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Roland Barthes and "The Death of the Author" (10/19)
In DeWitt's story 'Famous Last Words,' two characters argue over the interpretation of an essay by Roland Barthes called 'The Death of the Author,' and whether its message is still relevant for writers.

Roland Barthes was a French philosopher and literary critic. He was born in 1915 in Cherbourg, France and attended the Sorbonne where ...
Gothic Romance and the Rise of the Lady Sleuth (10/19)
Gothic novels typically have a few common elements: a haunted setting, an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, supernatural (or seemingly so) occurrences, a tortured hero, a heroine in distress and high emotions. The genre's origins are generally traced back to Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, which features a medieval ...
The Bard of the Yukon (10/19)
The Great Alone takes its title from a line in 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew,' a poem composed by Robert W. Service, whose work inspires the main character throughout the book.

Robert W. Service (1874-1958), known as 'The Bard of the Yukon,' was born in Lancashire, England, the son of a banker and an heiress. He was sent to Kilwinning,...
Melmoth the Wanderer: Inspiration for Sarah Perry's Melmoth (10/19)
Though the story encapsulated in Sarah Perry's Melmoth is entirely her own, it derives its name and legend from Irish playwright, Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. Published in 1820, Melmoth the Wanderer follows John Melmoth, a young student in Dublin, as he visits his dying uncle. Upon his arrival, he discovers an old ...
Famous Writers Who Have Plagiarized (09/19)
The main character in John Boyne's novel A Ladder to the Sky plagiarizes others' work to gain his fame and fortune.

Many famous authors have been accused of 'borrowing' the writings of others and claiming it as their own work, sometimes even ending up in court. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown, creator of the ...
John Milton and Paradise Lost (08/19)
In 'The Killer of Kings,' the short story in Anjali Sachdeva's collection All the Names They Used for God, John Milton (1608-1674), secluded in the English countryside after being charged and fined for publishing a tract that contemplated regicide, writes his epic poem Paradise Lost with the help of a muse, an angel the blind poet can ...
Cozy Mysteries (08/19)
The mystery is one of the most popular genres of literature, and the 'cozy mystery,' a term coined in the late 20th century, holds steady as a favorite subset of crime fiction.

Cozy mysteries are marked by compelling, yet relatable characters. The 'detective' is an amateur, thrown into an unexpected, undesired situation. Most often ...
Green Tries to Erase the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health (07/19)
John Green has never shied away from weighty issues. From depression and potential suicide in his debut novel, Looking for Alaska, to terminal illness in The Fault in Our Stars, and now obsessive-compulsive disorder in his latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, it seems that Green is at his strongest when he is exploring such meaty and ...
Samuel Pepys's Diary (07/19)
In The Judge Hunter, Balty's brother-in-law, Samuel Pepys, an important historical figure in 17th century London, plays an integral role.

Written in shorthand, Pepys recounts his experience on the ship that returned Charles II to England as well as the king's coronation. The diary also contains his accounts of both the 1665 Great ...

Literary and Pop Culture References in Southernmost (07/19)
In Silas House's Southernmost, Asher's estranged brother Luke sends him postcards with quotations from books, poems, and songs that serve as secret messages passing between them. Here's a closer look.

