Qwiklit’s Weekly Companion – June 8th-June 15th
JUNE 16, 2013 1:31 AM / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT
This has been a relatively turbulent week in the news, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for literature. So here is a brief list of some of the more relevant news and the books you can read to learn about the world’s most pressing current events:

The ongoing PRISM scandal has caused many to compare the current surveillance practices of the United States to George Orwell’s 1984. It is no surprise, then, that the sales of the 1949 novel have risen by 4,000 percent on Amazon. Whether or not you agree with the tactics, never has this novel been as relevant, and I advise reading this novel if you’re looking to understand how a society under complete surveillance is portrayed.
Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that reading novels increases our ability to judge ambiguous situations and prevents us from making erroneous snap judgments. A good book to test this theory on is Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, as it distorts the idea of what is factual with an unreliable narrator.
A Nigerian sailor has survived after spending almost 3 days in a air bubble pocket in a submerged ship. Many classic novels have dealt with surviving in shipwrecks, including Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.
Recent developments in optical rehabilitation have suggested that a cure for disease-borne blindness may be more accessible than many believe. Jose Saramago’s Blindness, about an epidemic that turns everybody blind and forces its sufferers find ways to come together, is a remarkably detailed look into a condition many must live through every day.

Sturm and Drang: 20 German Classics You Should Read Right Now
For nearly 350 years, the German novel has used everything from history to philosophy to war to explore the nature of the human spirit. Its novels are not characterized by their length or their subject matter, but rather by their devotion to the cerebral. Whether it be the social realism of the 1800′s or the metafictional explorations of post-war life, the literary movements that dominated Europe throughout the ages served only as templates upon which these authors tackled some of life’s more prescient questions. Have your say in the comments, and let us know what you think of the selection.

1. Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen – Simplicius Simplicissimus (1668)

Just like Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Simplicius Simplicissimus is both a timeless classic and a seminal text for its nation’s literary heritage. Combining adventure, satire and light philosophical exploration, Grimmelhausen’s novel follows his title character over several decades in a Europe still recovering from the Thirty Years’ War. Many other great German novelists including Gunter Grass and Alfred Döblin, have cited this novel as a major inspiration for their work.

2. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)

Goethe will likely retain his status as the greatest German writer of all time for years to come, but it is his theater and poetry that have more strongly endured over the past 200 years. His famous coming-of-age novel, however, helped spurn the Romantic literary movement in Germany, and it is today regarded as one of the first novels of a genre later explore by F.Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger.

3. Friedrich Holderlin – Hyperion (1797-1799)

By the beginning of the 19th century, Western Europe’s signature epistolary style had moved eastward to Germany, but instead of exploring the morality and etiquette of urban society, Holderlin instead drew from antique classical sources and contemporary Romantic sources to create a unique work of poetic genius. About a letter-writing soldier fighting against the Turks in Greece, the novel’s magic is an elegy to both the ancient world and a despairing narrator.

4.ETA Hoffman – The Devil’s Elixirs (1815)

The English-speaking world has largely forgotten Hoffman, and to many, he is only familiar for his appearance in several of Sigmund Freud’s essays on melancholia and the uncanny. The Devil’s Elixir is an extremely influential text, though; not only did it inspire M.G. Lewis’ The Monk, but it arguably became Germany’s most famous novel of the brief but popular Gothic movement. Drawing from old forms of the Romance, it combines suspense and horror without excluding a troubling psychological underbelly.

5. Gustav Freytag – Debt and Credit (1855)

Karl Gutzkow and Gustav Freytag would be two of the many to promulgate the zeitroman — or the novel looking at the state of present times in a particular region or country. Debit and Credit is such an exploration, as it follows the decline of a wealthy German family from a particularly conservative perspective, emphasizing the lives of many who have chosen exclusion over Germany’s push for moral rectitude.

