Tag Archives: literature

What to Read and Watch While Awaiting Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

Every so often, a moment occurs in the literary world that is so remarkable and so unexpected that one wonders if this isn’t the stuff of fiction.

I’m talking, of course, about last week’s news that a new (sorta) novel by Harper Lee is scheduled to be published this July.

Yes, that Harper Lee, the same one of To Kill a Mockingbird fame.

I can’t speak for everyone here at the Library, but my sentiments are in line with those shared by my colleagues Don Wentworth and Miguel Llinas (“Western Pennsylvania literary community weighs in on Lee news” Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 2/3/2015).

Of course, this announcement has its own plot twist with some accompanying controversy and speculation, which I’m not going to get into here today.  Despite being an English/Communications major in college, I’m just an admirer and appreciative fan of TKAM and Harper Lee — not an expert. Nor do I play one on the Internet.

Instead, what I — and the Library — can offer are some thoughts on what you can read and watch while you’re awaiting Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Chances are, it has been a few years since you’ve picked up To Kill a Mockingbird.  Maybe you never read it in school. Perhaps you don’t remember reading it, or perhaps some aspects of the story have gotten a little fuzzy over the past 55 years. Doesn’t matter. A July publication date means that there is plenty of time to revisit this classic and say hi to your old friends Atticus, Scout and Boo.

To Kill a Mockingbird - DVD

There’s the movie version, which I admit I’ve never seen. (I know. I know.) Must remedy that soon.

Mockingbird - Charles Shields

In my view, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields is required reading for everyone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird.  So much of Harper Lee’s life is written into the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I never realized until reading this.  Shields’ well-written biography is based on at least 600 interviews with people connected to Harper Lee, who is referred to as Nelle, her given name, throughout the book.

Other titles that look intriguing:

Scout, Atticus and Boo

Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Mary McDonagh Murphy

The Mockingbird Next Door

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Mills

What are your thoughts about To Kill a Mockingbird and the publication announcement of Go Set a Watchman?

And what else Mockingbird-related should I be reading (or watching) to hold me over until July?

~ Melissa F.

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What’s New in Austenland 2014

Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.

Emma (1815)

Greetings! It’s time once again for my annual update–this is the fourth!–about the new publications in scholarship and biography on my favorite author, Jane Austen. Despite studying her for over twenty years, the sheer volume of new books and articles that are published on her works and life continues to astound (and delight) me. Here are some of the newest acquisitions at the library:

list

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh

A treasure trove of every list you can possibly imagine (and more!) about Jane Austen, her life, and her works: of suitors, first lines, places she lived and traveled, literary references in her novels, books she owned, characters in her novels, hearts she broke, and balls and dances she attended to name but a few. This is a handy little guide for scholars and students as well as a great introduction to the esteemed authoress.

northanger

The Annotated Northanger Abbey, edited by David Shapard

English professor Shapard has a clear and concise way of making Jane Austen’s works approachable and enjoyable for both students new to Austen as well as for scholars and fans; this is his fifth publication of Austen’s novels. There are period maps of England and Bath, fashion plates, vocabulary and context of the time period, remarks on questionable content pertaining to grammar or sentence structure from the original edition, and much more.  One of its best features–yes, the librarian is speaking–is the exhaustive list of works referenced on every topic imaginable: from the history of the post office, the study of the picturesque, to the architecture of abbeys in England.

england

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Many critics have lambasted Austen over the years for excluding mention of historical events of her time in her works choosing instead to describe minutely the daily lives of everyday people in a country village. This book describes life daily life during Austen’s lifetime, from the dangers of childbirth and illness to the necessities of hygiene and the practicalities (or not) of fashion.

matters

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity by Janine Barchas

Did you know that the generally accepted scholarship on Jane Austen has been that she didn’t base her stories and/or characters on real events or people she knew? But all writers are influenced in some way and Barchas’ intriguing thesis explores this in detailed and fascinating depth. The names of Wentworth (Persuasion), Woodhouse (Emma), Vernon (Lady Susan), Allen, and Tilney (Northanger Abbey) were all well-known surnames of great and landed families in eighteenth century England, suggesting that Austen did indeed borrow from celebrity and events from her day. For the devoted Jane Austen fan and scholar, this book is a treat of fun discoveries.

na

Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, edited by Susan J. Wolfson

Like the title below, this book is a big and beautiful gift book edition of one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known novels, a spoof of the gothic novel, made popular by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolfo. The works cited list at the end of the book highlights further information and readings.

sense

Sense and Sensiblity: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks

This is the fourth gorgeous coffee-table edition of Jane Austen’s six novels to be published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University. The perfect gift for the Jane Austen fan in your life, there are beautiful illustrations and images of fashions, furniture, paintings, and maps from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century relating to the novels. And for a student, the enlightening introduction as well as the copious annotations about vocabulary and language, word use and definitions in the context of their time, commentary on scholarly opinions of critical analysis, and references to different editions make this a veritable cornucopia of helpful information.