'Sandpiper': Asher's most recent communication from Luke is a postcard of a sandpiper with a line of poetry appended...
Can Nonfiction Be Too Revealing? (07/19)
On May 24, 2013, Tiffany Sedaris, sister of writer David Sedaris, died by suicide. Shortly after, David penned an essay for the New Yorker, entitled Now We are Five. In true Sedaris fashion, the essay doesn't focus entirely on Tiffany or the circumstances of her death, but instead looks at the situation through the lens of ...
Climate Fiction: A Glimpse into the Growing Genre (07/19)
In Midnight at the Electric, it is the year 2065, and teenager Adri is part of a carefully selected group departing Earth forever to live on Mars. Although the story takes place less than 50 years from now, massive planetary destruction has already taken place. As Adri puts it early on, 'there's no Miami and hardly any Bangladesh and no ...
Emphasizing Stories by Indigenous Writers (06/19)
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 5.2 million Native Americans currently live within the United States. But their stories are largely ignored by mainstream literature. In a world where literature is dominated by white male-driven narratives, it is even more important that we popularize and appreciate indigenous stories. I'd like to ...
Unreliable Narrators and Ourselves (05/19)
American literary critic Wayne C. Booth coined the term 'unreliable narrator' in 1961 in his most famous book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, and the concept was later refined by Hamilton College professor and narrative theorist Peter J. Rabinowitz: whether it is clear from the outset or revealed at the end, the unreliable narrator causes ...
Intersectional Representation in Young Adult Narratives (05/19)
Intersectionality is a term coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw almost three decades ago to explain how the oppression of African-American women was compounded by both race and gender. Essentially, she described the intersection of identities as affecting how much or how little power someone has within a society. It is a once-primarily ...
Literary Resistance in Sudan (05/19)
Leila Aboulela's books, including the story collection Elsewhere Home, illuminate modern life in Sudan, sharing bits of culture and geography alongside the experiences of faith and human relationships. The author joins in the tradition of Tayib Saleh and other fiction writers who've brought the Sudanese diaspora experience into Western ...
The Mercy Seat: Historical Background (05/19)
The Mercy Seat is inspired by true events. In the acknowledgements, the author, Elizabeth H. Winthrop, says that the character Willie Jones is based loosely on two men: Willie McGee and Willie Francis.

Willie McGee, a young black man, was arrested in 1945 in Laurel, Mississippi when a white woman accused him of breaking into her house ...
The Importance of Diverse Fantasy Spaces (03/19)

'Children have a right to books that reflect their own images and books that open less familiar worlds to them…for those children who had historically been ignored – or worse, ridiculed – in children's books, seeing themselves portrayed visually and textually as realistically human was essential to letting them ...

The Man Booker Prize Controversy (03/19)
While frequently framed as a challenging novel, Milkman has resonated with critics and readers alike since the work won the Man Booker Prize in October 2018. Expressing the thoughts of many book reviewers, Ron Charles of the Washington Post branded Anna Burns' third book 'the best last novel of [last] year' and 'something strange and ...
A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies (02/19)
Sadness is a White Bird's cryptic title is actually a direct quotation from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's 1967 poem, 'A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies,' which forms part of his collection The End of Night.

Did you feel sad? I asked.
Cutting me off, he said, Mahmoud, my friend,
sadness is a white bird that does not come near a ...

Literary Inmates (01/19)
'Strangler Bob', one of the more memorable stories in The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, is set entirely within the squalid confines of an American prison. As far as we know, Johnson himself never spent any time in jail; the story is a testament to the power of imagination shorn of experience.

Throughout history though, there have been ...
The Hunt That Came First: Moby Dick (11/18)
And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a re-imagining of Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Ness's text is a very experimental adaptation of Melville's, and one need not know Melville's text to understand it. However, some background on this American classic – recognized widely as a Great American Novel – may well ...
Helen Dunmore (10/18)
Helen Dunmore was born in Yorkshire, England in 1952. In a career spanning three decades she published fifteen novels, three short story collections, prize-winning children's fiction and twelve collections of poetry. Her final novel, Birdcage Walk, was published in 2017, as was her last poetry collection, Inside the Wave. Dunmore ...
Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (09/18)
It would be hard to dispute that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita mirrors the true story of Sally Horner. Nabokov's character Humbert Humbert is quite similar to Frank LaSalle, the real kidnapper, and Dolores 'Lolita' Haze bears similarities to Sally. Both men spirited the young girls away across the country. Yet Nabokov's fictional story has ...
Fairy Tales and Fiction (09/18)
I noted in my review of Joy Williams' Ninety-Nine Stories of God that it felt like a compilation of fairy tales. But then I began to wonder why I felt that way. On closer inspection, I perhaps learned why.

