Friday, June 26, 2020

What Plague Literature Has Taught Me About Surviving 2020

There are two kinds of readers in a pandemic: those who seek escape from our plague-ridden reality and those who reach straight for Camus. I regret to inform you that I am kind of the second kind. So I thought I'd share with you what Camus and company might have to tell us if they were alive today. Ok, fine, several of these authors ARE alive today and I'm sure someone's asked them. They've probably even tweeted about it. But that's ok; have a little fun with me anyways. If we don't laugh, we'll cry.

The Plague, Albert Camus

  • Enact mass quarantine, but leave the opera house open.
  • Doctors keep very thorough diaries.
  • Maybe the plague is an allegory or maybe THE ACTUAL F***IN PLAGUE IS BAD ENOUGH WITHOUT ALSO BEING ABOUT WAR OR NAZIS, OK?

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio

  • The best way to survive is simply to have enough money to wait it out in your country villa with nine of your best friends while the whole thing blows over.
  • If this plan fails because you cannot afford to procure a country villa, try to become one of the nine best friends of someone who can.
  • Invent a new game to pass the time.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

  • We’ve been afraid of the wrong Shakespeare play all along. It’s King Lear, not Macbeth.
  • And while we’re at it, theater’s going to be big in the future.
  • Airports can be repurposed.
  • Avoid cults.

The Stand, Stephen King

  • What did I TELL you about cults?!

Zone One, Colson Whitehead

  • They will have to invent new terms for the way this shit will mess with us.
  • Look, at least no one’s UNdead yet.

The Last Man, Mary Shelley

  • The end of the 21st century will have basically the same social structures and customs as the beginning of the 19th.
  • If you must die dramatically, do it on a Greek island.

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

  • This all may just be a dramatic backdrop to your love story. So get back on Tinder. And swipe right A LOT.

That's all for now, folks. Don't forget to wear your mask. Or, better yet, stay home and read if you can. What are your favorites of plague literature?

Friday, June 12, 2020

Quiz: Which Literary Fairy Tale Should You Read During Quarantine?

A guest post by Krista Rodkey

Note from Aunt Mary: Today I'm thrilled to bring you a guest post by a dear and talented friend. Krista wrote this fun quiz last month and I had it scheduled for posting last week, but decided it was not the right moment for the lighthearted mood and invited a discussion on the facebook page instead. This week I've decided to get back to scheduled posts. I enjoyed this quiz very much and hope you do, too; I had not read any of these, so now I have some fun new books to enjoy as (some degree of) quarantine continues! Without further ado, enjoy.

By following Aunt Mary’s instructions you have already found out which 19th century classic tome and which modern brick you ought to be reading while in quarantine. But let’s be honest—the world is falling apart and you’d rather read something short, happy, and maybe a little bit escapist. True? Yep, so let’s find out which literary fairy-tale fits your mood.

1. You want our story to take place in…

A. Phantasmorania when Oberon was king of the fairies
B. The kingdom of Lagobel so long ago I have forgotten the date
C. The Grand Ducal house of Fugger-Babenhausen one hundred and twenty years ago
D. An unspecified Germanic kingdom in the 1890s
E. Euralia during its charming golden period so diligently chronicled by Sir Roger Scurvilegs

2. Should there be magic?

A. A little, but good advice and hard work is more useful
B. Magic sounds delightful
C. The magic hour is the best time to stealth-paint portraits
D. Only the magic of mathematics and true love—but you can have a prophecy so long as it is fulfilled naturalistically
E. Yes, give me invisibility cloaks, seven-league boots, magic rings, enchantments, the works!

3. Are you tired of christenings?

A. Never—that’s classic.
B. I’ll bet half the kingdom the king forgets to invite his own sister.
C. Like the kind of christening where you hope the archbishop’s eyesight is dodgy? I love it.
D. I’m down for a darker take on the christening—what if something is wrong with the baby?
E. Skip!

4. How do you feel about unusual health conditions?

A. Actually, perfect health was one of my christening gifts.
B. I’ll call in all my court metaphysicians and make a thousand puns about it.
C. Like, rosacea?
D. Let’s explore physical disability and the psychologically crippling effects of royal life.
E. Finding the right diet for your health condition is paramount—and surprisingly tricky if you have the, er, delicate apparatus of a lion.

