Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Modern Library List- By the Numbers

Yesterday we looked at a number of Top 100 lists. Today we break one of them down to see how much merit there is in having a committee curate a reading list by force-ranking various works of literature.

Here is how the books break down by decade of publication:

What can we learn from this first graph? Lesson #1 is never write a novel in the last two decades of a century, because you have no prayer of making the centennial "best-of" lists. In all seriousness, though, preference is obviously given to works that have stood the test of time. That’s probably as it should be. But if that’s the case, then the body of work ought to marinate for a generation or so before we start force-ranking individual books.

Another possible explanation is that wars and empires are good for fiction. That’s a subject big enough for a post of its own, but if you look at the original list and tally the authors and books that touch on those themes, I think there’s a strong case to be made. For a more modern example, consider how Khaled Hosseini would rate with modern readers without assists from Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush. It’s something to think about.

Here are the authors who landed multiple titles on the list:

This second chart is equally interesting. Who would have guessed that Polish-born Joseph Conrad would come away with top honors- the only author with four Top 100 novels to his credit. And who would have guessed that we’d see more Evelyn Waugh than Ernest Hemingway, or more E.M. Forster than F. Scott Fitzgerald? John Steinbeck is on the list just once? Yet V.S. Naipaul pulls off the two-fer? I can’t say that I’ve read much more than a fifth of the total books listed, but I’m already beginning to scratch my head.

And finally, here is how things break down across geo-political boundaries*:
As you would expect, the bulk of English-language novels come to us from the U.S. or Great Britain. But nothing from Australia? A giant goose egg from South Africa? And India only registers because I assigned Salmon Rushdie to his ancestral homeland? Again, one is forced to scratch his head.

At the end of the day, we can probably only conclude that while "best-of" lists are useful starting points for the reader, they should not be considered the be all and end all of what constitutes a worthy read. For that, you need to follow

Just kidding.

Well, half kidding anyway. You really should be following us.

* notes on nationality below

Saul Bellow emigrated from Canada to the states at the age of nine, and became a citizen by age 26. I’ve lumped him in with the Americans.

Joseph Conrad became a British citizen by the age of 30, but for much of his life he was really a citizen of the high seas. In the end, his politics and his refusal of British Knighthood due to a family legacy of Polish nobility led me to classify him as a Polish writer.

As a consolation prize, I gave American-born Henry James to the English. He became a British subject only one year before his death, but after his pond-hopping early years, he had spent the bulk of his life in England.

V.S. Naipaul was born a British subject, but since his homeland earned its independence in the sixties I have called him Trinidadian.

Similarly, Salmon Rushdie was born in British India, and right or not, I left him with India since much of his fiction is based on the sub-continent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Read something good

"Young Boy Reading" -Henri LeBasque

What do we mean by "read something good?" I guess that depends on which one of us you ask. We each have our own ideas, our own favorite authors, and our own notions of which great books just aren't that great. But if you ask enough people that same question, you just might be able to arrive at some sort of tenuous consensus.

In 1998 the editorial board of the Modern Library put out a list of what they saw as the 100 finest English-language novels published in the twentieth century. The aim was to start a turn-of-the-century conversation about which are the best books and to raise the profile of the Modern Library’s stable of classics among potential readers. Among other criticisms were the fact that only 8 women made the list, and that eminent writers from a slew of English-speaking countries seem to have been overlooked. It is, nevertheless, a decent list to start with if you want to get your feet wet with some good literary fiction.

And it did start a conversation. Readers responded with a Top 100 of their own, a list that agrees on only 32 of the 100 novels chosen by the board, and includes iconic titles like Atlas Shrugged and Gone With the Wind, that the Modern Library had left out. (For the record, the ML board’s Top 5 were Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Lolita and Brave New World.)

The Radcliffe Publishing Course also put out their own list, kinder to Mmes Rand and Mitchell, not to mention A.A. Milne, but with 47 of the same novels as the Modern Library’s list. The French newspaper Le Monde came up with a survey to determine the Top 100 Books (not novels) of the century, which was understandably dominated by French titles. The BBC got in on the action in 2003 with their Big Read survey, which put the Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice in the top two spots.  Time Magazine followed with an alphabetical Top 100 published since 1923 (when the magazine started operations), and Newsweek is among those who have tried to create a master list out of all the disagreement on the lists already mentioned.

