If it were possible to wear out an internet browser, I would probably be guilty of doing such a thing in my ongoing and never-ending quest to learn about the origins of certain words and phrases.
I know what you're thinking, but not all words lead back to Shakespeare. Even though the number of words and phrases he coined comes in at around a whopping 1,700, he did not, in fact, invent the English language. Indeed, we have lots of different writers to credit for contributing to it throughout the centuries.
In his addictive new book, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers, Paul Dickson offers a delightful A-to-Z exploration of familiar words and phrases that were coined or popularized by a wide range of authors, including these:
• Butterfingers—Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers (1836)
• Egghead—Carl Sandburg in a letter (1918)
• Eyesore—William Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
• Freelance—Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe (1820)
• Nerd—Dr. Seuss in If I Ran the Zoo (1950)
• Scaredy-cat—Dorothy Parker in "The Waltz" (1933)
• Shotgun wedding—Sinclair Lewis in Elmer Gantry (1927)
• T-shirt—F. Scott Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise (1920)
• Yahoo—Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels (1726)
This fun, breezy (though authoritative), enlightening book will also give you the lowdown on and background of such words as pandemonium, chintzy, factoid and so many more. You'll never have to endure another awkward, cocktail-party conversation lull when armed with all of the knowledge packed into this entertaining compendium.
Maggie Shipstead's second novel, Astonish Me, is our Top Pick in fiction for April. Our reviewer describes it as "a request, a demand, a dare, all wrapped up in two little words, heavy with promise. And like the prima ballerina at the heart of the novel itself, Shipstead delivers a glorious story that does exactly what it says it will." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Shipstead has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This had been on my to-read list forever, and when Adichie won the NBCC Award for fiction, I finally remembered to go out and buy it. What a truly spectacular book. Everything about it is alive and essential and harmonious: the flawless prose, the fully-realized characters, the looping shape of the narrative, the vividly textured settings. Although Adichie's story speaks to big, thorny issues like race and class and immigration (not to mention love), her characters all feel like complete, complex people, not props for an argument, and the novel has a gentle archness and lightness of tone that makes its remarkable depth and insight seem effortless.
I was at a book festival with Arthur Phillips this winter but shamefully hadn't read his books, so I decided to start with his first, Prague, a novel that came out in 2002 and revolves around a group of ex-pats living in Budapest, not Prague, in the early 1990s. (The cheeky fake-out of the title alone is reason enough to love this book.) It's full of wit and casual brilliance and a pleasantly convoluted nostalgia-that-is-also-a-deep-suspicion-of-nostalgia and characters who, like real people, are capable of holding all sorts of endlessly shifting, often contradictory convictions and delusions. On a technical level, the omniscient voice, which I think is incredibly difficult to sustain, is used masterfully and acrobatically throughout to deliver all kinds of structural surprises and to convey a sense of overarching vision.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
By Adelle Waldman
Waldman's debut novel is so sharply observed it's a little frightening. I've read it twice, and both times I felt the continuous sense of recognition that the best fiction inspires, where you keep thinking, "Yes, that's exactly how it is!" The consciousness of the protagonist, Nate, is rendered with an intricate completeness that I found immensely satisfying, but I was also fascinated and moved by the novel's many insights about fickleness of desire and its resistance to intellectual governance. There's a formidably critical mind behind this book, but I'd hesitate to call the novel satirical: Waldman forgoes comic exaggeration in favor of precise, measured, unflinching truthfulness tempered by compassion, even tenderness.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astonish Me—or any of Shipstead's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Michelle Legro)
• 101 Books debunks 5 literary legends, including the one about Dr. Seuss and Kurt Vonnegut.
• Coming next year from Random House is Garlic in Fiction, a new collection of works by Shirley Jackson, culled from her archives and edited by two of her children. It'll feature stories, drawings, lectures—can't wait!
• Something you don't have to wait for: Zadie Smith's new short story from The Paris Review.
• Short on free time for reading? Flavorwire has put together a list of 50 incredible novels under 200 pages, including Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
• In movie news, last year's National Book Award winner for fiction, The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, is heading to the big screen, with Liev Schreiber and Jaden Smith set to star. Are you looking forward to seeing it?
• Finally, BuzzFeed gets inside the mind of legendary romance cover model, Fabio. Enjoy!
