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Literary Fiction

August 21 2011 Literary Fiction Newsletter

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

– Henry James, quoted in Edith Wharton’s memoir, A Backward Glance (1934)



Review – The Help by Kathryn Stockett
With 59 days as Amazon’s best-seller and its film adaptation certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, this was one of the highlights of Summer 2011.



The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Maushart

A non-fiction book this time, which attracted me with its Shakespeare allusion of a title and its subtitle: “How one family pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell/text/tweet the tale.” Insipired by a re-reading of Thoreau’s Walden, single-parent Maushart convinced her three teenagers to participate in a six-month “digital detox” with her. Six months without their laptops/desktops/iPod/iPhone/Blackberry! That’s impressive. Her gaming-maniac son Bill goes back to reading: Harry Potter, Outliers, Kafka on the Shore. Her daughter Anni cooks dinner – coconut fish curry, lasagna – and compiles a family cookbook, writing down, using pen and paper, family recipes dictated to her. Maushart writes convincingly, peppering her observations with the wicked humor of a seasoned columnist. An excerpt from a journal entry reads:

“Arrived home just before B. – who spookily enough (given yesterday’s entry) watched and chatted while I cooked dinner.... READ ME HIS ENTIRE ENGLISH SYLLABUS. Does that sound normal to you?”

I’m also enjoying the fact that I can dip into this book in parts and chapters, gleaning its wisdom in between sessions of surfing the web – I mean, reading The Odyssey. In print, of course.



Do you miss writing letters by hand?

The quotation and books mentioned in this newsletter have to do with a recent conversation with a friend in which my husband and I recalled writing letters. Our friend is in her late teens; she had no idea what we were talking about. Don’t you miss receiving a handwritten letter – unfolding the paper, savoring page after page, and then reading it all over again? E-mail is just so different.

Many classic authors are famous for writing long letters that are almost literary works in their own right: Flaubert, Dickens, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Woolf. Reading their published correspondence, we see them as ordinary people, men and women who worked at their craft. It seems a shame that writers of our time won’t be leaving behind such richness of material.

What do you think? Post your thoughts on the forum!

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 think about unplugging for a day or two ...

Lane Graciano
Literary Fiction Editor, BellaOnline

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