Until next year!

-Maria A., who finally wore out her old Modern Library copy of the Complete Novels and recently purchased the lovely Everyman’s Library editions to replace it.

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Happy Birthday, Mansfield Park

mansfield

Two hundred years ago this month, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen was published.

I’m sure it was hard to top Pride and Prejudice. But if there must be a least favorite Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park leads many readers’ lists, usually right next to the humorous gothic spoof, Northanger Abbey.

336px-MansfieldParkTitlePage

I suspect it’s because readers simply dislike the terribly shy, plain, and quiet heroine, Fanny Price, and the rather dull and proper hero, Edmund Bertram. But if you think of Mansfield Park as a novel of manners in the context of its time in history, instead of a romance–unlike Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice, or the poignant second chance love story, Persuasion— you’ll discover both its richness and its brilliance.

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

At its heart, it’s really about a dysfunctional family. The Bertrams of Mansfield Park are a wealthy family who take in a poor relation Fanny Price when she is ten years old, to give her worn-out and fecund mother a break. Appearances are everything and they congratulate themselves on their benevolence, forgetting that Fanny has been completely uprooted from her immediate family in Portsmouth.

“There is not one in a hundred of either sex, who is not taken in when they marry.” 

With a family like this, you might be as terrified as Fanny is:

  • Aunt Bertram, a bit dim and languorous, and who is more concerned with her dog, Pug, than in anyone or anything else; Fanny serves as her companion and errand girl.
  • Maria, Julia, and Tom, Fanny’s self-interested and privileged cousins who look down on her or worse, ignore her.
  • Uncle Bertram, with his larger-than-life austere manner, who scares her to death.
  • The downright nasty Aunt Norris, who never lets her forget her very low place in the household and how eternally grateful she should feel.
  • Edmund, the only cousin to show her great kindness and consideration. However, he also pursues their new neighbor, the beautiful and saucy Mary Crawford, and talks about her incessantly to the lovesick Fanny.

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

When the elegant and sophisticated Henry and Mary Crawford arrive from London to visit their sister, Mrs. Grant, the vicar’s long-suffering wife, the two families become intimately acquainted. Henry is a dashing and unapologetic rake who lives for his own pleasure and flirts shamelessly with both Julia and the engaged Maria, creating great rivalry and tension between the sisters. Mary is gorgeous, worldly-wise, and attracts Edmund with her boldly direct behavior, much to Fanny’s disappointment. But when Henry sets his restless sights on Fanny merely to make “a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart,” the novel kicks into high gear intrigue and drama.

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”

Many might be surprised to discover all the unsavory and titillating drama that is going on in this novel including:

  • Jealousy
  • Infatuation
  • Lust
  • Adultery
  • Slavery
  • Drunkeness
  • Gambling

All behind an elegant narrative as only Jane Austen could create.

~Maria A.

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We’re Going Big with the Big Read

The Big Read is a nationwide celebration of reading, and locally the initiative is spearheaded by CCAC.  It is a “month-long series of free outreach events designed to promote literacy, reading and open dialogue within our community.”  The Library can definitely get behind this mission, and as such we have a schedule chock-full of events to celebrate this year’s book, The Things They Carried.

This is a beautifully rendered story about the Vietnam War, and the library is working within this theme to present talks, discussions, and film screenings on themes related to veterans.  Below is a well-rounded list of options!  Many of the book discussions will have free copies of the book to give away, courtesy of CCAC.

Beechview

3/6/2014. 6-8 pm Dr. Todd DePastino

 Todd is co-founder and director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gathering veterans of all eras and generations together to share their stories of service. Todd will tell extraordinary WWII stories of veterans living in the region and his quest to preserve and celebrate them.