6. Theodor Fontane – Effi Briest (1894)

Largely overshadowed by the great 19th century novels of adultery (See: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina), Effi Briest has nevertheless survived in large part because of the praise of Thomas Mann and Samuel Beckett. Similar to Bovary for its subtle social critiques of rural life and marriage, Fontane’s tragicomic tale remains notorious for its ability to make the most erudite of readers weep uncontrollably. Written after Otto Von Bismarck’s forceful push towards modernization, this novel heralded the end of Germany’s idyllic and isolated country life.

7. Thomas Mann – Buddenbrooks (1901)

Written at the end of Realism’s firm grip on the written word, this lengthy elegy to 19th century merchant-class life witnessed the dissolution of Germany’s firm strictures on life and narrated the inevitable rise of modernist thought. Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain have been more commonly revived in academic circles, but Buddenbroooks was, up until the 1930′s, the crown jewel of fiction in Germany, appearing in 159 different printings.

8. Rainer Maria Rilke – The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910)

Rilke’s poetry largely overshadowed his prose fiction, but this short epistolary nevertheless announced the arrived of literary modernism in Germany. About a wealthy Dane who chooses Bohemian-style poverty in Paris over a comfortable life, the text gains its lucidity from its existential treatment of time and space; exploring what Martin Heidegger would end up postulating decades later, Notebooks confronts the fragility of existence and the great vacuum that time and space can be in times of suffering.

9. Thomas Mann – Death in Venice (1912)

I must also include Mann’s Death in Venice on this life because of how strikingly different it is from Buddenbrooks. This novella-length piece about an old man’s liberation and suffering in Venice is a tribute to the dual qualities of literature and all art in general. Written from the perspective of an aging author, Mann foresees (and forewarns of, for that matter) the inevitable intrusion of decadence, violence and passion upon the conventional literary text.

10. Herman Hesse – Siddhartha (1922)

This novel has been called many things: a religious text, a bildungsroman, a parable, a bridging of Eastern and Western traditions. It is without a doubt, however, a sublimely-written piece about finding absolution and finding peace through charity and goodwill. Today, Siddhartha is a testament to the spiritual power of the novel, demonstrating how stories can empower the individual to change their life for the better.

11. Franz Kafka – The Trial (1925)

Although Czech author Franz Kafka contributed to the rise of what we may now call “World Literature”, his contributions of the German literary scene were extremely profound. The Trial, along with Metamorphosis and his collection of shorter works, subverted many of the literary conventions of the time and introduced an endless trove of complex explorations of language, law, and life. The novel in question tells the story of K, a man who is summoned to a trial without explanation, and must spend the entire novel figuring out the nature of his “crimes””. The sheer confusion and complexity of his plight is one of the reasons the word “kafkaesque” is still used today.

12. Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on The Western Front (1929)

One of the great war novels of all time, Remarque’s straightforward and honest portrayal of a generation destroyed by the horrors of war became a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic, and although it was banned by the Nazi party soon after its release, its dramatic rebuke of the glories of battle marked a major shift in European thinking. Paul Baumer’s relatable narration sublimely demonstrated the troubling disparity between the ideals of a new generation against an old one.

13. Alfred Döblin – Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)

Doblin’s sharp language, playful narration and honest depiction of life in down-and-out Berlin is both thrilling and cinematic. Using several forms of print–such as newspaper, street signs and popular music,Doblin—along with fellow Berliner Bertolt Brecht—would later influence the use of multimedia in late 20th century literature. It was also one of the first major novels to use cinematic montage to enliven its storytelling, making it today one of the most influential German novels in the world.

14. Hermann Broch – the Sleepwalkers (1932)

Broch great century-spanning trilogy has not left as enduring a legacy as other German-language novelists from this era, but the recent resurgence of this Austrian novelist’s popularity is unsurprising. Like fellow Austrian Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities, Broch’s epic is a serious look at a society from the point of view of the “insignificant”, or those who are subject to the unpredictable changes history may bring.

