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Literary Fiction

August 13 2011 Literary Fiction Newsletter

“There is no month in the whole year in which nature wears a more beautiful appearance than in the month of August.”

– Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1837)



Coming Soon – Books to Movies
Blockbuster season is almost over. Which of your favorite books will soon be showing at a theater near you?

What Makes a Classic ‘Classic’
We’ve read many more stories than Scheherazade ever told. How do we discern the classics?



The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Not being a fan of the multiple-perspective novel, I skimmed whole chapters of this one to stay on Aibileen’s and Minny’s stories. The buzz surrounding the just-released movie version includes questions of how the author, who is white, could assume the voices of these narrators, who are black. My quibble is simpler: Skeeter’s story is boring. As the aspiring journalist who wants – and succeeds in getting – to help the help to publicize their experience, Skeeter tells her side of the story earnestly. This makes for a mundane plot strand. It’s the sharp subtext of Aibileen’s interactions at work and the comic undertone of Minny’s that enliven their narratives.

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Like Leonard in the movie Memento, Christine is suffering from amnesia so severe that all her memories are erased every night. She relies on her husband to explain her life to her, every single morning. Then comes a phone call from Dr. Nash, who says she has been undergoing tests which are looking promising. And yet, Christine has not told her husband. Why?? Much of what ensues is a story within a story, as Christine catches up on the moments she has recorded in a journal which is part of her treatment. That we are mirroring her actions is one of the neat things about the way the story is told. Like the best of mystery writers, Watson lets us figure things out with the characters and gives us a payoff worth staying up for. This is true even if the resolution is clearly mindful of the novel’s big-screen potential – it’s already been optioned by Ridley Scott’s production company.



Where do your books go?

I love the look and feel of books too much to get a digital reading device, but here’s the problem: I’m fast running out of shelf space for future reads. So how do I keep the books I don’t want to keep, out of the world’s landfills? They go to four places.

First, there’s my workplace lending library. I got Robert Goddard’s Past Caring, one of the most enjoyable beach reads I can remember, from these very shelves.

Second, I give them away. I know it sounds cheap to give away unwanted books to unsuspecting, grateful recipients, but rest assured I take their reading preferences into account. Not to mention the shape the gift is in – no coffee rings or dog ears.

The third place my books go to is anywhere they are wanted. Two of my students spent part of their summer in Ghana, working at an orphanage and donating dozens of books from our school community. A quick online search turns up many non-profit organizations that accept donated books: Better World Books, Room to Read, Books for Africa, Open Books, First Books, Thriftbooks. It’s nice to think I’m helping to promote literacy while recycling my used books.

Finally, there are the hotels. If you’ve seen Goddard’s Past Caring, Anita Shreve’s Eden Close or Agatha Christie’s Seven Dials Mystery on a recent vacation, it might just be the copy I left behind!

What about you – what happens to your used books? I’d love to hear your ideas.

What is the most boring classic novel of all time?

Thanks to those who have written in and generated a lively discussion. Nothing like taking an object of admiration down a few notches to narrow down our to-read list! I’m keeping this discussion open until the end of the month, so there’s still time to add your choice. Our top five titles will be announced in the August 27 newsletter.


Happy reading ... and do keep your used books out of the landfill!

Lane Graciano
Literary Fiction Editor, BellaOnline

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