Carrick

3/11/2014, 6-7 pm Book Discussion 

Tuesday Evening Books Presents: a book discussion of The Things They Carried

3/25/2014, 6-8 pm Vietnam War Documentary

Downtown and Business

3/18/2014, 12:15 pm Return With Honor documentary

American Experience examines the lives of American pilots who became prisoners of war in Vietnam and describes their struggles in captivity.  This documentary includes rare footage of prison camps and captured prisoners.  Narrated by Tom Hanks.  Presented by PBS.

Hill District

3/18/2014 1 pm Tuskegee Airmen: A Neighborhood Legacy.

Join a discussion and film on historic Tuskegee Airmen, focusing especially on those men and women from the Hill District community.

Lawrenceville

3/11/2014, 7 pm Buzz: Pairings: The Things They Carried Book Discussion

 On 3/11, we’ll discuss The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien at the Lawrenceville Library. On 3/25/14, we’ll discuss Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers  at a neighborhood location. Check http://clpbookbuzz.wordpress.com for more information.

3/29/14, 2-5 pm Classic Film

Watch and discuss a classic film about a young man who volunteers to fight but quickly discovers that the Viet Cong are not his greatest enemies. This academy award winning film is rated R and includes extreme violence and language. Participation in this program is limited to individuals aged 18 and up.

Main, First Floor

3/13/2013 6:30-7:45 pm The Things They Carried Book Discussion

Bound  Together is a collaborative book discussion. In March, we’ll  discuss The Things They Carried at the Carnegie Museum of Art, with some views of the Carnegie International to boot.

4/17/2014 1 & 6 pm  Books in the Afternoon

Books in the Afternoon will feature discussions of The Things They Carried.

Mt. Washington

3/13/2014 7:00 pm  The Big Read in Pittsburgh:  The Things They Carried.

Mt. Washington will host a lively book discussion.

Woods Run

3/11/2014 11:30 am Book Discussion of  The Things They Carried

Copies will be available at the circulation desk.  Refreshments will be served.

Happy Big Reading!

Holly

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Somewhat Obsessed With Canada

I think about Canada a lot. Not constantly, mind you, but more often than on those occasions when somebody gets upset about something that’s happened in U.S. politics/culture and threatens to move there.  It stymies me that Canada simply isn’t on most Americans’ radar. I mean, it’s right there, but it hardly ever crosses our minds. Nor do we learn about it in school. At least, I didn’t. Kudos to you and your teachers if you spent longer than one day in social studies pondering a Canadian curriculum. All I know about Canada is that it has trees, maple syrup, and hockey and that Margaret Atwood‘s visions of the future are Somewhat Bleak. I can also name a handful of random celebrities who hail from there, but this doesn’t exactly make me Jeopardy champion material.

Clearly, this ignorance will not do, especially since Alice Munro recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature, thus forcing me, you, and every red-blooded American citizen with even a drop of conscience to learn a thing or two about our neighbors to the immediate north. Let’s get cracking!

Quick Facts

Make the Government of Canada portal your first stop, to get information directly from the folks who live and govern there. Contains sections on culture and the arts, individual provinces and territories, history/genealogy and much more.

The CIA World Factbook is a nifty website to know about if you need fast, credible data on a specific country. Did you know that Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, has an area of 9,984,670 square kilometers (making it the world’s largest country that only borders one country) and maintains 3.2 hospital beds and 2.069 physicians for every 1,000 people (last measured in 2010)? Très intéressant!*

Canadian Geographic, a publication of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, is a great all-purpose journal for initial leisure reading/research about Canada. For other national publications, as well as province-specific journals, click here.

Non-fiction/Reference

For a quick peek at the Carnegie Library’s research holdings, grab your library card and search for Canada in our digital general reference resources. The Gale Virtual Reference Library, in particular, is a smashing way to learn more about a given topic without leaving the comfort of your home (which is key for getting smart in spite of snowfall). If you can make it in for a visit, search Reference Universe, too, which will allow you to search inside all those books on the shelves and only open the ones that will be truly useful to you. Kids (and parents!) should test-drive the Grolier encyclopedias, as well as the World Book Almanac for Kids.

If you’d rather take something home, you’ll be happy to know that Main library alone holds over 2,600 books on Canada. Here are a few collection highlights:

folkloreFolklore of Canada, Edith Fowke. You can tell a lot about a nation from its mythologies, fairy tales, customs, and other folkways. Fowke’s collection includes tales from tribal/aboriginal cultures, as well as those of French and British origin.

