“The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem, stole its main character from a Dickens novel. Jack London was an adventurer in the Yukon before he was the writer of The Call of the Wild. Treasure Island’s Long John Silver was based on the real life, one-legged, big-hearted poet William Ernest Henley, and Sherlock Holmes was based on a doctor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s acquaintance. In Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, Celia Blue Johnson relates the stories and inspirations behind fifty famous works of literature. Each miniature history is a clear, concise account that usually takes no more than five-ish minutes to read. It’s great for curiosity’s sake or for cocktail party fodder.
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“You owe it to yourself to read this book,” wrote Library Journal, and the judges emphatically agree. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn West is the newly announced winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. In this powerful story, a pregnant 14-year-old living in dire poverty tells of her family’s struggle to prepare their rural Mississippi property for a hurricane that happens to be called Katrina. Stephen Greenblatt took top Nonfiction honors for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again won in the Young People’s Literature category. Click here for a complete list of finalists and interviews with the authors.
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” If your ears itch for fast-paced, witty dialogue and a dash of romantic intrigue, you can do no better than the L.A. Theatre Works production of The Importance of Being Earnest. One of the most adored plays in the English language is brought to vivid life, complete with assumed names, mistaken lovers, and a misplaced handbag. James Marsters leads a cast of nimble voice actors in the story of Jack and Algernon, who both pretend to be named Ernest in order to enjoy double lives. Laugh out loud with the play that best showcases Oscar Wilde’s scathing humor.
Dorothy Parker was a notorious wit, wisecracker, poet and writer. She was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table (as portrayed in the movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle). Parker was a New Yorker regular, a Hollywood screenwriter and an O. Henry Award winner. She was active in politics as early as 1927, where she was arrested for “loitering and sauntering” at a protest. Later, throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the F.B.I. created a 1,000 page dossier on her activities. For a taste of Parker’s hilariously belligerent, bittersweet work, try her Complete Stories or the collection of her “lost” poems, Not Much Fun.
Hero and Claudio are to be wed in a week. To pass the time, they conspire to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love. Beatrice would “rather hear a dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves” her and Benedick, well, he’d prefer to go pale with “anger, with sickness, or with hunger” than with love. While the snarky sweethearts are hilariously occupied, other conspirators are up to much more nefarious activities in Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean adaptation, Much Ado About Nothing.
And remember, A Midsummer Knight’s Read, the Summer Reading Program, has officially started! If you watch, read or listen to anything by or inspired by William Shakespeare, you can get up to five bonus raffle tickets.
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” – Robert Frost
The Andreas sisters are named for three wildly different Shakespeare heroines, and the one thing they have in common is that their lives are messy. Bianca has just been fired and is swimming in debt. Cordelia gives up her semi-nomadic life when she discovers she’s pregnant. Rosalind had already been living at home in order to care for their ailing parents, and the tension of her upcoming wedding isn’t helping. In Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters, all three end up back under the same roof, and the curtain rises on a masterful blend of drama and lightness that would make the Bard proud.
Unconventional love is the focus of a new collection of wise and wonderful stories by Evanston author Christine Sneed. Not to be confused with romance, these tales paint perspectives on what draws people together and what roles we take. The characters are bold and interesting; the writing lovely and modern. You’ll find energy, wit, reflection, and originality in a work that was named one of 2010’s best surprises by TimeOut Chicago. Admire the sure-handed delicacy of Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry.
Hazel Motes may look like a preacher, but he isn’t the normal kind. Hazel sermonizes for a new church, the Church of Truth, and in Hazel’s truth – there’s no crucified Christ. Wise Blood, starring Brad Dourif, is based on the 1952 novel by Flannery O’Connor. Both the novel and the film are a compelling slice of Southern life where you’re never quite sure if you’re in for redemption or rejection, if the characters are capable of love or only anger. There are no answers here and every bend is an awkward turn. If you’re in the mood to knit your brows and ask some deep questions, try Wise Blood.
Have you heard? The 2011 Pulitzer Prizes, which honor excellence in journalism and the arts, have been announced! Check out these winners:
Poetry – The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan
Nonfiction – The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Biography – Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
History – The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner
Fiction – A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Burt Hecker is much more comfortable in a time other than his own. A sixty-three-year-old medieval re-enactor in upstate New York, he dresses in a tunic and sometimes enjoys a little too much homemade mead. Hecker joins a group traveling to Germany to celebrate the 900th birthday of Saint Hildegard von Bingen, but his true purpose is to rescue his estranged son Tristan from the Bohemian city of Prague. Sound odd? Exactly! All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka has outrageousness aplenty to satisfy a casual reader, but just as in life, tragedy and humor are often intertwined.