5. What’s your favorite flower?

A. Lavenders blue, dilly dilly
B. Dandelions, but just the fluff
C. The slim, white lily
D. An ancient breed of roses that have smelled only of decay for a hundred years
E. Hyacinths

6. What’s your favorite color?

A. Amethyst
B. Gold
C. A sharp, steel-bright white
D. The color of crushed dreams
E. I wear green when the muse is upon me.

7. Are you hungry?

A. Bring me peacock, boar’s head, and an Italian cake so tall you need a ladder.
B. Give me wine and food by your own hand.
C. I am nourished by my sense of honor.
D. No food for the tortured soul, thanks.
E. Watercress sandwiches don’t suit the tail but they go with the ears.

8. How much forest do you need?

A. Give me all the moss, ferns, and flowers of the Forest of Faraway.
B. I hope the forest has lakes for semi-nude bathing.
C. You said there was a lake for nude bathing? Please make sure there is also space for military exercises.
D. I’m dying for an ecological side-plot about leaf mold.
E. Sometimes one tree where you go to be thoughtful is just as good.

9. Do you like poetry?

A. “Lavenders blue, rosemary green, when you are king, I will be queen”
B. I don’t mind a few incidental songs.
C. No poems, thanks.
D. Not really, but you can quote a line from The Magic Flute.
E. I’m a slave to light verse.

10. Do you like animals?

A. I like a variety of forest creatures.
B. No, thanks.
C. I’ll exercise the horses for you.
D. Pheasants, please.
E. The lion, the woolly lamb, the rabbit, anything strokeable.

11. What about letters?

A. Don’t read them to me, but tell me how many servants it took to address them all.
B. No letters, please.
C. I write long letters about art and seduction to my best friend, the countess.
D. I keep my feelings locked within—it saves postage.
E. I’m ready to write a Stiff Note to anyone who disturbs my breakfast.

12. How do you feel about undress?

A. Sitting by the window in a petticoat! Scandal!
B. Time to swim in my nightdress!
C. Who needs clothes?
D. I wear extra-long sleeves to cover my deformed hand.
E. I keep my clothes on, thank you….and I look fabulous.

13. How much do you want to hear about castle servants?

A. Lots! Who takes home party leftovers? How do kitchen maids feel about extra washing up?
B. I’m ready for the adventures of John, Susan, Jane, and Thomas.
C. Tell me all the gamekeeper’s son-in-law’s old grudges!
D. I could hear about one or two faithful retainers if it is relevant to the plot.
E. Only if it is funny; tell me of Wiggs dusting the throne and the Chancellor getting kicked seven leagues!

14. Your idea of a princess is...

A. Gray eyed, freckled, with a propensity for climbing down wisteria vines
B. Gorgeous and a total psychopath
C. I’m more interested in her Valkyrie-like maid of honor
D. A biracial American heiress who loves math
E. Polite, intelligent, and secretly mischievous in a small way

15. What about a prince?

A. Princes are tiresome. Is there a man-of-all-work I could date instead?
B. He is unfailingly polite no matter how dire the circumstance.
C. He’s a good chess player, but I have a prior engagement to my childhood friend.
D. He’s sensitive and damaged, but able to summon courage to pursue love and his country’s good.
E. I’m not keen on the name Udo; is his best friend available?

16. What sort of problems should your protagonists face?

A. Threat of engineered dragon-abduction, dirty dishes, tailoring
B. Physical and psychological in-firm-ity (a problem of real gravity)
C. A seduction plot and a kidnapped baby
D. The conflict between court aloofness the intimacy required by friendship and love. Also, national bankruptcy
E. A humorous bewitchment. War with Barodia! Also, embezzlement of the army budget to fund calisthenics and the fine arts

17. What’s your favorite weird motivation?

A. My motivations are weirdly ordinary.
B. The kind of boredom that makes you sail a baby like a kite
C. Obsession with the idea of making someone blush like the Alps in sunset
D. Aversion to dances through having been mocked at one as a child
E. Addiction to throwing largess

18. What do you consider the height of romance?

A. Ditching work to eat leftover ice cream late at night
B. Banter and physical contact in the swimming pool
C. Looking magnificent, saving your country, and forbidding your loved one to think of you
D. Engineering an economic bailout of your country together
E. Dropping pebbles in the stream with a thoughtful air

19. Should anyone/thing die?

A. No deaths, thanks.
B. If they do I’ll laugh like a hyena.
C. No, but please have ghost jokes about the fate of Abelard.
D. Anyone who can’t bear happy endings will be forced to commit suicide.
E. Death to bad facial hair!