And the debate rages on. Just a month or so ago, To Kill a Mockingbird was voted the U.K.’s best-loved book, unseating Mr. Tolkien and Ms. Austen, and providing vindication for the Harper Lee masterpiece which is nowhere to be found the Modern Library's original Top 100.

So, what of that original list? Come back tomorrow and we'll crunch some of the numbers. In the meantime, what would your own Top 5 look like?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Last LOST

Found some sad news in my inbox this morning:

"LOST Magazine has now published hundreds of accomplished and emerging writers over its 41 issues, and this winter marks the sixth anniversary of its first issue. LOST wouldn't have been what it is without your readership. And though I'm not sure I ever thought I'd write this email--LOST is now ready to be what it's been all about.

We're publishing one final issue this fall, themed LAST LOST, and we're featuring our ten most viewed (and two least-viewed) pieces from our run."
For those that don't know, LOST Magazine is an online quarterly magazine with a singular mission -- to reclaim in writing lost people, places, and things. I don't know if they'll keep their archive open or not, but the site is well worth your time, even if you wander over just to catch their swan song. Visit

I'm sorry to see them go.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Salinger Sunday

Last week I mentioned some of J.D. Salinger's stories in passing. If you want to go a lot deeper, LitKicks is running an entire series (with original artwork) on Salinger's fictional Glass family and the stories through which the reclusive writer brought them to life for his readers. Highly recommended weekend reading material. Check it out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Raymond Carver... kind of.

Let's face it. Our suggested reading list from yesterday came a little too late to do you any good this weekend. More likely than not it was cinema that provided a timely escape from the in-laws and family squabbles that are inevitable once the tryptophan coma wears off. So, let's talk movies.

I recently rented Everything Must Go with Will Ferrell (by which I mean he starred in the film- the two of us didn't actually rent it together- though that would make for an infinitely cooler blog post.)

I'm not ashamed to admit I like Mr. Ferrell's work. This wasn't exactly a comedy, but he's shown decent "dramedy" chops in Stranger Than Fiction and I thought it would be worth a try. But I really picked this one off the shelf for one simple reason: The cover told me the film was based off a Raymond Carver short story, "Why Don't You Dance?"

I'd never read that story, but I love Carver and thought it would be interesting to make a comparison after the fact. So, we watched it, and even enjoyed it. That is, until I went and read the story.

Once I read Carver's original, I had no choice but to throw Everything Must Go into the same film adaptation category as The Polar Express. In other words, one or two details were preserved, and the rest of the movie was made from whole cloth (for those interested, the two details were a protagonist who drank a lot, and the arrangement of a bunch of his belongings on his front lawn.)

It also got me thinking about how often I've been disappointed by Hollywood's take on my favorite books. Unfortunately, literary fiction doesn't generally translate very well on the big screen. Either the vision of the original work just isn't there, or the budget is woefully inadequate. Here are some stinkers I've sat through, or in some cases, started and given up on:

  • The Great Gatsby (1974), Robert Redford & Mia Farrow. Decent sets and... that's about it. They made it about as boring as possible. That, and you'll constantly hear the Law & Order "clang-clang" sound in your head, since Nick Carraway is played by a young Sam Waterston.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), Michael Sacks. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Outside of the Godfather and a handful of other films, why didn't the film industry just fold up their tents and wait out the seventies?
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), George Sanders. I loved this book, and couldn't make it through 10 minutes of the movie. I have not seen the 2005 remake.
  • The Fountainhead (1949), Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal. My favorite of Rand's books, hands down. The movie was... not good.
  • Basically anything of Hemingway's has sucked, with the one exception below, including Spencer Tracy's Old Man and The Sea, and Gary Cooper's For Whom the Bell Tolls.