Warwick GobleFiction, of course, is not factual, even if the writer uses known facts in order to mirror reality. Writers make things up; they ...
Sometimes Fantasy is More Real Than Nonfiction (08/18)

Ask me with a gun to my head if I believe in them, all the gods and myths that I write about, and I'd have to say no. Not literally. Not in the daylight, nor in well-lit places, with people about. But I believe in the stories we can tell with them. I believe in the reflections that they show us when they are told. And forget it ...

Kafka and the Court Case (08/18)
While reading Nicole Krauss' novel Forest Dark, it occurred to me that although most lovers of literature know the name Franz Kafka, many might not realize that Kafka's rise to fame came mostly posthumously. Furthermore, even fewer people may know much about the court battle over his papers that finally reached its conclusion in 2016.

Love Story or Romance? (08/18)
Although the focus of George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl is their romantic relationship, I consider this novel to be a love story, not a romance. This distinction is arguably subjective and open for interpretation—perhaps rooted in literary snobbery—but as someone who appreciates both genres, this is how I discern the two.

Wise Women: Willfulness or Witchcraft? (07/18)
Whether talking about Rules of Magic or its predecessor, Practical Magic, Hoffman always makes one thing clear about the Owens sisters – there is something different about them. The town is not quite sure whether to revile or fear them, but that never stops the community from turning to the Owens' unorthodox problem-solving ...
Familial Co-Authors Writing Under One Pen Name (06/18)
According to their website, 'Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine.' Hearing this piqued my curiosity regarding, not simply literary collaborations (there are tons of those), but writers who collaborate and then publish their fictional works under a single pseudonym--and in particular writers...
The End of Eddy – A Publishing Phenomenon (05/18)
Édouard Louis' The End of Eddy was originally published in French in 2014, when the author was just 21. Since then it has sold 300,000 copies in France and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

The French title gives an extra dimension to the story: En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule translates more literally to Finishing ...
Shakespeare by Any Other Name (05/18)
According to Guinness World Records, William Shakespeare is the world's best-selling playwright, with in excess of four billion copies of his plays and poetry making it to press over the centuries. He is also history's most filmed author; his works have been adapted into 420 feature film and TV-movie versions (Hamlet alone has been ...
The World's First Cookbook (05/18)
In Crystal King's Feast of Sorrow, Apicius and his slave, Thrasius, develop their own cookbook. A quick search into Roman history reveals that Marcus Gavius Apicius actually did publish such a book (or rather a series of them), which most historians consider the first cookbook ever written. However, nowhere in the 450-500 recipes in this ...
A Veteran Writer's Ode to His Favorite Watering Hole (04/18)
There are two fairly common ways to memorialize someone: Raise a drink and propose a toast, or pick up a pen and write a tribute. But a handful of great writers have combined those two impulses and created memorable works that lionize their favorite drinking establishments. From Dickens' historic The George Inn in London to Hemingway's ...
José Martí - Havana's Poet Revolutionary (03/18)
Mark Kurlansky's Havana begins with this poetic snippet:

El corazón es un loco
Que no sabe de un color.

(The heart is a fool
that knows no color.)

The composer is the highly regarded José Martí, a significant figure in the pantheon of Latino writers, and more especially, in the small but distinguished group of ...