20. Should there be pictures?

A. Yes—the author’s own beautiful illustrations

B. I’ll take a ballet version.
C. Yes, please have Herr Cazotte paint them.
D. I can picture it in my mind, thanks.
E. Like this??


What you should read if you got…

Mostly As: The Ordinary Princess (M.M. Kaye)

Prepare to enjoy M.M. Kaye’s delightful novelette of a princess whose curse (or gift) is to be ordinary. Climb down the wisteria vine and find true love with the handsome young man-of-all-work who is ready to picnic in the forest on his day off.

Mostly Bs: The Light Princess (George Macdonald)

What is to be done with a princess who has lost her gravity? Read this beautiful and whimsical tale of a floating (and unsettlingly cheerful) princess to find out. Macdonald explores his premise with a light touch, devastating (if humorous) logic, and ALL THE PUNS!

This one is in the public domain and available for free in ebook and audiobook.

Mostly Cs: Ehrengard (Isak Dineson/Karen Blixen)

Will Herr Cazotte succeed in his plot to make Ehrengaard, the general’s stalwart and no-nonsense daughter blush? And can the Ducal House of Fugger Babenhause keep its delicately timed royal pregnancy secret and safe? The last story by Dineson, author of Babette’s Feast and Out of Africa and one of her finest. It is considered her response to Kierkegaard’s A Seducer’s Diary.

Mostly Ds: Royal Highness (Thomas Mann)

The author who brought you plague-classic Death in Venice and tuberculosis-classic The Magic Mountain tries his hand at a naturalistic fairy tale. Will the crippled prince be able to overcome the toxic ideas of royalty that make love impossible? Only if he suffers first… but then it wouldn’t be a proper Thomas Mann novel if there weren’t some suffering!

This one is in the public domain and available for free in ebook and audiobook.

Mostly Es: Once on a Time (A.A. Milne)

Put on a green dress, dust off your diary, and mend your feather pens because after you read Milne’s favorite of his works you will be writing sonnets in praise of Countess Belvane! Never mind that she is the ‘villain’ of the tale. Also, prepare to enjoy breakfast-etiquette spats between Eurelia and Barodia, the discomfiture of Prince Udo, a lovely, understated romance, and Wiggs’ longing to dance like a fairy.

This one is in the public domain and available for free in ebook and audiobook.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Which Literary Character Is Your Quarantine Personality?

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment)

  • Extremely online
  • Has a lot of hot takes, shares them on Reddit
  • Quarantining alone

Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey)

  • Reading too much significance into the junk in the attic
  • Pretty sure her house is haunted
  • Escapist literature

Hamlet (Hamlet)

  • Kind of losing it
  • Soliloquizing
  • All his relationships going to shit

Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire)

  • Wine delivery by the case
  • Barely recognizable due to hair grown out and newly acquired scars (physical and/or emotional)
  • Wisecracks and fighting on family Zoom calls

Victor Frankenstein (Frankenstein)

  • Finally has time to explore hobbies and interests
  • Really getting somewhere on latest project
  • Lots of vaguebooking

Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye)

  • Keeps saying masks are “phony”
  • First in your friend group to complete the “lying on your floor listening to ‘Round Here’ by the Counting Crows challenge” on Instagram
  • Probably breaks quarantine

Penelope (The Odyssey)

  • Getting super into crafting
  • Social distancing from spouse, who is an essential worker
  • Homeschooling

The March Sisters (Little Women)

  • Sourdough starters
  • Clapping for essential workers and tearing up while they do it
  • Homeschooling and not happy about it

Miss Havisham (Great Expectations)
  • Full make-up for zoom calls
  • Still wearing a bra
  • Honestly was born for this

Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby)

  • Herd immunity parties
  • Still making tons of money, no one knows how
  • Not doing much laundry, has plenty of shirts

