Imagine a store that sells books, but only good books. Modern novels, classics, or something in between, any title you pull from the shelf is a guaranteed gem. This is the story of The Good Novel, the pet project of French booksellers Ivan and Francesca. Who decides whether a book will be sold? Eight authors, who serve on a top-secret committee, each submit a list of 600 titles which are automatically added to the shelves. Everything is done in the strictest confidence, and the members are unknown even to each other. When three are terrorized, Ivan and Francesca realize the authors must have been exposed. Read A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé not only to find out what happens but also to rekindle your love of worthy books.
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“The enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemy, that’s why we build the wall, we build the wall to keep us free.” The people of Hadestown have been convinced that their confinement is for their own good. Who wouldn’t be convinced with Hades, as sung by Greg Brown, lording over them? But Orpheus, otherwise known as Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, is on the outside looking in at his ladylove, Eurydice, and by charm or trickery Orpheus will have her back. Eurydice is sung by Anaïs Mitchell, the creator of Hadestown, a folk opera that wonders if love really can overcome all, including economic and societal depression.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss is a vast topic for a slim novel that carries its weight well. Young Alma seeks her literary namesake as past and present bounce through the world of an aging man. The touching lives and human characters engage as the story’s secrets keep the pages turning.
In the madness of the French Revolution, a time when men, women, and even children are falling under the merciless blade of the guillotine, a hero emerges. The Scarlet Pimpernel, a man of unparalleled daring and clever disguise, boldly rescues aristocrats from their horrific fates. To keep his identity secret, he acts the part of a vain and foppish nobleman, and not even his men know who he truly is. When he falls for Marguerite, France’s most celebrated actress, his loyalties are tested, and the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel must find a way to be true to both himself and his calling. Baroness Emma Orczy’s classic is cherished for its adventure, suspense, trickery, and repartee. Join the League of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Catherine and Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights, are the Sid and Nancy of classic lit. They love one another – but that doesn’t stop either from continually hurting the other. I admire Tom Hardy’s disturbingly passionate portrayal of Heathcliff in the BBC’s adaptation.
Edmond Dantès spent over ten years in prison as an innocent man. While there Edmond met a mad priest who refined the young sea captain – teaching Edmond languages, sciences, swordsmanship and more. Together they planned to escape, but only Edmond makes it out of prison alive. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is not only the story of Edmond Dantès’ imprisonment and escape, but of his intricately plotted and patient vengeance on the three men responsible for his confinement. Richard Matthews narrates the audio version of this adventure tale full of smugglers, poisonings, betrayed royalty, long-forgotten treasure, lost loves, corruption and redemption.
For a nearly cinematic listening experience, check out the award-winning BBC audio adaptation of Little Dorrit. The great Sir Ian McKellan leads a dramatic cast as author Charles Dickens, narrating the story of the unfortunate Dorrit family and the life they make for themselves inside London’s notorious Marshalsea Prison. From the opening strains of music and the last words of a dying man, “Do not forget,” we are transported to another time and place. Sweet Little Amy Dorrit captures our hearts, while hers belongs to Arthur Clennam, a good man with a troubling family. Filled with the distinct characters and gentle satire for which Dickens is known, Little Dorrit is a graceful tribute to the original beloved story.
Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian author who stands among the giants of Latin American writing, has been named the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, and politician, Llosa often explores questions of power and its dangers. Best known internationally for works such as The War of the End of the World and The Feast of the Goat, he has dabbled successfully in mystery, historical fiction, and parody. He believes that “literature gives readers a kind of third eye and enables them to see what is lacking in the real world.” Llosa is the first Latin American author to win the literature Prize in twelve years, and only the seventh since the award was first given in 1901.
Donna C. of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography by Alexandra Popoff:
Leo Tolstoy was surrounded by a circle of followers who sought to vilify his wife Sophia and drive the couple apart. Until recently, biographers were mostly content to continue this bleak portrayal of Mrs. Tolstoy. But in Alexandra Popoff’s engaging biography, Sophia Tolstoy, we find a committed and adoring wife who bears 13 children, runs the household and even assists with editing Leo’s novels. Sophia is Leo’s muse, and their love is deep and passionate. Yet Sophia watches in dismay as her husband’s charming personality succumbs to feverish, moody radicalism. Leo disavows property, education and religion, and, eventually, even his loyal wife. The dramatic and tragic story is rendered beautifully in this exceptional biography.
Moliere, playwright extraordinaire, started as a horrible tragedian. What inspirations led him to writing famous stage comedies such as The Misanthrope and Tartuffe or the Hypocrite? The movie Moliere, starring Romain Duris, explores how an artist’s past can inform his creative direction. Moliere is pulled from debtors’ prison by Mr. Jourdain. Jourdain dresses Moliere as a priest to hide the playwright in plain sight of his wife. You see, Jourdain wants to learn how to perform – to impress his would-be mistress. Only while Moliere is teaching Mr. Jourdain, Mrs. Jourdain is left suspicious and neglected…a situation Moliere remedies as well. If you liked Shakespeare in Love, you’ll probably appreciate the comedy and ardor of Moliere.