15. Imgard Keun – After Midnight (1937)

During the rise of the Nazi party in the 1930′s, many novels were written with their looming presence gradually imposing itself upon the average citizenry. Keun’s short work about a forbidden love story places us right in the center of unsettling German life, detailing the challenges of being a young woman in a Germany ruled by an iron fist. While Keun would later seek exile and release her works outside of Germany, the novel has returned to its place of origin and has retained a high level of popularity.

16. Anna Seghers – Transit (1942)

Seghers set her 1942 novel among European refugees trying to escape the atrocities of Vichy France and Nazi Germany by going through Marseille. Transit explores the stories of how everybody got to the South of France, providing a panoramic view of what the entirety of Europe had to go through. Just as German literature would pioneer the bildungsroman and the zeitroman, Seghers’ work would end up becoming one fo the great exilromans of World War II.

17. Herman Hesse – The Glass Bead Game (1943)

Few 20th century novelists explored the nature of art and literature more profoundly than Hermann Hesse, and The Glass Bead Game is a testament to such a quixotic search. The novel tells the story of Joseph Knecht, a man who has lived three lives but seemingly lives without a purpose, playing a game with glass beads instead of confronting the “real world”, per se. The novel questions but also argues for the place of art in society, but it also shows why art cannot exist without the physical presence of life to validate its presence.

18. Gunter Grass – The Tin Drum (1959)

The first part of Grass’s epic Danzig Trilogy follows the lives of a German family before World War II from the perspective of Oskar, a young man holed up in an insane asylum. Both a revisiting of the first half of the 20th century and a look at the country in the present day, the novel explores life in the region of Danzig while also challenging the moral responsibility of the observer after witnessing the Second World War. It is also a piece of social commentary–as Germany is undergoing its economic miracle during the reconstruction era, who, Grass demands, will have the willingness to look back?

19. Christa Wolf – The Quest for Christa T. (1968)

Drawing from the works of Milan Kundera and Jose Luis Borges, The Quest for Christ T. is in large part a metafictional exploration of the self by the author. The novel is a bricolage of sorts, combining letters, diaries and other forms of text as the narrator discovers more about a doppelganger that is haunting her. Although such an outline seems simplistic and perhaps a bit cliché, it serves more than just a myopic purpose; rather, Christa Wolf explores how identity is formed and denied in particular societies, and it shows how certain types of governance modify the individual in harmful ways. A pariah among other German authors, this short work is a tribute to her own personal fortitude.

20. Heinrich Böll – The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1974)

Written at the height of sensationalist tabloid journalism in West Germany, the novel uses the trope of the “fallen woman” from 19th century literature in a contemporary context to show just how indifferently the public sphere is in the destruction of people’s lives. When Katharina Blum takes a man home after a party, the subsequent turmoil results in her getting charged with the murder of a snooping journalist. Inspired by true events, the novel is an indictment of such journalistic tactics, and by using fiction to look closely into the life of “ruined woman” (note the irony), Böll shows us the true extent of such a ruthless industry.

Introducing The Weekly Companion – Literature for the World’s Most Important News Stories
JUNE 7, 2013 11:03 AM / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT
One of the biggest issues facing literature today is its supposed disconnect with current events. Why do we read novels from the 18th century when wars rage in the Middle East, and why do we dote upon the themes of 16th century tragedians when we are well into the digital age. One of Qwiklit’s main purposes is to bridge the gap between modernity and literature. Every week, then, we will be providing our readers with literary companions to some of the most hot-button issues facing the world today. For many of you, it’s hard enough finding literature that is both relevant and engrossing, but I hope that I will lead help broaden your outlook and maybe even give you fodder for daily conversation.