The fun will actually begin on Tuesday (April 22) evening, though, with more than 20 author events planned to kick things off. Check out all of the who, when and where details to see if there will be a celebration near you.
Then, next Wednesday night, thousands of volunteers will be giving away 550,000 copies of books to light or non-readers in under-served communities. The list of 38 books to be distributed includes fiction and nonfiction, new books and classics, as well as several YA titles and even a collection of poetry.
The WBN folks have created a handy interactive map detailing all of the giveaway locations across the country, and there's also a list of participating bookstores and libraries, sorted by state.
All participants are encouraged to write about their experiences and enter the WBN ebook essay contest. The winning essays will be featured in an ebook to be distributed at next year's World Book Night. Check out all of the contest details here.
The World Book Night tagline says it all: spreading the love of reading, person to person. Will you be taking part? If so, we'd love to hear about it! Share your plans—or past WBN experiences—in the comments section, below.
Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel, You Should Have Known, is the type of unrelenting page-turner that keeps readers (including myself) up way into the night, simply unable to put it down. Our reviewer calls the taut story of how the comfortable and predictable life of a Manhattan therapist is completely upended "an insightful, compelling tale." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Korelitz has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Blood Will Out
By Walter Kirn
Last week I gave a reading with my friend, novelist Jane Green, at R.J. Julia bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. R.J. Julia is one of the great bookstores—warm and friendly and full of people who love books. The store has a very sweet tradition of thanking writers who come to give readings by letting them choose a book from the stock. Here’s the funny part: thousands of books to choose from and Jane and I both picked the same one: Walter Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out. I’ve been fascinated by the Clark Rockefeller case since I first read about it in 2008, as I am fixated on sociopaths in general. But Kirn, who actually met Rockefeller (or “Rockefeller”) in 1998 and maintained a connection with him for years, had a front row seat to his constant myth making. Kirn’s willingness to examine his own culpability in accepting these falsehoods makes his memoir a powerful examination of deceit and its even creepier cousin, self-deception.
How I Became Hettie Jones
By Hettie Jones
I had dinner at the American Academy of Arts and Letters the other night with my husband (he’s the member, not I!). The room was so full of important writers, artists and composers that even the most determined name-dropper would run out of steam before getting through a fraction of them, but I was most truly thrilled to be sitting with the daughters of Amiri Baraka (who’d been memorialized in a pre-dinner ceremony). I’ve had no special feelings for Baraka, but their mother, Hettie Jones, is the author of one of my very favorite memoirs, the sublimely entitled How I Became Hettie Jones. The book is Hettie’s account of leaving her Queens childhood for Beat Generation art and bohemia in 1950s Greenwich Village, marriage to poet and playwright Baraka (then known as Le Roi Jones), and what it was like to be a white woman married to a black man who ultimately came to feel that he could no longer be a black man who was married to a white woman. Their daughters, who are my age, are characters in a book I’ve loved for twenty years; talking to them and hearing about their lives only made me want to read it again.
By Alison Bechdel
Last fall I was lucky enough to see the Public Theater’s production of Fun Home, a musical adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. I’m not a big fan of graphic anything, and had only vaguely heard of Bechdel, but I was so wowed by the power of Bechdel’s work that I went rushing out to read all of her books. Bechdel is a deeply cerebral writer, processing and reprocessing the motifs of her life with reference to literature, philosophy and psychological theory. Her story may not sound outwardly eventful (father, mother and three children grow up in an old Pennsylvania home; the daughter’s gradual self-identification as a lesbian may or may not create a crisis of identity in her closeted father), but Bechdel manages to funnel an entire world of ideas into and out or her autobiographical material. I loved Fun Home and Bechdel’s more recent Are You My Mother?, but I had the best time of all with the omnibus edition of her hilarious and wonderful syndicated strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Am I converted to “graphic anything”? Nope. But I’ll read whatever Bechdel writes from this point on. And if Fun Home transfers to Broadway, I’m definitely going to see it again.
(Author photo by Mark Czajkowski)
Why does the same joke leave one person LOLing and another yawning or stone-faced? Why do we laugh? Does humor have a dark side? Is laughter really the best medicine? These thought-provoking questions—and more—are tackled head-on in The Humor Code, the fascinating, thoroughly entertaining new book by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner—released just in time for National Humor Month.
