What a wonderful coincidence – Louisa May Alcott was born on this day in 1832, the same day as Madeleine L’Engle, in 1918.
Alcott was a favorite author of mine before I even knew how to read; my mom read Little Women to me out loud. When I did learn to read on my own, L’Engle was the author who best held my attention. From A Wrinkle in Time, to A Ring of Endless Light, to her memoirs, I think I read (and re-read) about 20 of L’Engle’s books.
Trisha reviewed the biography Louisa May Alcott, by Harriet Reisen, earlier in the month. On comparisons between Alcott and her heroine Jo March, she wrote:
the real Louisa was just as intelligent, hot-tempered, rebellious and ambitious as her fictional counterpart. But the true story of Alcott’s life is both more tragic and more triumphant than anything she cooked up for her favorite little woman.
The book has been adapted by PBS for their American Masters series. (The film debuts Dec. 28.) After the jump, watch outtakes from PBS’s "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women."
Revisiting childhood and teen favorites seems to be a trend right now. In Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, Lizzie Skurnick writes about beloved YA novels. (Read an interview with Skurnick.) In Everything I need to Know I learned From a Children’s Book, Anita Silvey asks over 100 people to choose a book from childhood that changed their worldview.
Alcott and L’Engle certainly inspired my love of reading. What books or authors are your childhood favorites?
James Agee died in 1955, at age 45. Two years later, his novel A Death in the Family was published with the help of David McDowell, Agee’s editor. The novel won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Agee, and famed book critic Alfred Kazin wrote that it was “the work of a writer whose power with English words can make you gasp.”
Today, on the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth, we have reason to re-visit (or discover) Agee’s masterpiece. Penguin Classics has republished the novel with an introduction by Steve Earle, who lived in Tennessee -- Agee's home state -- for many years. (I know Earle as a hard-living songwriter and singer, but he wrote a short story collection, Doghouse Roses, in 2001.)
In the introduction, Earle writes, “[James Agee’s words] are so indelibly etched someplace inside of me that I couldn’t reach to rub them out even if I wanted to. And I never want to.”
About a year ago, A Death in the Family created buzz because literary scholar Michael A. Lofaro of the University of Tennessee edited A Death in the Family: A Restoration of the Author’s Text. The New York Times praised Lofaro’s volume, which opens with an entirely different scene. Will Blythe wrote:
At last we have A Death in the Family that appears closer to the author’s original intention. This tidying is good in its own right, but the main reason to celebrate the publication of this version is that it serves as a fresh reminder of the wondrous nature of Agee’s prose — unabashedly poetic, sacramental in its embrace of reality, and rhythmical as rain on a Tennessee tin roof.
Happy Black Friday! If you’re like me you’re probably… still in bed on this lovely morning the day after Thanksgiving. If you’re like millions of other Americans, though, you’ve been out in the trenches for hours, shopping for a great deal. (Bonus points if you’re reading this very post on your cell phone, in line to check out at a store.)
In honor of the official start day of the holiday shopping season, we want to know: Will you be buying an e-reader this year? Which one? A Nook? Kindle? Sony Reader?
According to a report from iReaderReview.com, e-book sales have risen in a big way. Random House sold $22.6 million worth of e-books in September 2009 – up from $2.9 million a year ago. The website also reported that by the end of 2010, e-book sales should represent 10-20% of total book sales.
And if you're not interested in e-readers, you're you alone. Just listen to bookseller Patty Donovan from The Book Nook, who told us:
Before e-books, book ownership was a thing to be prized, a goal to be lauded and a visible symbol of success and intelligence. E-books have tarnished that gilded image, turning people who used to look for integrity in the printed word into those who think that Wikipedia is a far more accurate and dignified source than anything in print.
You’re probably eating turkey (or another favorite food) right now, and spending time with family and friends. I love doing all those things on Thanksgiving, but I also like to spend the holiday diving into a good book.
If you’re looking for Thanksgiving kids books, here are a few favorites from the BookPage.com archives. This year, we highlighted Duck for Turkey Day and Thanksgiving Rules, but there are many older books worth re-reading or discovering, too.
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, shows a re-enactment of the Thanksgiving feast of 1621 at living history museum Plimoth Plantation.
Rivka's First Thanksgiving, by Elsa Okon Rael, is about a young Jewish girl’s celebration of the holiday in 1910. About the book, reviewer Alice Cary writes, “Here’s a lovely story with unique insights into what it means to be a thankful American.”
All About Turkeys, by writer, illustrator and naturalist Jim Arnosky, is about the feeding, hunting and mating habits of the wild turkey. We’ve got an interview with Arnosky here. (Sneak peek: “I am convinced that if you love the outdoors, natural places, and wildlife, you will grow into a person who will consider those factors no matter what work you do.”)
Enjoy the holiday! What are you reading?
Kids around the country are probably already counting down the days until the release of Disney’s latest animated film: The Princess and the Frog. The movie, based on E.D. Baker’s 2002 YA novel The Frog Princess and the Grimm brothers’ classic The Frog Prince, opens in New York and Los Angeles today. The rest of us can’t see it until Dec. 11 (such a disappointment, when the trailer – after the jump – looks so fantastic).
Set in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the plot follows Tiana (the first African-American Disney princess) as she’s turned into a frog after a kiss from Naveen – a prince who’d himself been turned into a frog. To reverse the spell, they have to seek out the good voodoo priestess of the Bayou.
Looking forward to the movie, I thought I’d revisit some contemporary fairy tales covered in BookPage (click on the book covers to read the review). Browse, enjoy and tell us: What’s your favorite fairy tale?