Friday, May 8, 2020

Review: Rain: A Song for All and None by Adoyo

Rain is a difficult book to describe, and its author seems to know it. “Today someone asked me: ‘So what is RAIN exactly?’ Broadly speaking, RAIN is a poetic meditation on History through Oral Tradition,” she writes on the facebook page of her publisher, Zamani Chronicles. The words “poetic meditation” seem here to be key to any attempt to categorize Rain. The book is not a poem, but it’s also not NOT a poem. The rhythmic quality of its prose is its most distinctive feature, and occasionally even internal rhyme turns the paragraphs on the page into something like verses. It is a long work of fiction in prose, but the word “novel” sits uneasily with Rain, as well. What the novel reader would call “chapters” Adoyo calls “cantos,” and rather than move a linear narrative forward, they fly around in time and space, at times recounting the personal lives of the family at its center, at times accompanying Vasco da Gama on a bloody and distant voyage, at times reflecting at length on the life of a raindrop. I might call it a prose poem, but that’s not really a category that most readers know what to do with. In “A Note to the Reader” at the beginning of the volume, Adoyo writes, “And so I invite you, intrepid Reader, to receive the volume before you with the expansive kindness you would extend to a novel, and the contemplative reflection you would afford a poem.” In other words, let go of your expectations. Stop trying to fit this book into a box, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

In this sense, Rain asks a lot of its reader: not to turn its pages quickly and easily, not to expect a cinematic or Hulu-friendly reading experience guided by one or even just a few central conflicts and their resolutions. And yet the various books and cantos never feel disconnected from each other; the interconnectedness of its many characters and interwoven stories feels rather like the point. Rain asks its reader to expand her definition of narrative, but it also rewards her for doing so.

So, what is Rain about? It’s a fair but complicated question. At its most basic level, the book is about at least six generations of a family living near the shores of Nam Lolwe, or what you may know as Lake Victoria. Several of its members are Dream Walkers, clairvoyants who move (often involuntarily) in and out of the world of Time, or what we might call this mortal coil. In this way, they can witness events long past and see people long dead or not yet born. They facilitate a connection between a family and their ancestors, especially at the birth of children. The book begins and ends with one Dream Walker, Maya Anyango, whose search for a lost brother and for the meaning of her abilities comes in and out of focus in journeys back and forth through centuries and generations.

On another level, the book is about history and colonialism, about life and continuity, about love that is sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual. It’s about living in a place and time that exists within a larger world and story that we as individuals don’t entirely know. Interestingly and perhaps appropriately, the passage that to me best encapsulates this latter and most significant theme was not a narration of any of Maya’s or anyone else’s adventures through time, but Canto 32, the canto on raindrops:

Vapors carrying echoes of fables from the Arctic, the North and South Seas, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic, even the Pacific, and the Mid-Earth sea twixt Egypt and the old Roman lands, all meld together in a single bead of dew [...] Like every living being, the raindrop’s life begins the moment it condenses, lasts for the length of its descent to the ground, and ends whenever and wherever something breaks its fall. Then it is no longer distinct. Those falling into the soil spread thinly in solitude and soak into it completely, becoming part of something else, no longer the single drop. A different fate awaits those that fall into a river, a lake, or a sea, joining the multitude of their kind. There they meld with other drops, dissolve, and then become part of something greater than themselves, inscrutable where one begins and where another ends.

Rain, the book’s most prominent symbol, is life and death, is past, present, and future. It is a “living being” both distinct and indistinct from all others. Maya struggles to control and make sense of her gift, to find her footing in the world of Time, because she is still coming to understand the paradoxes here embodied. The passage is rather reminiscent of one of Virgil’s lectures in Dante’s Purgatorio, in which the ancient guide conveys the meaning and order of love or sin to an inquisitive and not yet fully spiritually realized Dante.

If Maya is a Dante, she, too, has both a Virgil and a Beatrice, two guides on the journey to spiritual discovery and self-actualization. One central character, the matriarch Akoth, is born on a day when a rainstorm kills her parents, then given a name that means “rain” by the spirit of her Dream Walker father. Akoth lives 111 years, guiding children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with an observant and comprehending eye. Maya looks “just like Akoth,” in the words of her great-great-grandfather (words uttered from outside the world of Time) and is in many ways her heir, though she struggles to realize it. Like Beatrice, Akoth sets in motion the journey that Maya will take and helps her see it through to conclusion. Older brother Alex, the lost companion that Maya seeks through much of the book, reflects some characteristics of Beatrice himself (a guide for part of the story and longed-for but distant object through other parts), but he can perhaps more fittingly be seen as her Virgil, one who can carry out the work that Akoth started to lead Maya towards an understanding of herself and her role within and outside of the world of Time.