McGraw—founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder—and award-winning journalist Warner traveled the globe on a quest to get to the root of what makes things funny, stopping in Los Angeles, Tanzania, Palestine, Copenhagen and even venturing into the Amazon. Among the experts they consult are a head writer for The Onion, Hunter "Patch" Adams (yes, that Patch Adams), New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff and several "top members of the Japanese Humor and Laughter Society."
Their around-the-world romp ended in Montreal, where Warner drew upon their newfound wisdom by attempting stand-up at Montreal's Just For Laughs comedy festival, which is basically the Olympics of comedy fests. How did he do? I won't spoil it for you.
If you're still scratching your head over why Tanzania, wonder no more. In this excerpt from the fourth chapter, the authors explain what drew them to the East African country:
Good news greets us in Uganda as we disembark our plane: "Uganda has defeated the outbreak of Ebola," announces a large placard standing in the airport's main hall. "Please have a nice stay."
Well, that's a relief.
We actually have a different malady in mind—one far less lethal than Ebola, but evocative nonetheless. We're here in East Africa on the trail of the so-called 1962 Tanganyika laughter epidemic. As the story goes, in 1962 in the northwest corner of Tanganyika (a country now known as Tanzania), hundreds of people began laughing uncontrollably. The affliction, if you could call it that, spread from one person to the next, and nothing seemed to stop it. Schools shut down. Entire villages were caught in its throes. When the laughing stopped months later, a thousand people had some down with the "disease."
Since then, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic has captured imaginations the world over. Newspaper articles have been written about it, radio shows have explored it, and documentaries have dramatized it. But many of these accounts detailed the incident from afar, relying on secondhand sources, scraps of information, and rumors. Few people have investigated the event themselves, tracking the laughter all the way to its source. That's why we're here.
To be honest, we're a bit skeptical of the whole account. Uncontrollable laughter, jumping from person to person like a devilish possession, doesn't make sense. But something happened in Tanganyika in 1962. There are enough firsthand accounts and medical reports to confirm that. But what that something is—and what, if anything, it has to do with humor—is still up for debate.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Humor Code?
• "Mad Men" returns this weekend. Which of these books do you want to see Don Draper (or other characters) reading on the iconic show's final season?
• Pop quiz time! Don't panic—it's a fun pop quiz. Check the books you've read on BuzzFeed's list to find out just how scandalous your reading taste skews.
• Did you know that Shakespeare's 450th (!) birthday is coming up this month? Perhaps you didn't know that there are several online Shakespeare courses that you can take—for free!
• Since you were such good sports about the quiz, how about a super-cute game called How to Be a Writer?
We love books about books, bookstores, book lovers—anything to do with books! In Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, the titular character is the prickly proprietor of a seen-better-days bookstore—Island Books—whose life is turned upside-down . . . in a good way. The enchanting book has a little of everything: romance, books, friendships, second chances. Read our interview with Zevin about it.
We were curious about the books Zevin has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick DeWitt
When I was in college, I read that Vladimir Nabokov loved Westerns, and because I loved Nabokov, I thought I should make a point to read Westerns, too. For years, I’ve struggled through Westerns, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly enjoyed one until The Sisters Brothers. I loved reading about Eli Sisters’ struggles with oral hygiene, weight and romance. I wept for his horse, Tub. After a long dry spell, this is the Western I have always wanted to read.
My Accidental Jihad
By Krista Bremer
I ended up reading My Accidental Jihad because I met the author, Krista Bremer, at a book event. I’m not sure I would have read the book if I hadn’t met her. That one provocative word in the title might have led me to make assumptions about what kind of story this was going to be. In a way, this is the point of such a title. Though the word has a specific connotation to an American reader, jihad, as Bremer explains, means struggle. The context of this memoir is Bremer’s marriage to an older, Libyan, Muslim man, but at the heart of the story are the issues with which many women struggle: feminism, spirituality, love and children. The book is gently humorous, too: At one point, Bremer’s young daughter gives a Western makeover to a Muslim Barbie doll. [Look for our review of My Accidental Jihad in our May issue.]