There are, as I mentioned, a few exceptions. I'll list some here:

  • A Farewell To Arms (1957), Rock Hudson & Jennifer Jones. Jones wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but Hudson was a great cast. The producers gave the film the sweeping war-time imagery it deserved, and did the quiet moments justice, as well.
  • Of Mice and Men (1992), John Malkovich & Gary Sinise. Gorgeous picture, as heart-rending as Steinbeck's original.
  • Pride and Prejudice (1995), Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle. The ultimate chick-flick, and I mean a "turn in your man card if you didn't get the entire Bourne Trilogy in return" kind of a chick-flick. But I'm secretly a huge fan of this miniseries. They nailed it every step of the way. Of course, they did have five hours to work with...
Always a glutton for punishment, I'm waiting with bated breath for Leonardo DiCaprio to step into the roll of Jay Gatsby next year (not even kidding) and if I'm bored enough in the coming months, I may even check out Part I of the shoestring budget Atlas Shrugged that hit a few theaters earlier this year. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what movies based on literary fiction have lived up to your expectations? Fire at will.

Friday, November 25, 2011

First Line Friday!

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 
-Leo Tolstoy, from Anna Karenina

If it’s the second part of Tolstoy’s famous opening that resonates with you on this long, holiday weekend with family, you may want to find a quiet place and bury your nose in a good book. Last weekend HTMLGIANT asked readers for their favorite short novels (120 pages or less), and their favorite long novels (500 pages or more).

Here are my suggestions short:
·         The Old Man and The Sea, by Hemingway
·         Candide, by Voltaire
·         Of Mice and Men, by Steinbeck
·         The Stranger, by Camus

…And long:
·         Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck
·         Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky
·         2666, by Bolano

What are yours?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

We always try to mark significant holidays by offering up some relevant short fiction for the occasion. Today we give you Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen, by O. Henry.

You'll see shades of O. Henry's most famous story in this tale- two men make sacrifices unknown to the other for the sake of upholding tradition. It's a hokey little yarn with a nice twist ending, something that became a trademark of the author.

Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen
by O. Henry

Stuffy Pete took his seat on the third bench to the right as you enter Union Square from the east, at the walk opposite the fountain. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he had taken his seat there promptly at 1 o'clock. For every time he had done so things had happened to him--Charles Dickensy things that swelled his waistcoat above his heart, and equally on the other side.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Haiku-ption Contest #1

What do you get when you combine a venerable internet institution  with one of poetry's simplist forms? Our inaugural Haiku caption contest, that's what. My entry is below. Have at it in the comments!

Chit Chat:
We talk of baseball
Jones, perched on his stool, and I,
Elbow deep in cow

Photo courtesy of Shorpy

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shadow of the Wind (Revisited)

MacEvoy just posted an offensively ridiculous piece on Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. Such absurdity has no place on this sophisticated site. Just look at this comment left by a squirrelly gentlemen in Eastern Spain named “Anonymous:”
Reading your comment made me think you're try to hard to be smart you prove what a big idiot you are. I am sorry, dude, but one must be really dumb to read that novel and come out the other end with what you just wrote here. Sad.
Perhaps. But perhaps not. In truth, MacEvoy’s post had some good points. I normally would respond in the comments section, but this book is too relevant for me to withstand posting myself.

I first read The Shadow of the Wind not long after it came out in the US in 2001, and have read it again since. Here is what I know about the novel:
  • I liked it. It entertained me. It was a nice story. It was a nice idea.
  • The story is set in Barcelona, which is a city that really burns me up. I’ll read anything that is set in that metropolitan masterpiece.
  • The novel was a European hit, which intrigued me.
  • The novel is too light to be considered ‘great’ literature, because it doesn’t stick with you. It’s in one end and out the other. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t taste good.
Here is what I don’t know:
  • How the novel will stand the test of time.
Having said that, I am convinced that I am the only person in the world who also read Ruiz Zafon’s subsequent novel, The Angel’s Game. It was OK. Just OK. But if you didn’t like The Shadow of the Wind, you definitely won’t like his later work. Too many turns. Too many creative conveniences. Too much trite dialogue.
But let me add 2 more things to the list of things I do know:
  • Carlos Riuz Zafon has a new novel coming out next summer entitled The Prisoner of Heaven, and supposedly the story commences one year after the story of The Shadow of the Wind left off.
  • Yes, I will read this new book.
[Note: If you you want to read the quintessential Barcelona novel, look for Juan Marse's El Amante Bilingue. Unfortunately, as far as I know, it hasn't been published in English. But it's an unforgettable novel. One of the best.]