The author is explicit about her debt to Dante in the Afterword, though she emphasizes a different facet of his influence: “It will not surprise readers familiar with the voice of Dante Alighieri’s Commedia that the Great Poet’s most important animating influence in Rain is the way it emboldens the story to draw back the veil of recorded History and bear witness, with an unflinching and conscientious gaze, to the brutality of the agents of colonial dominion…” Dante was indeed unsparing in his criticism of the political and ecclesiastical powers of the Middle Ages, and Adoyo likewise narrates some of the violence of European colonial powers in nightmarish detail. She also makes clear to her reader that the brutality of a Vasco da Gama did not start and end in his time, but rather becomes an integral part of the story that includes Maya and her family.

As with the objects of Dante's invectives, though, the colonizers are not granted center stage. Rather, they are repositioned, removed from the pedestal granted them by western narratives of history. This is clear, for instance, in Adoyo's use of names: the lake whose waters are so central to the book's symbolism and sense of place is always Lolwe, and the text notes the inappropriateness of the name you'll find on today's maps, for an English queen who had nothing to do with it. Adoyo makes clear from her epigraph--a quotation from Chinua Achebe--that she sees her work in the tradition of writers like Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o who have sought through their fiction to counter and reverse the hegemonic European perspective on African history. "Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter," Achebe wrote. These words open Rain and acknowledge something of the scope and ambition of its project.

In the midst of themes both historical and spiritual, what I admired most in Rain was the imagery and musicality of its prose. Adoyo is attentive to sound in language. On YouTube you can hear her reading canto 32 aloud, and to do so without seeing the pages is to truly question whether this work is a work of poetry or prose. Not only the sound, but the imagery is poetic; she combines the senses, whether creating a sense of hope and calm in describing “hearing the light dance on the water” or a sense of horror and chaos in describing the smells of blood and smoke in other passages. Her language is occasionally even playfully self-aware, as when she describes one character’s name as forming “dactylic tetrameter.” For me, the sense of melody in Adoyo’s writing raises the same question I considered at the start of this review, but it perhaps answers it to a certain extent as well. What IS this book, and how should it best be enjoyed? Is it truly a new or niche genre that will sit uncomfortably with the tastes of today’s novel readers? I think not, actually. I can think of both a very contemporary and a very old-fashioned way to enjoy this book properly: as an audiobook or read aloud and discussed. But however you read Rain, do not neglect its orality.

Find the book here:

Friday, April 24, 2020

Quiz: Which Insanely Long Contemporary Novel Should You Read Now That You Have Time to Kill in Quarantine?

So you took my last quiz and enjoyed a 19th century classic. Now you’re still in the mood for something with four digits in its page numbers (or close), but you would like something more modern. Never fear, reader dear. I have just the thing.

Alas, because the books from last time were in the public domain and this week’s are not, I cannot offer you links to free texts. But don’t forget to check your library’s electronic resources, and if you want to buy a copy, will not let you down.

1. Do you want an escape?

A. I mean, I’d like to go back to the Before Times. That’s all the escape I need.
B. Absolutely. The weirder the better.
C. I’d rather like to escape into the 1% for a while.
D. I don’t mind if the novel takes place in some version of hell, as long as it’s not the plague-ridden one we inhabit at the moment.
E. Nah.

2. Do you miss sports?

A. Yes, I want to play tennis.
B. I miss the gym.
C. I miss drugs, does that count?
D. Nah.
E. Isn’t survival its own kind of sport?

3. How tolerant are you of footnotes?

A. I live for footnotes. And endnotes. And endnotes with footnotes.
B. I wish there were audio footnotes. Love googling pieces of music referenced in a book.
C. I’m erudite enough not to need them.
D. I usually footnote my own copy just to keep track of everything.
E. Pass.