A History of Canadian Culture, Jonathan Franklin William Vance. Vance’s work, which won the Lela Common Award culturefor Canadian History, covers quite a bit of ground, from Inuit clothing design to the Barenaked Ladies. That’s a lot to swallow, but Vance also explores themes and concerns common across eras: what does it mean to be Canadian, how should the arts be funded, what role does/should copyright and other forms of artist recognition/compensation play? A roller-coaster romp of a history book.

illustratedThe Illustrated History of Canada, Craig Brown, ed. A popular book that has been released in several editions, Brown’s work includes engravings, lithographs, cartoons, maps and posters, as well as photographs, taking this text to the full extent of what “illustrated” can mean. Though it only contains six chapters, each one is written by a prominent historian or geographer, which efficiently augments your knowledge of, say, native cultures or the history of U.S./Canadian relations.

Canada’s Fifty Years in Space, G.G. Shepherd. Wait, what? If, like me, you did not know Canada had a space program, pick spaceup this volume and prepare to be amazed. Just one of the many niche history books you’ll find in our collection, Shepherd’s chronicle tells the story of the Canadian Space Agency, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), Canada’s involvement with the NASA Phoenix mission, the ISIS-II satellite and much more. What does that mean? It means science, my friends. Loads of space-tastic science. A keen read for space geeks.

Fiction/Literature/Culture

Want to read books by Canadian authors? Here are some writers and titles you should try on for size, recommended by actual Canadians!**

Robertson Davies. One of Canada’s best known and most popular authors, and a distinguished man of letters known for his work as a playwright, journalist and critic, to boot. Start with The Depford Trilogy, then take a side trip into criticism to ponder The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books.

Will Ferguson. Best known for his witty observations on Canadian history and culture, Ferguson frequently takes on an outsider’s point of view to paint a more robust picture of his subjects. Try Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw.

Margaret Lawrence. Not only one of Canada’s most prominent novelists/short story creators, but also a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Make sure to seek out The Stone Angel and The Diviners.

Stuart McLean. This host of CBC Radio‘s “Vinyl Cafe” has been described as “the Canadian Garrison Keilor.”  Although he has written serious pieces as well, he’s best known for his humor. Take a gander at Secrets From the Vinyl Cafe.

Louise Penny. If you’ve met Armand Gamache, well, then, you already know. If you haven’t completely fallen in love with the man–or with the bucolic town of Three Pines–start with Still Life.

Gordon Korman. This Canadian-American author writes for children and young adults. The first book in his well-liked “Bruno and Boots” series, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, grew out of an assignment written for English class when he was just twelve (!) and was published in 1978, when Korman was only fourteen (!!). Since then he has written over 75 books, so you’d best get started with “Bruno and Boots” right now!

Tanya Huff. A sci-fi / fantasy author with seven series under her belt,  a handful of stand-alone novels and a solid handful of short story collections as well. Because it was adapted for television, some people may be familiar with the Blood Books series, which pairs private detective Vicki Nelson with vampire/author Henry Fitzroy for crime-solving shenanigans. Start with Blood Price.

There: I feel somewhat smarter already. Obviously there’s more to learn, and I’m sure plenty of you could take me to school on the subject. So, spill: what should I know about Canada? What do you know about Canada?

–Leigh Anne

currently jamming to Moxy Früvous

* Very interesting. French is one of Canada’s official languages, and is spoken primarily in Quebec, with a smattering of usage in New Brunswick, Ontario, and in smaller indigenous communities throughout the country. Click here for details.

**Many thanks to my Canadian Facebook contingent, who graciously contributed authors and titles to this blog post!

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What’s New in Austenland 2013

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”  Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey

janeausten

Jane Austen, watercolor by her older sister, Cassandra

Guess what? It’s that time once again when I highlight some of the newest titles in Jane Austen scholarship. As I’ve happily written about for the last two years, Austen continues to be an endless inspiration for writers to discover new and different topics of discussion about the celebrated early nineteenth-century author. Nearly 200 years after her death in 1817, how many authors can you say that about?

cultscultures

 Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures by Claudia L. Johnson. Just how popular is Jane Austen? Well, there are two JASNA* chapters in the state of Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh is one of them and I’m proud to say that I am a member. Austen scholar Claudia Johnson traces Austen’s fame throughout history, from soon after the author’s death through the Victorian period, and into the middle of the twentieth century when landmarks began to be set aside and preserved for their historical affiliation with the novelist.