The Shadow of Sloppy Narration

A lot of what I read tends to be of an older vintage- books that have stood the test of time. But now and again I’ll crack open a newer novel to see what my contemporaries are up to. So, on the fuerte recommendation of fellow Shelf Actualizer Tucker, I picked up Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, a book set in his beloved Barthelona.

The book came out of the starting gate strong, and I’ll say up front that I thought I was going to love it. There are some truly beautiful passages:

“…dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Monica in a wreath of liquid copper.”
and some nice aphorisms about books, reading and writing:

“…a story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself things he would be unable to discover otherwise.”

“…few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later- no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget-we will return.”
The story itself is an interesting one. It will especially appeal to booklovers and writers, and there are quite a few nice twists along the way. I’ll also add that Fermin Romero de Torres is one of the most enjoyable side characters I’ve come across in recent reading. This silver-tongued bum philosopher is both profane and profound, lecherous and loyal; and the author complements his lanky, big-eared frame with an entertaining (and insatiable) hankering for ham sandwiches.

However, the further I read the more I tired of what I’ll call Zafon’s narrative sleight of hand. The book contains a story within a story, and the main character peels back the layers of this mysterious inner story through a series of secretive interviews. The information he learns, however, isn’t revealed through direct dialogue, but through detached, third-person narratives that can stretch for pages and pages of italic script.

The first back-story “info dump” ran for 4 pages, the second for 11, and the third for 18. It wasn’t Zafon’s use of flashbacks that bothered me, but that each flashback was the source of details that were simply unknowable from the perspective of the characters sharing them- and thus gave the impression of a cheap narrator’s trick. By the time I got to the fourth installment of back-story, this time in the form of a hastily prepared hand-written manuscript left for the main character before the author’s untimely death- a manuscript that rolled on for 85 pages(!)-, not only was my patience was wearing thin but I was left with the impression that Zafon had lost all interest in telling his original story.

The last straw for me was the end-of-book realization that the bomb dropped by the main character on page 312 (“In seven days’ time, I would be dead.”) referred only to a 64-second, ambulance ride flat-lining from which the character immediately recovered. A maddening lack of pay-off, and another cheap trick to keep the reader turning pages.

I suppose a Hispanophile like Tucker will find plenty to like in The Shadow of the Wind. Perhaps there are things like Zafon’s assertion that “Madrid is a man, but Barcelona is a woman” that will ring true for them, but for someone like me, it seemed Zafon was trying too hard to tell a story that he could never effectively pull off in a first-person narrative.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prose and Cons

A little something to ease you into the work week:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Salinger sighting

I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon waiting for my four-year-old daughter in the lobby of a dance studio. While a gaggle of waiting-room regulars (all moms, except for me) chatted away about the upcoming recital and I entered a self-imposed smart-phone exile, I noticed I wasn't the only male in the room after all.

Huddled in the corner was a kid of about fifteen, who was engrossed in a book I couldn't quite make out. Curious about what it is that fifteen-year-olds read while waiting in suburban Georgia dance studios, I found some reason to get up and wander over for a closer look. The book was Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger. 

This is a collection that includes two of my all-time favorite short stories: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "For Esme- with Love and Squalor." Needless to say, my faith in humanity was bolstered.

If you're a book voyeur like me, you might enjoy this tumblr blog run by a group of self-proclaimed publishing nerds who steal surreptitious glances at the reading material of their fellow New Yorkers, and document the results here.

What about you? What books have you seen in the hands of your fellow men recently? Anything good?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Drumroll Please...

And the winner of our "Name the Authors" contest is Kyle Larson, who correctly identified 18 of the 20 authors pictured below.

Here is his winning entry:
1 Kurt Vonnegut
2 Victor Hugo
3 Jack Kerouac
4 Fyodor Dostoyevsky
5 Vladimir Nabokov
6 Mark Twain
7 Ernest Heminway
8 George Orwell
9 James Joyce
10 William Faulkner
11 Wallace Stegner
12 Aldous Huxley
14 Edgar Allan Poe
15 Franz Kafka
17 John Steinbeck
18 Joseph Conrad
19 F Scott Fitzgerald
20 Charles Dickens

So, who did he miss? A very young Cormac McCarthy (13) and National Book Award winner and short story master John Cheever (16.) Thanks to all who entered and to everyone who has made our first week a great success!

