What is The Bardo?

Lincoln in The BardoYesterday, George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize for Lincoln in The Bardo. So you might be wondering what the bardo is! Find out in our "beyond the book" article. You can also read our review and browse an excerpt.

The word bardo comes from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and means "in-between." It refers to a transitional state when one's awareness of the physical world is suspended. According to Spiritualtravel.org the concept is an "umbrella term which includes the transitional states of birth, death, dream, transmigration or afterlife, meditation, and spiritual luminosity...for the dying individual, the bardo is the period of the afterlife that lies in between two different incarnations." Most of the characters in Lincoln in the Bardo are in this latter state throughout the novel, stuck between life and whatever awaits them beyond.

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All About Fredrick Backman and His Books

Fredrik BackmanI'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, it's tough to find a whole lot out about Backman. A New York Times article notes that before he published Ove, he was a college dropout (where he studied religion), and it took him a while to become the "overnight success" he is today. He was a freelance writer for a Swedish magazine while working "as a forklift driver at a food warehouse, taking night and weekend shifts so that he could write during the day." He's married, has two children, is 35 years old, and lives near Stockholm. I also found out that his second novel, Things My Son Needs to Know about the World, never appeared in English, and that Beartown is sold in the UK with the title The Scandal.

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The World's First Cookbook

Marcus Gavius ApiciusIn 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 eponymously titled tome is there a reference to a slave by name. King made this literary leap, jumping to the conclusion that it was highly likely that a slave invented and/or produced recipes for the Apicius household, and not the master himself. The fact that several sources I found note that the language used in these books was more "vulgar" than "classical" Latin would also support this idea – even literate slaves would use less sophisticated language than their patrician masters.

Apicius CookbookWhat is amazing is that this cookbook, which is about 2000 years old, is still around today. I found numerous references to publications of this particular collection of recipes in the original Latin, starting from the year 50 in Rome, again in 500 in Greece, and continuing across the centuries, with some translations into Italian and German along the way. The Guttenberg Project has the Frederick Starr translation of this cookbook first published in Chicago in 1926. In the preface, it says "The present version has been based chiefly upon three principal Latin editions, that of Albanus Torinus, 1541, who had for his authority a codex he found on the island of Megalona, on the editions of Martinus Lister, 1705-9, who based his work upon that of Humelbergius, 1542, and the Giarratano-Vollmer edition, 1922." Starr, who was a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, claims to be the first to translate this book into English.

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A Van Gogh Reading List

Vincent and Theo Deborah Heiligman's young adult biography Vincent and Theo draws on the hundreds of letters that passed between the Van Gogh brothers. There are various editions of Vincent's letters, including a 2009 version endorsed by the Van Gogh Museum that contains all Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. The letters between Theo and his wife, Johanna, are also available in translation as Brief Happiness (1999), and Jo left a short memoir of Vincent.

Here are four more books, not limited to the young adult genre, that allow for further reflection and/or speculation about Vincent van Gogh's career and character.

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Shakespeare in Books and Film

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 performed on screen 79 times). While his plays are timeless works of art, some people find them challenging due to the Elizabethan prose. Over the years many attempts have been made to adapt the plays into a format that contemporary audiences might find more accessible (some resulting in a more faithful interpretation than others).

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Beyond the Book: Traditional Cambodian Music

Traditional Cambodian music plays a key role in Music of the Ghosts. Hearing it triggers memories for both of the story's main characters, and three hand-made instruments—a single-stringed lute, an oboe, and a drum—set the plot in motion.

Music and Buddhism have a strong connection; music is sometimes seen as a ceremonial offering to the Buddha. An estimated 95% of Cambodians are Buddhist today, and the roots of Buddhism date back to the 5th century. Over that long history, Buddhist songs have been adapted for use in ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, playing an integral role in common cultural practices.

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