Turkey is currently in the midst of a citizen uprising caused by the attempted removal of an iconic park in Istanbul. The Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk has chronicled Turkey’s history in great detail in his prolific career, combining historical fiction and magic realism to create a colorful portrait of Istanbul and other regions of the country. His memoir Istanbul: Memories and the City shows a metropolis and a country in its formative stages from this celebrated author’s perspective.
NASA recently announced that it was working on warp speed technology to potentially jumpstart the age of intergalactic travel. For a fast-paced and detailed exploration of such possibilities, read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.
The Civil War in Syria has raged on for at least two full years now, and the true extent of the atrocities is just beginning to unfold. Although the time and place are different, Rawi Hage’s De Niro’s Game presents a stark but poetic portrait of urban warfare in the Middle-East, and how living with such horrors can have damaging psychological consequences.
Worldwide protests against Monsanto erupted this past week, resulting in one of the largest international demonstrations of all time. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is set in the distant future, and includes humanoid creatures that have been fabricated in the same manner as GMO’s or genetically modified foods.

Le Mot Juste: 25 Classic French Novels
JUNE 1, 2013 12:14 AM / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT
France has consistently maintained its place as one of the most active hotbeds of literature. Like many other countries, its cultural sphere is devoted to understanding and challenging social mores, and novelists like Balzac, Zola, Flaubert, Camus and Sartre have blended their art with politics, philosophy, sociology. Here is a list of some of the most influential French novels from the past 350 years:

1. Madame de La Fayette – The Princess of Cleves (1678)

One of the very first novels published in France, La Fayette’s exploration of courtly French life during l’Ancien Regime is as remarkable today as it was back then. Deeply psychological and painfully tragic, it follows a young french woman from her entry into court to her inevitable disgracing at the hands of gossiping aristocracy.

2. Voltaire – Candide (1759)

Voltaire wrote this philosophical novella after a series of cataclysms, including the Lisbon Earthquake and the Seven Years War, wracked Europe. Several other events put a damper on his personal life, too, and as the adventures of the title character suggest, finding happiness in blind optimism is a harmful way of thinking, as we are just as often the subject of cruel events as we are of good ones.

3. Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Julie, or The New Heloise (1762)

At first cynical of the emerging novel form in England and France, Rousseau sought to modify the philosophical and didactic approach to fiction by suggesting that our human impulses were just as if not more important than our virtuous character. Julie, having chosen to act upon her passions instead of preventing their release, would end up influencing Romanticism and the Novel form for the 19th century and beyond.

4. Pierre Chardelos de Laclos – Dangerous Liaisons (1782)

Dangerous Liasons is an epistolary novel written at the height of the form, but the parallel rise of libertinism in France gives this work its particular flavor and lasting qualities. Following the relationship between the seductive Mme de Merteuil and the libertine Valmont, Laclos places us in a time period where the regular conventions of morality and sexuality were, for a brief time, thrown out the window.

5. Marquis de Sade – Justine (1791)

The Marquis de Sade is often misinterpreted today as a licentious and pornographic author who defied the boundaries of censorship time and again with graphic descriptions of sex and violence at the hands of libertines and aristocrats. While Justine’s fight to find virtue in a world of vice is tragic and hard to stomach, Sade’s work would end up being read as a precursor to Europe’s defiance toward the Enlightenment’s supposed amorality.

6. Victor Hugo – Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) (1831)

Victor Hugo brought the streets of Paris to life with this epic novel about finding love and compassion in the oddest of places while the rest of the world tries to prevent its very existence. While Hugo’s work is encyclopedic in its descriptions of Gothic architecture and Parisian culture, it is his Romantic outlook of “love overcoming all” that makes Quasimodo’s plight to save Esmeralda all that more memorable.

5. Stendhal – The Charterhouse of Parma (1839)

From the battlefield of Waterloo to the aristocratic courts of Milan, Stendhal captured the Zeitgeist of post-Napoleonic Europe from the point of view of its youth, many of whom had trouble finding themselves in such a turbulent world. Stendhal’s biggest innovation, however, was not his subject matter, but rather how he explored it; instead of focusing on the specifics of era and location, he instead sought the internal pressures of forging one’s identity in the performative societies of upper-class Europe.

6. Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)


The Count of Monte-Cristo was originally written to capture the romantic fever of Napoleonic France that became popular in the 1840′s, but the novel ended up surpassing expectations to become the great revenge novel. When Edmund Dantes escapes from prison after he gets betrayed by the evil Villefort, he commits himself to exact revenge on those who have wronged him.