Not so long ago, I wrote a Young Adult series, and to an extent, the writing of it burnt me out on ever wanting to read another one. That said, I was irresistibly drawn to the premise of The Winner’s Curse. A young noblewoman buys a slave, and then the two slowly fall in love. But how can she love a person whom she owns, and vice versa? This is a fascinating book, with interesting things to say about race, class, gender, history and power. In an odd way, it reminded of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I can’t think of a more perfect, provocative read for a mother-daughter book club.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry—or any of Zevin's recommended books—to your TBR list?
• The HuffPost rounded up a collection of simply delightful—some downright amusing—bookplates.
• You may want to bookmark Flavorwire's roundup of 50 (!) of the best Southern novels for the next time you're craving a richly rewarding read set below the Mason-Dixon line.
• In other news, what do you think about Daniel McCaig's Ruth's Journey, the forthcoming (in October) prequel to Gone with the Wind, which will focus on the character of Mammy?
• I need another mug about as much as I need another tote bag. But this series of literary-themed cups compiled by BuzzFeed has me contemplating adding to my collection.
• We've all mused over which of our favorite authors or characters we'd like to invite to a gathering. In a refreshing (and amusing) twist, The Toast offers up six literary characters who, let's face it, would probably be terrible dinner party guests.
• Can Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really be 50 years old? To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers and Dylan's Candy Bar are offering a pretty sweet contest.
RITA Award-winning romance author Robin D. Owens has just launched a brand new paranormal series with Ghost Seer (out this week). In it, Denverite Clare Cermak inherits her recently departed great-aunt's ability to communicate with ghosts. When she encounters the restless spirit of an Old West gunslinger and Zach, a handsome (and very much alive) private investigator, things start to get interesting. In this guest blog post, Denver native Owens offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the inspiration behind the fun new series.
The creation of the Ghost Seer series began with a road trip. I was born and raised in Denver, but always dreamt of castles in Europe. Even though the history of the Old West was all around me, I took it for granted.
Two years ago, I wanted to come up with a new series concept, and my mother and a friend and I were driving to California. It's hard to ignore the landscape that shaped the people, or the history those people made—gold rushes, the Overland Stage, the Pony Express, mining towns and ranch wars and gunfighters—when you're traversing the Western United States mile by mile.
So with that landscape and the bits of history we read as we traveled, ideas turned in my mind of a contemporary paranormal series set in Denver. With ghosts. And a woman who wouldn't believe in them, a logical sort, an accountant—but she'd have to come to terms with her "gift" or go crazy or die.
So I thought of a psychic power that passes from family member to family member—the ability to see and communicate with ghosts—and Clare Cermak came into being. Clare had a weird great-aunt Sandra who recently died and left her a fortune, the psychic gift, and a ghost Labrador dog named Enzo to help her accept her new powers.
I am most well known for my telepathic animal companions in my books, and I sure like writing them, so writing Enzo helped me transition to the new series.
On the trip we discussed men, naturally, and I came up with Zach Slade, an edgy, wounded warrior type of hero. He's a former deputy sheriff from Montana who, along with his partner, made a mistake that got him shot and disabled. He, too, has to reshape his life. He's not too happy about giving up the public sector, or even interviewing at the Denver private investigation firm that his old boss recommended. But when he meets and flirts with Clare, he's intrigued by the shadows in her eyes that hint at a puzzle to be solved, and, of course, he's attracted.
As for the ghost, this guy was THE archetype for all the gunfighters of the Old West, a man Mark Twain (who never let the truth get in the way of a good story) made famous . . . at the time. Now, he and his story are barely known. He can't move on until he redeems himself for the worst act of his life. I really enjoyed visiting places my haunt had lived, taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere.
Ghost Seer has romance: Clare with a paranormal gift, and Zach with a whiff of the paranormal, too. Enzo is there as mentor and comic relief, and there's a light suspense twist, along with historical fact as true as I could make it.
Throughout the series both Clare and Zach will grow, and face danger. For Ghost Layer (coming in September), I took a couple of facts that got juxtaposed in my mind—a millionaire who moved an entire ghost town to his ranch estate and a "romantic" ghost that appeared, skeleton and all, in ladies' beds after they died. My millionaire is having house parties, and the ghost is driving off his female guests as well as his staff. In this story, the apparition was murdered and wants Clare and Zach to find his killer before he can go on.
I am having a great time writing these and hope readers enjoy them, too. Thank you for this opportunity for me to gush about my new passion.
Thank you, Robin! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Ghost Seer?