Arlie Russell Hochschild (02/18)
Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild's eleventh book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, was a 2016 National Book Award finalist. She has also written several magazine and newspaper articles and essays, all focusing on how 20th Century changes in roles, relationships and responsibilities affect the...
My Thoughts About Fredrik Backman's Books (02/18)
As I noted in my review of Beartown, I've read all of Fredrik Backman's works that have English translations. In fact, I was lucky enough to be one of the first early readers of his debut novel, A Man Called Ove. I realized then that I was witnessing the birth of an amazing talent and, to date, he hasn't ever let me down. Unfortunately, ...
An Interview with Maxine Beneba Clarke (10/17)
Maxine Beneba Clarke came to fiction through poetry, both written and spoken word. She was born in Australia to a Jamaican father and Guyanese mother. Her parents immigrated to the UK before settling in Australia. Her books include a memoir, The Hate Race; a children's book, The Patchwork Bike; and the poetry collections Carrying the ...
The Roots of the True Crime Genre (10/17)
As evidenced in her novel, Little Deaths, author Emma Flint is an aficionado of true crime. These books that chronicle the grim details of actual murders are written with a sensitive ear to readers' morbid curiosity about sensational crimes. The genre has been popular for centuries – people have long been willing to shell out cash to...
From Facebook Dabbler to Memoirist (10/17)
Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, started her writing career in 2009. Badly needing a break one day, the stay-at-home mother of three turned to Facebook, where she noticed several of her friends were participating in a series of posts called '25 Things About Me.' She immediately began sharing incredibly honest and personal ...
The Arduous Process of Writing (05/17)
John Hart took five years to produce his fifth novel, which he has said is surprising, given that his previous four books only took him approximately a year apiece to write. In the case of Redemption Road, Hart penned 300 pages, practically a whole novel, before deciding that he had chosen the wrong person to be his main character. It ...
Beowulf (05/17)
Grendel's Guide to Love and War is a contemporary retelling of the epic poem Beowulf. In the author's note at the end of the novel, A.E. Kaplan says that when she first read Beowulf, she remembers feeling sorry for Grendel. 'The poor fellow is minding his own business, living in his lake with his mother, when Hrothgar and company show up ...
Ann Patchett (05/17)
Ann Patchett has said that her book Commonwealth, more than any of her others, is autobiographical. It seems close given what we know about her life from various sources.

The bare bones information is that she was born on December 2, 1963 in Los Angeles to nurse-turned novelist Jeanne Ray and Los Angeles police officer Frank Patchett....
A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General (05/17)
Louise Penny often includes poetry in her books, and A Great Reckoning is no exception. Throughout the novel, A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General by Jonathan Swift is quoted.

His Grace! impossible! what dead!
Of old age too, and in his bed!
And could that mighty warrior fall?
And so inglorious, after all!

A Selection of Literary Prizes (04/17)
Lucy Wood, the author of Weathering, won a Somerset Maugham Award, named after the famous author.

What does it take to get a literary prize named after you? Some amount of money and/or influence in the literary world, to be sure, but also a personal connection to the prize being offered and its specific criteria. Here are a few ...
The Odyssey (03/17)
The New Odyssey brings to mind the original epic with which this book has many parallels. Literary works don't come much more venerable or influential than The Odyssey, a 12,000-line poem written in ancient Greek and composed sometime in the eighth century B.C.E. Granted, it's likely not every contemporary reader's favorite work (although...
Early African American Authors (02/17)
In Ginny Gall, the main character is an avid reader who aspires to be much like the black authors he admires. A few early African Americans writers are listed below.

Top, from left to right: James Weldon Johnson, Harriet Wilson, William Wells Brown
Bottom, from left to right: Jessie Fauset,W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar


One True Thing (02/17)
Each of the chapters in Leslie Pietrzyk's short story collection features a young widow. The emotions the author expresses made me wonder what the author may have experienced herself – that is, which experiences were 'true.' In researching that question, I came across an article she'd written for Psychology Today, reprinted below, ...
Michel Houellebecq in Profile (11/16)
Michel Houellebecq (pronounced mish-elle wellbeck) is nothing if not an autobiographical writer. He has, in fact, become the poster child for a movement, prevalent in contemporary French literature, known as 'auto-fiction' which sees authors unashamedly use fictionalized versions of their own lives in their novels. Autobiographical ...
Shakespearean Insults (10/16)
'You taught me language. And my profit on't is, I know how to curse.' That's the lament of Caliban, the resident savage of Shakespeare's The Tempest, but it's also the the savvy modern reader's takeaway of Shakespeare's plays. Among the linguistic legacies of Shakespeare, eloquent and eclectic cursing and insults must certainly be ...
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