everybodysjane

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination by Juliette Wells. Similar to the above, however, Wells’s focus is on the present day amateur madness for all things Austen, from book spin-offs–into diversities as graphic novelszombies, vampires, mysteries, and even (gasp!) erotica–to the tourism industry of Jane Austen’s England tours, and  individual collectors and their impressive collections.

emma-an-annotated-editon-by-jane-austen-and-edited-by-bharat-tandon-2012-x-250

Image source: austenprose.com

Emma: An Annotated Edition edited by Bharat Tandon. Harvard University Press has produced yet another gorgeous coffee-table edition of annotated Austen novels. These are truly gift editions for the Austen aficionado. Reproductions of period fashions, maps, advertisements, and artists‘ portraits provide an understanding of not only Austen’s arguable masterpiece, but also early 19th century England.

realjaneausten

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. Paying attention to the smallest details of Austen’s brief life, such as her topaz cross (a gift from a beloved brother), a shawl, a hat, and other personal artifacts, Byrne attempts to go beyond the published literature and delve deeper into the novelist’s personal life.

whatmattersinjane

What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Problems Solved by John Mullan. In this elegantly written and fascinating book, many interesting facets of Austen’s novels  are discussed with intriguing chapter titles such as: “Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?”–yes, there is–, “What Do Characters Say When the Heroine Isn’t There?,” “How Much Money is Enough?,” and “Why Do Her Plots Rely on Blunders?”

Same time next year!

~Maria

*The Jane Austen Society of North America

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Our Friend Behn

File:Aphra Behn by Peter Lely R.jpg

“One hour of right-down love is worth an age of dully living on.” Aphra Behn

 

Aphra Behn was the first woman to make a living by writing in the English language.  As it is Women’s History Month, and this is a library blog, it’s only right that we salute the saucy and enigmatic mother of English writing.

Top Ten Reasons Why Aphra Behn Pretty Much Rules

  1. She was a spy!  Aphra’s early life is unknown, but we do know that she spent some years in her 20s as a spy for Charles II in Antwerp.  What a great way to inform your writing!  Another great way to inform your writing is to find yourself in debtors’ prison, because you paid your spy expenses out of pocket, on promise from the king that he would repay you.  The king never repaid Aphra, and indeed she was imprisoned.  Way to look out for a lady patriot, Charles II!
  2. She was practical!  Like many other notable women (consider J.K. Rowling),  Aphra Behn’s road to legendary status began by simply trying to pay her bills.  She started writing to dig herself out of debt.
  3. She remains mysterious! Little is known about Aphra Behn’s origins, and many details of her life are intriguingly uncertain.  Was she Catholic?  Yikes!  It’s no fun to be Catholic in Restoration England.  Did she live in Venezuela for a time?  Or did she just fake it so she could write Oroonoko?   We can’t know for sure.  It is also believed that she may have even faked a marriage, to earn herself some credibility.
  4. She was scandalous!  Madonna wasn’t the first female artist accused of lasciviousness.  This Restoration writer had to take jabs from her male contemporaries, but she didn’t let that stop her!  Alexander Pope wrote: “The stage how loosely does Astræea (Aprha’s pen name) tread/Who fairly puts all characters to bed.” Essentially, Pope called Ms. Behn a loose woman.
  5. She was open about sex! Despite such insults from Pope, Aphra Behn wrote poems, plays, and proto-novels that directly addressed sexuality from a women’s perspective.  For example,  in “The Disappointment,” she quite candidly describes a particular encounter that left much to be desired for the woman in question. 
  6. She was really open about sex! Behn even went beyond the hetero-normative norm. The poem, “To the Fair Clarinda,” is one such example, and the meaning  has been debated to death in academia.  Is it about lesbian love?  Gender-bending?  Decide for yourself.
  7. Other writers loved her too! Virginia Woolf extolled her virtues. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds” — Virigina Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.
  8. She was a comic!  You’re welcome, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler!  Aphra Behn was most successful when writing light comedies such as The Rover.  Her plays contained such zingers as :”patience is a flatterer, sir, and an ass, sir,” and “there is no sinner like a young saint.”
  9. Despite all the controversy in her life, she went and got herself a proper burial!  Aphra is buried in Westminster Abbey, with the epitaph: “Here lies proof that wit can never be defense enough against morality.”  Who wouldn’t want that on their gravestone?
  10. She was a woman who wrote women as complex beings.  When we talk about literature, or art, we often bemoan that fact that representations of women are incomplete.  Aphra Behn is proof that there are definitely (fun!) exceptions to this rule.

Happy Women’s History Month!

Holly

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