Thursday, June 27, 2013

Who Doesn't Love Getting Mail?

Initially it seems too invasive to read the personal letters of an author. These are the unpublished, private thoughts of creative geniuses, people we respect and admire for their capacity to tell a story. But curiosity becomes too much, we want to know what they were like: the men and women behind our favorite books. We submit, for your enjoyment, great volumes of correspondence between authors, their friends, their fans, and their critics.

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters . "Best thunderclap came from Spengler, to the effect that science is either true or false, art is either shallow or deep. Second best came from some Supreme Court Justice, Jackson, I think, to the effect that one man's right to swing his fists stops where another man's nose begins."

Dear Mark Twain: Letters from His Readers . "Once I saw you. I was only a child — but I marked that day with a white stone. You were driving, and it was all I could do to keep myself from running after your carriage and crying, 'Please, Mr. Mark Twain, stay long enough to speak to a little girl who thinks you are the greatest man on earth.''"

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters"Tonight while walking on the waterfront in the angelic streets I suddenly wanted to tell you how wonderful I think you are. Please don't dislike me. What is the mystery of the world?"

Habit of Being: Flannery O'Connor . "I have been getting some very funny fan mail-a lot of it from gentlemen who have got no farther than the title-'Do you really think a good man is hard to find? I am 31 years old, single, work like a dog...' etc. etc. etc.... One from a West Virginia mountaineer whose favorite word is 'literature' which he spells 'litatur.'"

Selected Letters of Willa Cather . "The West always paralyzes me a little. When I am away from it I remember only the tang on the tongue. But when I come back [I] always feel a little of the fright I felt when I was a child. I always feel afraid of losing something, and I don’t in the least know what it is."

The Diary of Frida Kahlo . "Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour of Europe that solidified the classical education of many young aristocrats from the late 16th through 18th centuries is the theme of several of the titles listed below.  As travel became easier and cheaper in the 19th century, more people, including many women, set out, and their journeys often ventured beyond Europe.  Here, too, are titles that record the experiences of some of those travelers.

Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour of Europe  by Kevin McCloud (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009).  This companion volume to the BBC TV series loosely follows the route of 18th- and 19th-century British aristocrats, finding not only the cultural high points, but low points as well.  It also discusses the influence that the returning travellers' experiences had on British society.  The publisher calls it "an irreverent travel guide like no other."

Elizabeth Sinkler Coxe's Tales from the Grand Tour 1890-1910 edited by Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq (University of South Carolina Press, 2006).  A daughter and daughter-in-law of prominent Charleston and Philadelphia families, Elizabeth Sinkler Coxe pursued philanthropy and travel after being widowed early in her marriage.  She set sail with her son in 1890 for Africa and the Middle East.  This book includes letters, photographs, and watercolors of her adventures.

Brian Sewell's Grand Tour of Italy (DVD, Acorn Media, 2009)  British art critic Sewell visits Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples, Siena , and Milan, commenting on what the original Grand Tourists would have seen and done and offering his own contemporary commentary.

The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery edited by Mathew Prichard  (Harper Collins, 2012).  With excerpts from Agatha Christie's autobiography and many photographs from her journey, Prichard, Agatha Christie's grandson, documents Christie's 10-month voyage begun in 1922 when she joined her husband on a trade mission to promote the British Empire Exhibition.

Around the World : The Grand Tour in Photo Albums by Barbara Levine and Kirsten M. Jensen.  This collection of travel album excerpts from the 1880s through the late 1920s includes photographs, maps, passenger lists, tales and more from different travelers (most anonymous) and travels the world round.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Did You See It Coming? Plot Twists and Surprise Endings!

Are you a fan of plot twists and surprise endings that set you reeling?  Whether we love them or hate them -- we have to admit they keep us turning pages!  If you're in the mood for some twists and turns this summer --  here are a few books that should keep you guessing until the very end:

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton  by Elizabeth L. Silver

Noa P. Singleton, six-months away from execution for the murder of a young woman committed ten years earlier, receives a startling offer from the mother of the victim.  The woman, a high-powered attorney, will argue that Noa's life should be spared in exchange for an explanation as to why Noa killed her daughter, a story that Noa has steadfastly refused to share.

Reconstructing Amelia  by Kimberly McCreight

Grieving and guilt-stricken over her teen-aged daughter's recent suicide, a lawyer receives a cryptic text message indicating that her daughter may not have taken her own life.  With the help of a sympathetic detective, she retraces the last weeks of her daughter's life.  

The Dinner  by Herman Koch

Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at a posh Amsterdam restaurant.  The evening takes a sinister turn when the dinner conversation shifts to a discussion of an incident involving the children of the two couples. 

Defending Jacob  by William Landay

The family life of a respected prosecuting attorney is thrown into turmoil when his middle-school-aged son becomes the main suspect in the murder of a classmate.   In his quest to defend his son, he begins to suspect that his own troubled past may play a part in the crime. 

 Rebecca  by Daphne DuMaurier

Married after a whirlwind courtship, a shy, young bride returns to her new husband's vast estate to face haunting comparisons to his beautiful first wife, who died in a tragic accident just a few years before.  This classic, psychological tale was adapted into an Oscar-winning Best Picture by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940, that starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

The Double Bind  by Chris Bohjalian

A young social worker, emotionally-scarred by a vicious physical assault she survived six years earlier, seeks to unravel the mystery behind a series of old photographs found in the possession of a recently deceased homeless man who was a resident of the shelter where she works.   Among the images she finds is a photograph of herself that was taken the day she was attacked. 
 Presumed Innocent  by Scott Turow

The personal and professional lives of a married prosecuting attorney collide in nightmare fashion when he is accused of the brutal rape and murder of a colleague with whom he was having an affair.  Chicago lawyer and best-selling author Turow's classic legal thriller was made into a hit film starring Harrison Ford in 1990, and a sequel to the story, entitled Innocent, was published in 2010.  

The Cove:  A Novel  by Ron Rash

A brother and sister struggle to maintain their homestead in the stark Appalachian Valley during WWI.  The arrival of a mute stranger on their property brings welcome change and renewed hope to their lonely lives, although it becomes clear the man may be hiding secrets about his past.