Friday, July 30, 2010

75 and Counting

Smile and wave, boys, because Penguin Books is turning 75. This publishing company began in 1935 when Allen Lane decided that he wanted to help more people gain access to great books:

Allen Lane had the revolutionary idea to offer cheap, quality books through outlets like railway stations and newsagents. He wanted to make good books as accessible and as cheap to procure — six pence! — as purchasing a pack of cigarettes from a kiosk. Lane launched his new line of books with ten inexpensive paperbacks, all of them reprints.

Simply designed with broad bands of color (orange for general fiction, green for crime fiction, dark blue for biographies), and using the font Gill Sans-Serif, the original ten books immediately established themselves within the history of design.

Skeptics dismissed Lane's idea as imprudent and crazy, but by March 1936 — ten months after the company's launch — one million Penguin books had been printed. Within a year Penguin had sold 3 million paperbacks. By April 1938 the first 140 titles had been published, as well as 30 Pelicans, 18 of the Shakespeare series, and one Penguin Special. The skeptics were proved wrong and a new, innovative publishing model was launched into the world.

Today, Penguin Books continues to make many new and classic works available to the general masses and is synonymous with quality literature at affordable prices . It was an essential link in the chain from the time when only the wealthy could own books, to the present where so much of it is only a click away. Happy Birthday Penguin!

Here is the complete list of the first ten books published by Penguin:

Ariel or the Life of Shelley
by André Maurois
A Farewell to Arms
by Ernest Hemingway
Poet's Pub
by Eric Linklater
Madame Claire
by Susan Ertz
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
by Agatha Christie
by John Beverley Nichols
by E. H. Young
Gone to Earth
by Mary Webb
by Compton Mackenzie

HT: Austenblog

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-25: Guess Who

It's a Weekly Geek Flashback this week! [W]e post pictures of authors that answer the questions listed below, but without saying who they were. Then Weekly Geek visitors should guess, by leaving a comment, who they think those authors are.

Photos of your favorite author(s).

Answers- Top Row L-R: Charlotte Bronte, C. S. Lewis, Daphne du Maurier
Bottom Row L-R: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, A. A. Milne

Photo(s) of the author(s) of the book(s) you’re currently reading.

Answer: Thomas Mann

A photo of the author of the book you’ve most recently finished.

Answer: Franz Kafka

Congrats to everyone who guessed. All of you guessed correctly at least once.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Sorrows off Young Werther

Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness.

Of all the German writers, there is perhaps none so revered as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Poet, playwright, philosopher, literary man, he was involved in many movements of the late 18th and early 19th century from Romanticism to Sturm und Drang. He is even the originator of the idea of "world literature". His novel The Sorrows of Young Werther made him an international celebrity and set the tone of adolescent manhood for years to come.

The Plot:

The novel is told through a series of letters from a sensitive and passionate artist, Werther, to his friend Wilhelm. While staying in the village of Wahlheim, Werther meets Lotte, a young woman who is caring for her siblings after her mother's death. Werther falls head over heels for her, but soon learns that she is engaged to another man, Albert. Against his better judgment, Werther cultivates a friendship with both Lotte and Albert, all the while hoping against hope that Lotte will return his love.

But as time goes on, Werther begins to despair and decides to leave and forget Lotte. An unfortunate incident drives Werther back to Wahlheim only to discover that Lotte and Albert are now married. Werther must now decide if he is capable of living life without her.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

The S
orrows of Young Werther was my first taste not only of Goethe, but of German lit itself. I found it at once beautiful, interesting, and frustrating.

First the beautiful. Goethe's writing and description is absolutely gorgeous. He writes like an artist paints, capturing the subtleties of light, color, shadow, and form. His descriptions of the village, the peasants, and the countryside are achingly beautiful.
"When, while the lovely valley teems with vapour around me, and the meridian sun strikes the upper surface of the impenetrable foliage of my trees, and but a few stray gleams steal into the inner sanctuary, I throw myself down among the tall grass by the trickling stream; and, as I lie close to the earth, a thousand unknown plants are noticed by me: when I hear the buzz of the little world among the stalks, and grow familiar with the countless indescribable forms of the insects and flies, then I feel the presence of the Almighty, who formed us in his own image..." It is no wonder that this novel was able to evoke so many powerful and different emotions in the hearts of its readers.

Which brings me to the interesting. The history of this novel is perhaps more well known than the content itself. It literally set the tone for a generation of young European men. Napoleon himself felt its impact and considered it to be one of the best European novels. An effect known as "Werther Fever" hit the young men of Europe and the began to dress in clothing like that of Werther, to make Wiemar a must-see destination on their European tour, and in many cases, to commit suicide. Today, this affect still lives on in the idea of copycat suicide known as the "Werther Effect". Goethe himself disliked the idea of suicide and he eventually abandoned the Sturm und Drang movement.