Trailer of The Princess and the Frog:
Blackout by Connie Willis
February 2010, Spectra
Eileen, Polly and Mike are historians at Oxford in 2060, where a time-travel machine can send researchers into the past to study history as it happens. Eileen is observing the children evacuated to the British countryside during World War II, while Mike is studying the heroes of Dunkirk and Polly is sent to London during the Blitz. But back in 2060, the future of time travel grows increasingly uncertain, and the scheduled "drops" more erratic. What will happen to Eileen, Polly and Mike if they can't get home again?
Four months, Eileen thought, separating them. I only have to put up with them for four more months. "No one's going to invade," she said firmly, "tonight or any other night."
"'Ow do you know?" Alf demanded.
"You can't know something what ain't 'appened yet," Binnie said.
"Why ain't 'e going to?" Alf persisted.
Because the British Army will get away from him at Dunkirk, Eileen thought, and he'll lose the Battle of Britain and begin bombing London to bring the British to their knees. But it won't work. They'll stand up to him. It'll be their finest hour. And it will lose him the war.
"Because I have faith in the future," she said, and, getting a firmer grip on Alf and Binnie, set off with them into the darkness.
What are you reading today?
Earlier this month, I got around to reading Roald Dahl's My Uncle Oswald, which I'd picked up at the Salvation Army back in June. Dahl's work, especially The Witches, really captured my imagination as a child, and in high school and college I read most of his short stories. Though it is definitely an adult novel, Uncle Oswald contains all the madcap magic of Dahl's writing for children, and it was perfect beachside reading.
The action begins at a dinner party, in the year 1912. Oswald Cornelius, who at 17 is already a ladies' man whose one ambition is to become a wealthy sybarite, hears the story of a beetle whose crushed carapaces have a Viagra-like effect. Recognizing his ticket to fame and fortune, Oswald heads to Africa and collects some beetle powder, compounding a pill that has the world's most rich and famous men of a certain age willing to pay anything for a dose before his scheme is interrupted by service in World War I.
Fast forward a few years, and enter the adult themes: with the help of a scientist and a beautiful Girton student, Oswald decides to compile a sperm bank of geniuses (interestingly, the so-called "Nobel Sperm Bank" idea was being dreamed up right around the time the book was being written, in the late 1970s).
"Can't you see her," I said, "this rich, unhappy woman who is married to some incredibly ugly, coarse, ignorant, unpleasant industrialist from Birmingham, and all at once she has something to live for. As she goes strolling through the beautifully kept garden . . . she is humming the slow movement of Beethoven's Eroica and thinking to herself, 'my God! Isn't it wonderful! I am pregnant by the man who wrote this music a hundred years ago!' "
"We don't have Beethoven's sperm."
"There are plenty of others," I said.
What follows is a raunchy, hilarious caper around the globe as sexy co-ed Yasmin seduces royals, painters and writers in pursuit of the literal essence of genius. Dahl uses his imagination to great effect when portraying these encounters, characterizing the victims as "jokers" or "genuises" and not hesitating to skewer even the most famous of men, especially his fellow writers (Proust and George Bernard Shaw get the worst of it). The gleeful triumph Oswald and Yasmin express after a successful heist recalls the elation felt by Matilda after supergluing her father's hat to his head, which is almost enough to make the naughtiest bits seem like innocent fun.
My Uncle Oswald is marred by the occasional sexist or xenophobic remark (Roald Dahl was a man's man of his time for sure) and every so often it crosses the line from irreverent to crude—but finding a new Dahl book was a real treat for this fan.
We’ve already blogged quite a bit about Colum McCann and Let the Great World Spin, but I couldn’t resist another mention after hearing some good news: On Dec. 4, Random House will release the paperback version of the book, which will have a first printing of 100,000 copies. The National Book Award-winning novel was originally slated to come out in paperback in the spring.
In a press release, Jane von Mehren, Publisher of Trade Paperbacks for the Random House Publishing Group, said: “Let the Great World Spin is one of the year’s great word of mouth novels. We are moving fast because this is Colum McCann’s moment.”
If you’re still on the fence on this one, Robert Weibezahl’s rave review in BookPage’s Well Read column should convince you to read this book.
On the flip side, the paperback release of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has been pushed from February to June, since the hardcover is selling so well.
Will you be buying Let the Great World Spin in hardcover or in paperback?
Not long ago we got a special treat in the mail at BookPage: Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History’s Glare. This book (retail value: $40!) is a visual memoir of Vidal’s life, complete with pages and pages of photos, letters and other memorabilia (not to mention Vidal’s writing).
I could go on – but instead, one lucky reader can read for him or herself in Vidal’s new book. Just answer the following question in the comments (think of this as a BookPage.com scavenger hunt):
Which of Vidal’s audio books was named as “Sukey’s Favorite” by BookPage audio book columnist Sukey Howard? I’ll choose a random winner from the correct answers. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Monday. Good luck!
On Friday, we heard that Stephen King's Under the Dome had been optioned by DreamWorks TV as an "event series." I think the new novel is extremely well-suited to a miniseries format and can't wait to see how it turns out (if you haven't seen my review of Under the Dome, it's here).
Of course, this news can only mean one thing—coming up with casting ideas! I could see Elizabeth Mitchell of "Lost" doing a good job as Julia. She's about the right age and could play the role of a relentless reporter without batting an eye.
Actor Cillian Murphy has a talent for being creepy without becoming a caricature (Red Eye, anyone?), so he'd be a great Junior. But at 33, is he too old for the role?
As for Big Jim and Barbie—I'm stumped! And what about the endearing Joe McClatchy and his teen cohorts? Other Under the Dome readers, share your ideas in the comments.