visual artists have agreed to re-illustrate the classics. Each artist chooses one book to work from, and each week we get new artwork illustrating key scenes from that book. Some of the books chosen so far have been Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Wrinkle in Time, Geek Love, and many others. The visual styles vary greatly from artist to artist. For me, it’s really illuminating to see someone else’s conception of a well loved classic.

Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin’ Time!!!

Yes, it’s a silly name for a blog. I’m not sure what the story behind the name is, but it’s a fun website where different artists draw or paint portraits of their favorite literary authors or characters. There must be over a hundred artists participating, and they’ve drawn everyone from H.P. Lovecraft and Kurt Vonnegut to Willy Wonka and Ignatius J. Reilly.

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Oct 14 2009

Winnie-the-Pooh

by Nancy M

pooh1_1489609c83 years ago today the world was introduced to the whimsical world of author A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. Milne only created two books centered around the Bear of Very Little Brain, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner, but Pooh and friends continue to have many an adventure as Disney has owned the rights to Winnie the Pooh, sans hyphens, since 1961. While Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and the rest have since become a sad travesty (in my opinion) of what Milne and illustrator Ernest H. Shepard had created, one just has to open a book to be reminded of how enchanting the original characters of the Hundred Acre Wood were.

Now, for the first time ever, the estate of Milne and Shepard has authorized a sequel to The House At Pooh Corner titled Return to the Hundred Acre Wood. The book has been met with mixed reviews, both good and bad, but it is clear that author David Benedictus and illustrator Mark Burgess are talented and worked hard to keep with the Milne/Shepard style. Unfortunately, since the book was only published last week, the Library does not yet own any copies, but you can read an extract here. I picked up a copy at the bookstore and while I appreciate the negative reviews, I couldn’t help but be pleased with this imaginative addition to the Winnie-the-Pooh collection. But I hate to see what Disney will do with it.

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