4. How do you want to sound talking about this book at a party when this is all over?

A. Like the hipster barista meme.

B. Like Luna Lovegood.

C. Like you're teaching a class.

D. Like this guy.

E. Like a grizzled veteran of the apocalypse who has Seen Some Shit.

5. And how do you picture this party where you’re talking about this book?

A. We all wear flannel, drink craft beer, listen to indie rock, and talk about our feelings.
B. We listen to classical music and discuss Proust. But also, like, MMA or something.
C. The Met gala.
D. An intimate but cosmopolitan gathering of just a few enthusiasts of the work of the obscure and enigmatic German novelist Benno von Archimboldi.
E. A rag-tag group of survivors huddled around a campfire among the ruins of civilization.

6. Murder in fiction:

A. Is played out as a plot point. But so are plot points in general. So.
B. Is best committed by a highly trained super assassin with a past and secrets.
C. I’d prefer an art heist.
D. I’m cool with grisly, serial-killer-type shit.
E. Look, I thought my last few answers already made it clear that I’m good with mass death of all kinds in fiction.

7. Have you ever considered founding your own religion?

A. No, but I’d rather like to found a society that plays a complex game of geopolitical strategy with sports equipment, so that’s close, right?
B. No, but 10/10 would watch a miniseries on a cult with secrets.
C. No, culture is my religion.
D. No, but I like a bit of blasphemy in my books.
E. Yes.

8. How many plots can you handle at once?

B. Like two or three.
C. One, but with significant deviations and maaaaybe 300 pages in Vegas for reasons that won’t be immediately clear.
D. Several, but let them all twist and turn around the same series of deadly crimes.
E. One main plot, please, but make it a doozy.

9. Describe your relationship with the past.

A. I like making up words and names with robust etymologies, does that count?
B. What if we went back in time but added an alternate dimension with magical little people and an extra moon?
C. Sometimes I like to meditate upon the legacies we leave and their meanings for those who come after us. Isn’t it amazing to consider that we can today look upon something that allows us to enter the minds and experiences of those lost to history? And is anything ever really lost, and…
D. You know who’s part of the past? One hundred and twelve murder victims in Santa Teresa.
E. The past is dead. We can never go back.

10. When you finish this book, you’d like to:

A. Istagram it. Make sure everyone knows you read it.
B. Be transported by some classical music.
C. Take a virtual tour of an art museum.
D. Have a strong drink--you’ll need it.
E. Check to see whether you’ve just read the Complete and Uncut Edition, and if not, google the other ending.


If you chose…

Mostly As: Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace)

You are ready to join the ranks of Those Who Have Read Infinite Jest and Will Not Let You Forget It! So grab your favorite craft brew or pour-over coffee and find a good spot on the couch, cause you’ll be there awhile. I hope you were serious about liking footnotes.

Mostly Bs: 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)

I’m slowly realizing it takes a certain kind of reader to love Murakami, and you and I are both that kind. He’s got his own type of magical realism that will look at you with a straight face and be like “What is the connection between the tiny mystical beings with their mysterious craft and the human cult leader?” Enjoy.

Mostly Cs: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

Ah, yes. Donna Tartt’s masterpiece a decade in the making. Two seemingly contradictory things are true about this book: 1) It is absolutely brilliant; 2) It’s probably only as long as it is because editors were afraid to touch it. The novel is an 800-page reflection on the meaning and role of art that also beautifully explores themes of friendship, familial love, and loss.

Mostly Ds: 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)

Glad you’re down for this cause, I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be a wild ride. I suppose on the most basic level this novel is about a string of brutal and sadistic murders, but nothing about it follows any of the usual crime novel formulae. It’s a sprawling labyrinth of a book, and if you can keep up you’re in for a treat (albeit a pretty grim one).

Mostly Es: The Stand (Stephen King)

Apparently sales of this book have been booming, so you must not be the only one who, in the midst of a global pandemic, thinks “You know what would really hit the spot right now? A book about a global pandemic.” (Who am I to talk, though? I just read La Peste.) Some consider this King’s best work, and while it builds terror in a way that has become his trademark, it’s also fundamentally different from his more traditional horror novels; there’s something of the epic to it. So if you are in the mood for the sense of slowly building dread you got from Jack Torrance’s descent into madness or Annie Wilkes’s snowballing sadism but this time with enough steam to cover first the annihilation of most of the world’s population and THEN to careen into a post-apocalyptic death cult, you’ve found your next read.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Quiz: Which Insanely Long Literary Classic Should You Read Now That You Have Time to Kill in Quarantine?

