Each time BookBrowse reviews a book we also go "beyond the book" to explore a related topic. Last week we reviewed A Prison in Malta, the first in a new 16th century mystery series by Phillip DePoy which introduces a sleuth to appeal to mystery, historical fiction and literary aficionados alike, none other than playwright Christopher Marlowe (who, in all likelihood, did do to a fair amount of real-life spying for Queen Elizabeth.)
Going "beyond the book" our reviewer James Broderick eruditely explores the 400-year-old question - did Shakespeare write his plays or were they written by someone else? And was that someone Christopher Marlowe? If you've found the "Shakespeare authorship" question a tad dry, even irrelevant, or perhaps didn't even know there was a question to resolve, be prepared to be happily entertained and intrigued as James, in a mere 700 words, eloquently gets to the gist of a debate that has spawned dozens of books:
What compels you to pick up a book? The tightly paced plot? The setting? Excellent writing? All of the above? A good writer knows how to make characters and places shine and to make the story so seamless that you'll hardly ever realize you're being carefully manipulated by a master of the craft.
In this special edition of the best of our interviews from the last year, some of your favorite authors - and ours - share the secrets behind their successful books and the topics they chose to write about.
This blog first ran as a "beyond the book" article for BookBrowse's review of The Watcher by Charlotte Link
Thanks to authors like Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, and Henning Mankell, not to mention Stieg Larsson, American readers have become quite familiar with contemporary Scandinavian thrillers and novels of psychological suspense. As The Watcher demonstrates, however, the Nordic countries hardly have a monopoly on this genre, and in recent years several novels by contemporary German thriller writers have begun to hit the English-speaking market. Here are a few names to look for:
In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature written to complement our review of Spell It Out by David Crystal
David Crystal is a prolific scholar of linguistics who specializes in language pathology, phonetics, and linguistic disability.
What I admire most about Crystal's scholarship in Spell It Out is its humanity. He never loses sight of language as a form of human expressionwhether through orthography or pronunciation.
Consider for example, the history of the word, "ghost":
"Why is there an h here? And in ghastly, aghast and the whole family of related words ghostly, ghostliness, ghastliness, ghostbusters and so on? It wasn't there when the word first came into English. In Anglo-Saxon England we find it used in the form gast, with a long 'ah' vowel...But there was no h in the Anglo-Saxon spelling: the Holy Ghost was a Hali Gast. Nor was there an h in the word in Chaucer's time Then along came Caxton [William Caxton, the first printer and publisher of books in England], who sets up his printing-shop. But who was to carry out the painstaking task of typesetting the new books, letter by letter? There was nobody capable of doing it in England. Caxton had learned his trade on the European mainland so he looked to the Continent for help. We know the name of one of his assistants, Wynkyn de Worde. He and the other compositors all spoke Flemish."
Crystal points out that the Flemish-speaking typesetters were on their own: "There were no dictionaries or house style guides to help them choose which spellings to use. In Bruges they would all have been used to reading manuscripts in Flemish spelling. So, if a word reminded them of its Flemish counterpart, why not spell it the Flemish way?"
And so Caxton refers to the "Holy Ghoost," and "ghost" appears in his printing of Chaucer's "House of Fame." This spelling looked "right" to the Flemish printers and, Crystal reports, soon looked "right" to everyone else: " by the end of the 16th century everyone was using the new form. Hamlet's dead father is a ghost, not a gost. And slowly the h spread to related words. Aghast appears first in the 15th century, and eventually replaces agast. Ghastly replaces gastly."
Even today contemporary Wynkyn de Wordes are inventing new spellings for old words - in books or perhaps while texting or Tweeting - that will someday catch on as "ghost" did and exert their own "ghostly" influence on other words as well.
By Jo Perry, first published on BookBrowse as the "beyond the book" article relating to Spell It Out by David Crystal
Picture of Caxton from Unrealcityaudio
Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone by Alice McDermott, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," concludes that reading literary fiction can better the ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others. The researchers, Ph.D candidate David Comer Kidd; and professor of psychology, Emanuele Castano; suggest that this is achieved by an increase in empathy and the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.
In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature written to complement our 2013 review of Goat Mountain by David Vann:
David Vann fits into an American literary tradition that has been around since the 1960s, but was only given a name in 1983. Bill Buford, former editor of Granta literary magazine, coined the term "dirty realism" to characterize two trends in American fiction: a tendency toward simplified language, largely free from adverbs or flowery language (as is true of Vann's matter-of-fact prose in Goat Mountain), and frank consideration of the awfulness of ordinary, lower- or middle-class lives.