Finally, we have the frustrating. I'm sure that there are many people out there who identify with Werther's distress and hopelessness. I don't happen to be one of them. I found Werther to be disgustingly pathetic, and I never got why he pinned his hopes on this rather flirtatious young girl. It is obvious from the get go that Lotte has absolutely no intention of giving up Albert, and it gets rather annoying to hear Werther constantly boost his hopes only to fall down in utter despair two sentences later. William Makepeace Thackery wrote a poem entitled "Sorrows of Werther" that I think accurately sums up the story:

Werther had a love for Charlotte
Such as words could never utter;
Would you know how first he met her?
She was cutting bread and butter.
Charlotte was a married lady,
And a moral man was Werther,
And for all the wealth of Indies
Would do nothing for to hurt her.
So he sigh’d and pin’d and ogled,
And his passion boil’d and bubbled,
Till he blew his silly brains out,
And no more was by it troubled.
Charlotte, having seen his body
Borne before her on a shutter,
Like a well-conducted person,
Went on cutting bread and butter.

Having said all this, I do think that The Sorrows of Young Werther is something that you should at least give a try. First off, it is a great intro to Goethe whom everyone should have a taste of. Secondly, the writing itself is worth reading, even if you don't care for the story. And finally, if you have any desire to know more about either the Romanticism movement or Sturm und Drang, this is a must. Though I wasn't overly impressed by the story itself, I found the words and many other aspects of it to be completely worth my time. I'm more than ready to add more Goethe to my diet.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yeah, Right.

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Ok, so if you believe this application, I write like James Joyce. Excuse me while I roll on the floor and laugh. Anyways, you simply put a sample of your writing in the box and hit analyze. It then tells you which great author you (supposedly) write like. I did a few different blog posts just to see how it changed. A couple other random authors popped up, but James Joyce came up twice. So, what do you think? Do I really write like James Joyce? Who do you write like?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sneak Peeks

The latter part of 2010 as well as 2011 and 2012 looks to be very interesting cinematically as many beloved books get ready to hit the silver screen. Here is a look at some of the stories set to be brought to life in the coming months:

Never Let Me Go (2010): Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel, this film is set to be released later this year and stars Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice), Carey Mulligan (An Education), and Sally Hawkins (Persuasion). I'm hoping to read this book in the fall. See the trailer here.

Jane Eyre (2011): A brand new adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic is set to hit the screens early next year. It stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Michael Fassbender (Inglorious B*sterds), Judi Dench (Cranford), and Imogen Poots (Miss Austen Regrets). I'm still not sure why we feel the need to re-create this story only 4 years after the beautiful TV version, but I'll take it anyway.

The Three Musketeers (2011): I am soooooo excited about this. There hasn't been an adaptation of this story since the 1993 abomination, and this deserves a great re-telling. Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, Northanger Abbey) will be doing the screenplay and it is set to star Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians), Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings), and Matthew MacFadyen (Pride and Prejudice, Little Dorrit). Ahh, Matthew MacFadyen as Athos....dreams do come true!

The Hobbit (2012 & 2013): There is still much uncertainty surrounding this prequel to The Lord of the Rings, but in recent news it has kind of been announced that Peter Jackson will be taking the directing aspects back over. Hope that they can work things out so that we can go back to Middle-earth ASAP!

Do you know of any movies based on great books that are coming out soon? If you do, please provide us with the details. See you at the theater!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Literary Year

A week or so ago, I stumbled across this brilliant idea on some random website. The basic idea is to take all of the books you have read and find the average date of publication. So, I hopped over to my goodreads account, found the date of publication for each of the books recorded there (fiction only), added them all together, and then divided by the total number of books. My literary year is...drumroll please...1878! That isn't too much of a shock since I tend to gravitate towards Victorian lit. To honor my literary year, here is a snapshot of what was happening in the world of literature in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Eight:

  • Carl Sandburg is born- January 6
  • Illustrator George Cruikshank dies- February 1
  • Anna Sewell dies- April 25
  • Upton Sinclair is born- September 20
  • Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native is published
  • Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is published
  • Oscar Wilde receives the Newdigate Prize
  • Guy de Maupassant becomes an employee of the Ministry of Public Instruction
So, what is your literary year? What do you think that says about your reading habits? What amazing things happened in your literary year? Though this little exercise can be a bit time consuming (and confusing if you don't use something like goodreads or shelfari), it is still a lot of fun. Go ahead and give it a try!