Monday, November 19, 2007

This Week in Reading November 18 - 24

Thanksgiving is early this year on the 22nd. Next year Thanksgiving will be five days later, on the 27th, giving us less time to buy books as holiday gifts, but at least it won't seem like the holiday commercials, tree lots, and store displays are coming too early like they are this year.

This week's authors are a varied lot but you'll have to scroll down toward the later part of the list to get to the bigger names. Voltaire didn't write that much but what he put his naive Candide through in Dr. Pangloss' "best of all possible worlds" spoke volumes, nudging those who chose to become enlightened away from the powerful forces of greed and authoritarian destruction of the human spirit toward a more reasoned, egalitarian and humane future.

An English contemporary Laurence Sterne, on the other hand, gave us nine volumes of one novel but it, too, also had an innocent at its center. Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman has been both praised and reviled for being an unplotted, untidy, unending accumulation of whatever was on Sterne's mind, but most of it was fine comedy with some satire and I feel he was just centuries ahead of his time. If you read his novel like it was an Internet blog site you log onto every week or so you can enjoy the whole thing by skipping the tedious parts. I don't think he intended anything less.

The biggest name of the week is probably George Eliot, who wasn't a man, and who is often in danger of being ignored today because of having written Silas Marner which every high schooler used to be forced to read. However, Mary Anne Evans was a great writer and you haven't read Middlemarch consider taking it up. Especially if you'e grown up now. Eliot and Hardy do get better with age.

This Week's Question: A personal note, here: Harpo Speaks (co-authored by Rowland Barber) was my favorite biography of any I ever read. The only reason we didn't hear Harpo Marx in the movies was because of his Bronx accent, not because he didn't have things to say. He was as lovable as you imagine, and while not as bookish as his brother Groucho Marx, he was a more welcome friend to the writers at the Algonguin Roundtable and a real member of their "Thanatopsis Literary and Inside Straight Club." Who were some of the writers at the club and what was the other name by which it was called?

Answer to Last Week's Question: After all his other travels and at the age of forty, Robert Louis Stevenson bought 400 acres on the Samoan island of Upolu in the South Pacifc and settled in with his wife and family. He died there and was buried there just four years later. Who knows what other books he would have written.

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