7. Honore de Balzac – The Human Comedy (1832-1854)

Honore de Balzac’s 16-volume work known as The Human Comedy is still seen as one of the landmarks of realist literature, but the exhaustive catalog of Parisian life that is this collection is in itself a marvel worth enjoying. Following the rise and fall of hundreds of varying characters in the French capital, Balzac’s economic approach to man’s internal motivations would end up influencing authors like Charles Dickens and Emile Zola, as well as philosophers like Karl Marx.

8. Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary (1856)

Arguably the masterpiece of the entire realist genre, Madame Bovary was one of the most finely-wrought pieces of literature of its time, but that didn’t stop it from nearly getting banned for its salacious content. Following Emma Bovary’s tragic need to escape her rural ennui, the novel is both a cautionary tale and an ode to romanticized, forbidden love.

9. Emile Zola – Germinal (1885)

Just like Balzac, Emile Zola connected the majority of his novels into one generation-spanning piece of literature. Germinal, probably the most powerful selection from his series The Rougon-Macquart, depicts the brutal strife of the French mining industry during the rise of the Industrial revolution. Following a familiar pattern in French literature, Germinal is graphic, violent and ultimately tragic.

10. Guy de Maupassant – Bel Ami (1885)

Although he is more commonly known as a writer of short stories, Maupassant’s Roman-a-clef about the life of a Parisian journalist in the bawdy world of late-nineteenth century France revisits the joys and repulsion of anti-heroic libertinism. The protagonist Duroy was both admired and hated at the time of the novel’s publication, but it is his indifference to common social mores that makes him so unforgettable.

11. Anatole France – The Gods are Athirst (1912)

Set at the height of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, Anatole France’s The Gods are Athirst is historical fiction at its best, sublimely describing the conditions of a country at a standstill without turning it into a documentary. What is surprising about this novel is its place among others of its time; far from examining current social conditions, Anatole France is doing what many other European authors would do in the coming decades: look back towards the individual for answers.

12. Alain-Fournier – Le Grand Meaulnes (1913)

A book that famed novelist John Fowles claims has “haunted” him all of his life, this mysterious novel from this even more mysterious novelist has shown up in the oddest of places, appearing in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and even being the supposed influence for F.Scott Fitzgerald’s naming of The Great Gatsby. When a 15 year-old boy arrives at a school in the countryside, his adventures to a lost mansion filled with aristocratic extravagance enamors the narrator to no end, yet it marks the pivotal turning point of his youth, where the mysteries of love and the unknown painfully fade away before his eyes.

13. Roger Martin du Gard – Jean Barois (1913)

Martin du Gard is seldom read these days in the English-speaking world, but his novel Jean Barois presents us with a strikingly deep meditation upon free will in an era that seems subject to the vicissitudes of history. Jean Barois looks back at the “liberated” figures of bygone France and tries to find his own freedom, but when he chooses to give up his ideals for comfort, it results in his dramatic fall from grace.

14. Andre Gide – The Vatican Cellars (1914)

Today’s critics may consider Gide an experimenter of genre and style, but as a man of many a literary medium, it is his mock-epics that are the most memorable and accessible. The Vatican Cellars is about a man who pushes someone from a train and must subsequently suffer the consequences thereof. A satire of the church and common morality, the work would push Gide further towards the fringes, but it is his subversion that now prompts contemporary revisiting of his work.

15. Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Thing’s Past (1913-1927)

Marcel Proust’s seven-book masterpiece redefined European literature in ways only Kafka, Joyce and TS Eliot could do. By breaking all conventions of novelistic ‘time’, Remembrance of Things Past is a introspective look at the life of an imaginative and authorial narrator who frequently loses himself in sensory experience and memory. Such séances layer the novel, but within Proust’s impressionist approach to fiction can be found an endless trove of wisdom that has not since been matched.