Friday, November 18, 2011

First Line Friday!

There is simply no more influential component of a novel than the first line (other than the last line, but we’ll get to that in time). The first line is the writer’s declaration that the novel is in your hands, ready to be read, deemed to be important, and destined to alter your thinking. It's your first impression.

The first line of a novel is so embedded with purpose and prose that it leaves some writers seeming omnipotent, while it leaves others pleading for recognition.

With that being said, I hereby deem every Friday to be “First Line Friday” where we’ll look deep into my favorite first lines of all time.

Let’s start with perhaps the most powerful first line of a novel I have ever perused:

Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.

Of course, that is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s first sentence of The Autumn of the Patriarch. Hard to believe it’s the first sentence of a novel. The resonance of those phrases are astounding: “pecking through the screens” and “stirred up the stagnant time inside” and “city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries” and “the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur” all in the first sentence!

But that’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez for you. Genius.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Golden Age of Literature: High School

Hi readers about reading! It's a pleasure to be here.

I'll begin my first post at the same place where my literature life began: high school. I was exposed to "real" books (sorry Choose-Your-Own Adventure authors) by my over-worked and under-paid English teachers. They did their best to make me appreciate the poetry of Romeo and Juliet, the social relevance of Scarlet Letter, and the faith, loss, and discovery
of Portrait of the Artist. They failed. Miserably. I hated English class in high school.

But now things are different. Now I love reading! Hooray! So what
to do about all of that great literature that I "read", was tested on, and subsequently banished from my memory?

For years I was opposed to re-reading classics. "With so many great books and so little time, how can I justify re-reading something when it means I will never read something else?" But I think re-reading has great value; especially when the re-reads weren't really read in the first place.

So, in an effort to encourage other high school literary slackers to dust off those Penguin classics, I have a few recommendations.

What? You hated being a tenth grader and being forced to read about Danish pagans hanging out in mead halls and getting eaten by Grendel's mother? Me too. But I gave the book another try a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I think it is much more enjoyable when you have a mental library of modern literature against which you can contrast the story. The new translation (which I didn't have at my rich, preppy high school) gives the story a great poetic lilt.

Again, a book that was forced down my angst-ridden teenage throat. But like a fine wine or an Ace of Base album, this book gets better with age. And by that, I mean the age of the reader. There is more emotional truth and understanding in this classic than I possibly could have recognized as a tween.

Next task: re-reading the classics from my junior high list.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Other Writer?

In last week’s New York Times, Arthur Phillips writes an article entitled “Hemingway at Sea” in which he states that Ernest Hemingway “seems to hold our interest, and inspire imitation, in ways other writers don’t.”

It’s a bold statement, but I suppose I cannot disagree with Arthur. Of all the greats (Faulkner, Stegner, Twain, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Woolf, and now McCarthy), there is simply no writer whose writing and personal life have drawn me in quite like old Ernest.

Now granted, I have a love affair with Spain, so that gives Hemingway a leg-up over the competition. I’ve been to Pamplona and Paris and Ketchum, Idaho. I’ve read books about the Spanish Civil War, attended bullfights, and done some deep-sea fishing. So I understand Ernest from that perspective.

But, on the other hand, I have no interest whatsoever in hunting, war, guns, alcohol, or stoicism, which leaves me scratching my head as to why I have such a “thing” for Hemingway. Perhaps it’s because of writing like this:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees.

It’s stark and bare, and in case you don’t recognize it, it’s quite simply the first paragraph of “A Farewell to Arms.” And perhaps it’s language such as this which allows us to confidently say that Ernest Hemingway seems to hold our interest, and inspire imitation, in ways other writers do not.

The 8-bit Fitzgerald

Ever wondered why there’s no Great Gatsby video game? Yeah… me too.

Well, wonder no more. Not only does it exist, it lives in pure, unalloyed 8-bit awesomeness. Click the picture below to play (spacebar starts the game for me.)

Now, you don’t get to mow Myrtle Wilson down in Gatsby’s Rolls Royce, but you do get to sling your lethal hat at butlers, flappers, hobos and more on your journey to find the mysterious West Egg resident. Make sure your sound is turned on, because the music is a riot.

