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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Art of Reading

“Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read,” begins a 2009 essay by former Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin, ("The Lost Act of Reading," Aug. 9, 2009). Ulin argued that “reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being.”

“Books,” he continued, “enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.” Ulin argued that in the age of blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the act of reading has become a distraction, an entertainment, rather than an act of concentration.

Ironically, his essay exploded across the Internet in blogs, Tweets and Facebook postings and he has now expanded it into a book, The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

There are those who question his thesis. In his review of Ulin’s book in the New York Times ("Our Unlettered Landscape," Nov. 26, 2010), Christopher R. Beha argued that Ulin might be preaching to the choir. While he agreed with much of what Ulin wrote, “There are too many books, and this is part of the problem. David Ulin’s intentions are beyond reproach, but his book is another distraction.”
Ulin is not the first to muse on the art of reading. Here are a few other titles you might want to try:

The Case for Books: Past, Present and Future by Robert Darnton

You’ve GOT to Read This Book! 55 People Tell the Story of the Book That Changed Their Life by Jack Canfield

Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel by Lisa Zunshine

Housekeeping vs. Dirt by Nick Hornby

Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the Worldby Nicholas Basbanes

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jersey Fiction

With the release of Smokin’ Seventeen yesterday Janet Evanovich continues the mystery series that has made a Trenton neighborhood called “The Burg” almost as famous as her heroine Stephanie Plum. Evanovich grew up in South River. N.J. and has kind words for her native state in a recent USA Today article, ("Janet Evanovich Sets Stephanie Plum Loose Again," June 21, 2011) . "Jersey's got everything — the Shore, bikinis, bulging muscles, the best and greasiest pizza," she said.

But Evanovich is not the first to find The Garden State a great backdrop for fiction. The library owns more than 300 novels that feature New Jerseyans. Here is just a sampling:

Caught by Harlan Coben

Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth

Creepers by David Morrell

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Author Lilian Jackson Braun Dies

Lilian Jackson Braun, the bestselling author of “The Cat Who …” mystery series died Saturday in Landrum, S.C. She was 97. Braun retired from writing after publishing The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers in 2007.

She published her first book in the series The Cat Who Could Read Backwards in 1966, followed by The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern and The Cat Who Turned On and Off. She didn’t publish her next book until 1986 after she retired from a job with the Detroit Free Press. Her husband, Earl Bettinger, encouraged her to return to writing the series. She often referred to him in book dedications as “The Husband Who.”

The books follow Jim Qwilleran and his mystery solving Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum. She made her lead character a male, she once said, so readers would not think her books were autobiographical.

In all, the prolific writer published 29 mysteries and two collections of short stories. Translated into 16 languages, her books made the New York Times bestseller list consecutively for 20 years beginning in 1990.

Whether you are new to Braun’s tales or want to revisit her cozy whodunits, try:

The Cat Who Blew the Whistle

The Cat Who Saw Red

The Cat Who Went Up the Creek

The Cat Who Smelled a Rat

The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell

Do you need more background? check out The Cat Who Companion by Sharon Feaster.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Gone With the Wind Turns 75

Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel celebrated its 75th anniversary recently, reports USA Today (Classic Novel Gone With the Wind Turns 75, May 31, 2011). To commemorate the event, the paper writes that the Atlanta History Center is exhibiting four of the novel’s original manuscript chapters. One of the four is the last, which Mitchell wrote first, and has Scarlett’s famous line: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

According to the USA Today article, Mitchell actually wrote the novel twice. It was originally titled Manuscript of the Old South and the name of the main character: Pansy rather than Scarlett.

The novel still attracts a following, including Facebook pages, Twitter postings and even a group of fans who call themselves “Windies.”

So, if you are looking for a good summer read, take a second, third or fourth look at this Civil War saga. While you are at it, you may want to sample the novels and non-fiction this 1942 bestseller spawned.

Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig

Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With the Wind by Marianne Walker

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind Letters 1936-1949 by Margaret Mitchell