16. Andre Breton – Nadja (1928)

Andre Breton was one of the leading voices in the burgeoning surrealist movement of the 1920′s, and Nadja was one of its most exemplary works. A metafictional story about a man’s ten-day relationship with a woman named Nadja, the novel weaves between experience and fantasy to create confusing but unique work of art.

17. Antoine de Saint Exupery – Southern Mail (1929)

While Antoine de Saint-Exupery is better known today for his children’s book The Little Prince, his aviation-themed adventure novels were nevertheless quite popular in the 1930′s. Night Flight is one such example of this; Set in the snowy and mountainous Patagonia region of Argentina, it tells the story of a pilot’s daring attempt to get a piece of mail sent at night during a thunderstorm. One part action and one part philosophical reflection, Saint-Exupery uses the subject matter he knows to create a beautifully cerebral experience.

18. Jean-Paul Sartre – Nausea (1938)

Jean-Paul Sartre was a philosopher, essayist, critic, playwright and of course, novelist, and his 1944 work about a man in the throes of his own existential crisis helped him reinforce his literary reputation as he rose in popularity. Fortunately, Sartre treats the troubling breakdown and sickness of his character with the slight addition of humor, reminding us that there is little to confirm our existence but the nauseating realization of our own emptiness.

19. Albert Camus – The Stranger (1942)

Albert Camus’ short novel about a character coming to terms with the absurdity of his existence while remaining curiously indifferent to his own actions is today regarded as one of great 20th century works of fiction. The anti hero Mersault does not seem to have a care in the world–he’s not sure when his mother died, and also vague about a brazen murder he committed. The Stranger, though, trudges through this “meaningless” world and actually manages to find a positive silver lining to the absurdist conditions of living.

20. Colette – Gigi (1944)

Colette had been well-established on the French literary scene for quite some time, but her short novella about a young and naive Parisian woman coerced into the courtship games of her grandmother and great-aunt is a testament to the most prevalent themes in her fiction. Not only does she discuss the superficial vagaries of modern-day courtship, but her lighthearted prose cleverly conceals the biting satire of French society hidden beneath the glossy prose.

21. Alain Robbe-Grillet – The Erasers (1953)

Alain Robbe-Grillet would reinvigorate the French literary scene with what he called the “Nouveau Roman”, or novels that use the architecture of fiction to confuse, deceive and force the reader to make close readings of the material. The Erasers is one of the hallmarks of the subgenre. As a detective begins his quest to find the culprit of a series of brazen killings, he soon realizes that not is all as it seems, and that perhaps his oedipal inquiry into the murders will lead him right back to where he began.

22. George Perec – W, or The Memory of Childhood (1975)

Following in the footsteps of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Perec crafted his own type of novel using what he called the “Oulipo” method, or Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (Workshop of potential literature). W is one of his more personal efforts, where his exploration of the past comes in direct conflict with historical narratives that may subsume his own story into oblivion. Drawing on several of the French theorists of the 1960′s and 70′s, his work confronts esoteric topics in a surprisingly playful manner.

23. Marguerite Duras – The Lover (1984)

Marguerite Duras achieved high praise and even greater popularity for The Lover, but it was her revelations of the autobiographical nature of the novel that gave it its notoriety. About a 15 year-old girl who engages in an affair with a 27 year-old Chinese magnate, the novel replicates many of Duras’ most common themes–sexuality, desire and the discovery of identity in a world where transcendence is seemingly impossible.

24. Caroline Lamarche – The Day of the Dog (1996)

Belgian-born author Caroline Lamarche used the simple image of a dog running through traffic to create an ambitiously-crafted work of fiction. The dog’s movement through a rush-hour traffic jam leads the reader through the stories of the driver who must interminably wait. However, as many other French novels execute so well, the most despairing moments conceal within them the possibility of redemption.