I made it to the Valley of Ashes, but was killed by the giant floating eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg. Anybody make it further?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bazarov and Bluto: Where are they now?

Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons has been regarded as the first truly modern Russian novel, and is certainly one of the first to gain wide recognition in the West. Among other things, the book delivers the world’s first great literary nihilist in the character of Eugene Bazarov. But Turgenev’s masterpiece may also hold another interesting distinction: it may just be the birthplace of the ‘where are they now’ snippets that occasionally accent the closing credits of screw-ball comedies and films based on true stories.

Believe me, the last thing I expected to think of as I read Turgenev’s closing passages was John Blutarsky from Animal House, yet that’s precisely what the last four pages brought to mind. The author brings the action to a close, then offers this:

“It seems to me that all is ended. But some of my readers will perhaps desire to know what the different persons of who we have just been talking are now doing. We will ask nothing better than to satisfy them.”
He then goes on to relate a few sentences for each of the principal characters, some humorous, others sentimental. Here’s a smattering:

“The princess is dead, and forgotten from the day of her death.”

“Nicholas Petrovitch has been chosen justice of the peace, and fulfils his duties with greatest zeal; he traverses unceasingly the district assigned to him, makes long speeches, for he thinks that the peasant needs to be well  “argued with,” that is, that it is necessary to repeat the same thing to him, to satiety; and yet, to tell the  truth, he does not succeed in fully satisfying either the enlightened gentlemen who discuss “emancipation” at one time with affectation, at another with melancholy, or the unlearned masters who openly curse this unfortunate “emuncipation.” Both find him too tame.

“Do not let us forget Peter. He has become quite stupid and more inflated with importance than ever; but that has not prevented him from making quite an advantageous marriage; he has married the daughter of a gardener of the city, who preferred him to two other suitors, because they had no watch, while he possessed not only a watch,- but even varnished boots!”
I think most film scholars would attribute the birth of this farewell trope to the closing credits of American Graffitti: 

And it was famously parodied a few years later by Animal House:

Since that time it has become commonplace.

But it got me to thinking about whether the world had seen anything like this prior to Fathers and Sons. There are obviously plenty of examples of authors addressing their readership directly at the end of their writing: the morals shared at the end of Aesop’s Fables, for example, or Shakespeare’s frequent closing speeches asking for the indulgence of the audience. But these would be the rough equivalents of an Author’s Note- not "where are they now" cutaways.

We do see formal epilogues like the one in Crime and Punishment (published a few years after Fathers and Sons) and time jumps like the last chapter of Great Expectations (written one year before Fathers and Sons), but these are usually continuations of the regular narrative- after some interval of time- rather than quick glimpses at the future fates of several characters.

So, I ask the question: Are there any earlier examples of ‘where are they now’ snippets to close out a literary work? Or was Turgenev the pop culture innovator I think he was?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A War Story

It's not lost on us that with our site launching yesterday, Veterans Day got short shrift around here. So, for your weekend listening pleasure, we give you one of our favorite war stories: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien.

This hour-long recording was originally made for PRI's Selected Shorts podcast. The reading is by Dylan Baker. Some foul language, but all in all, some awesome storytelling. Parts 1 through 7 below.



Friday, November 11, 2011

...Aaaand we're live!

Welcome to, your home on the web for lowfalutin literary delights. We hope you’ll take a look around, subscribe to our feed and come back early and often.

Before we get into anything too meaty, we wanted to take a moment and introduce you to some of the authors you’ll get to know over the coming months and years. We'll just take a quick peek into the gentlemen’s lounge:

Tell you what, though. Rather than go formally around the room, Let’s kick things off with a contest, shall we? Name as many of these authors as you can.

Feel free to chat, commiserate and mislead in the comments below, but make sure to email your entry to The person with the most correct answers wins a $50 Amazon gift card. Or, if you'd prefer, and if we can swing it, a $50 credit at a local bookseller of your choice. If multiple people identify all twenty authors, they will be compiled into a numbered list based on the order of their entries and the winner will be chosen from among that list by a random number generator. The winner will be picked one week hence. Have at it, and thanks for visiting!