So, you’ve got your cup of tea, your cozy spot on the couch, and oh-so-much time before you. And when all of this is over, you want to sound well-read at parties. But where to start? Never fear, dear reader. This quiz is here to guide you.

We’ll start with the 19th century in today's post, and perhaps tackle modern doorstoppers in another quiz. Which tome should be your companion for a non-trivial number of hours in the near future?

Links to free ebooks of all these novels and audio of a few will be provided at the end. Now. Let's begin!

1. Do you like happy endings?

A. Yes, if you suffer sufficiently to earn it.
B. I’d rather be inspired than happy at the end of a book.
C. Lol
D. For the characters who deserve it.

2. Do you hate yourself?

A. Nah
B. A little, but only for like a chapter at a time
C. Who doesn’t?
D. Not exactly, but I do dumb shit sometimes.

3. How interested are you in sewage?

A. I’m...not?
B. Waste management is my passion.
C. Life is sewage.
D. Sewage is a bit far, but life isn’t all sunshine and roses.

4. Are you sick of inheritance as a plot device?

A. Tell you what. The inheritance thing is fine as long as there are also duels.
B. Yes, it’s played out. The characters should find even less probable ways to suddenly come into money.
C. That depends. Is there a murder?
D. No, it’s fine. How else were the Victorians supposed to make anything happen ever?

5. I say “Revolution,” you say:

A. Hell yeah, let’s kill Napoleon.
C. You mean, like, spiritually?
D. I’d like to revolutionize my life by moving to a quiet country town and/or making an unwise marriage.

6. Are you good with names?

A. Pretty good, yes.
B. Sure, but I’d prefer there be a secret identity involved.
C. SO GOOD. Like, you could give one character seven different nicknames and then have three others share his last name and I’ll still be totally chill. I will make CHARTS of names and like it.
D. Keep them simple, please.

7. How interested are you in the characters’ finances?

A. I mean, can’t they just all be rich and then we don’t have to worry about it?
B. It matters and class difference should have representation, but I’m also cool with a character just getting, like, absurdly and inexplicably rich all of a sudden.
C. A little, but I’d rather hear about their moral and spiritual health.
D. SO interested. Give me ALL the Ye Olde Financial Minutiae. Debt, archaically eccentric wills, betrothals imperiled by financial ruin, the works.

8. What kind of hero do you want?

A. A lovable loner who gets his due.
B. An absolute paragon on a redemptive journey.
C. No heroes, please, just a really dysfunctional family.
D. A teenage girl who thinks she has her shit together but is about to find out she’s wrong.

9. How about the villain?

A. A lying rake about to seduce an impressionable young woman. Oh and also Napoleon.
B. He gets a redemptive journey, too. Redemptive journeys for everyone!
C. Don’t we all sort of have the villain inside ourselves? But also, an aloof and sadistic servant of questionable birth.
D. Our own poor life decisions.

10. Do you need a love story?

A. Yes, and make it good.
B. Meh, it can be secondary.
C. Only if it’s a triangle.
D. Sure, but kill the romance with the mundane at least a little.


If you chose...

Mostly As: War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)

The long book for a rainy day par excellence. Join Pierre, Natasha, Andrei, and the rest with a free ebook.

Mostly Bs: Les Misérables (Victor Hugo)

You've considered a quarantine lipsync or a spoof of "One Day More," but have you considered tackling the original? Download a free ebook or the audiobook in five volumes.

Mostly Cs: The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Your quarantine mood calls for something a bit darker, and Dostoyevsky's final masterpiece is just the ticket. Ruminate over the human condition with the free ebook or in audio.

Mostly Ds: Middlemarch (George Eliot)

You prefer something a bit less dramatic, so may I suggest a clear and sensitive look at the lives of unextraordinary people in a Victorian country village? You'll be no less wowed by Eliot's genius just because the book lacks duels, revolutions, and murder trials. Settle in with a free ebook or audiobook and get reading.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book Bracket Results 2020

Just a quick post to update you all on the results of this year's book bracket, in case you haven't been following it on Facebook. Competition was tough this year, with a number of close matches and upsets, most notably The Great Gatsby's unexpected loss to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the Final Four. However, we finally crowned a winner this week: Victor Hugo's Les Misérables!

Thanks to all who voted and cheered along, and I hope you'll join us next year. See below for full results.