Sunday, September 16, 2007

This Week in Reading September 16 - 22

Authors born this week include names whose work you were probably assigned to read in school, William Golding, Upton Sinclair, Francis Parkman, Samuel Johnson, and poet William Carlos Williams. But it also gives us names of the authors we'd read without anyone asking us to, masters of imagination and suspense like H.G. Wells and Stephen King.
It's also a good week to read about civil rights because the United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. In January the library will host a presentation and series of sessions with Dave Kluge, the author of The People's Guide to the United States Constitution, which is being published on Constitution Day this week. (Watch this space for more details as they become available.) Also think about those who have been prevented from enjoying such rights until declared free and about other countries whose people later became free and independent.

This Week's Question: While thinking about civil rights, when is Banned Books Week going to be celebrated at this library and in bookstores?
Answer to Last Week's Question: In "James Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" Mark Twain responded to critics in nineteenth century America and England who had called James Fenimore Cooper an artist based on their seemingly numerical assessments of his work. Tongue thoroughly in cheek, he says "Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'The Deerslayer', and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record."

Among these offenses: "That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere"; "that the personages in a tale, being both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there"; "the author shall ... use the right word, not its second cousin"; "eschew surplusage"; and "use good grammar." He goes to list other offenses and ends with "Counting these out, what's left is Art. I think we must all admit that."

Today's critics, however, have begun to look anew at Cooper's work and, as much as I agree with Twain, they say he was satirizing the pedestrian styles of literary criticism at the time, not the author per se. Some are re-assessing Cooper's importance to American literature. Coming soon to both libraries is Wayne Franklin's James Fenimore Cooper: the early years, the first of two such planned volumes.

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