25. Michel Houllebecq – The Map and the Territory

Houellebecq’s fiction is without argument some of the most divisive in the world. Harsh but lucid, encyclopedic but humorous, many have berated him in the same places some have championed him. It is difficult to argue against his latest effort, however, as this critique of artistic commercialism explores today’s cynical view of “culture” with a unique, tactful wit few authors in the world can match

The Great Write North: 25 Classic Canadian Novels
MAY 25, 2013 11:33 PM / 6 COMMENTS / EDIT
As the second-largest country in the world, it is always odd to hear banter about the limitations of Canada. Some may point out its subservience to the United States or it’s deadly climate, but what most forget is that Canada has one of the richest and varied histories of any country in the New World, and that its landscape has provided countless authors with a slate upon which they can discover their place in the world. Here are 25 novels from the 19th century onward that have examined and defined Canada’s rich cultural heritage.

1. Susanna Moodie – Roughing it in the Bush (1852)

Immigration played a large part in the formation of American literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the Canadian version of the journey fared much differently. Preliminary hopes about prosperity and a fair climate soon turned grim for Moodie when she moved from England to Canada, but Roughing it in the Bush, her novel about the hardships of living in the untamed wilderness of a nation that had not even existed yet, is written with biting irony and lightly satirizes the ideals that this nation was first populated upon. While a moderate success at the time, this concept of facing undesirable forces and such a vast geographic void would, for over 150 years, be a recurring theme in Canadian fiction and poetry.

2. William Kirby – The Golden Dog (1877)

Canada was barely ten years old when The Golden Dog was published, and in 1877 it lacked cultural fortitude. Disjointed, and multilingual, the country needed authors like Kirby to provoke nationalist fervor. The Golden Dog follows the lives of two French Canadian couples just before the Fall of New France in 1748. Though lauding the British and even making a controversial case for their moral superiority, the novel is ultimately a sympathetic account of French Canadian life that presents both European entities as vital parts of Canadian heritage.

3. Stephen Leacock – Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)

At the beginning of the 20th century, American authors like Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis took it upon themselves to portray the contradictions of small-town life in their short stories and novels. North of the border, however, Canada’s great humorist took it upon himself to present small-town life through comedy. Set in the town of Mariposa (actually modern-day Orillia), Sunshine Sketches reveals the complexity of its setting by defying our expectations of its characters. Far from bumbling caricatures, the cast is an array of funny but lovable people that are as characteristic of Canada’s supposedly simple living arrangements.

4. Gabrielle Roy – The Tin Flute (Bonheur D’Occasion)

Living in Montreal in the 1930′s was tough. Riddled with poverty and poor living arrangements, the din of big city life became too much for many, and in the case of Roy’s protagonist Florentine, the escape from the brutish working class neighborhood of St.Henri meant everything. Pregnant and torn between solitude and fleeting love, the story immaculately balances the claustrophobia of the big city with the painful solitude women faced in pre-war, French-Catholic society. Gabrielle Roy would secure his place as one of the most celebrated French-Canadian authors with this work, and The Tin Flute has become one of the rare works of Canadian fiction to become a classic in two languages.

5. Hugh Maclennan – Two Solitudes (1945)

Hugh Maclennan’s Two Solitudes was published in the same year as Gabrielle Roy’s The Tin Flute, and in many ways it can be seen as its English-language companion. Set around Montreal and rural Quebec during the same time, it follows the life of a young man searching for a wholly Canadian identity for a novel he is writing, but as he becomes ostracized by the two communities that he once thought he could call home, it becomes clear that finding any meaning will become difficult. Like so many other seminal Canadian works, Two Solitudes understands the great disparity found between individual and national identity in a country struggling to maintain one.

6. Germaine Guevremont – The Outlander (Le Survenant) (1945)

Germaine Guèvremont’s account of rural Quebecois life can be likened to the novels of George Eliot and Ivan Turgenev. Her story about a young, red-headed man visiting a small town is at once a nostalgic look at rustic small-town life and also an account of great change in the countryside. You could say the novel differs from many on the list for its isolated subject matter, though this does not squander but rather enhances the depth and beauty of the novel.

7. W.O. Mitchell- Who Has Seen the Wind (1947)

W.O. Mitchell’s most famous work is an Anne of Green Gables for Prairie life, where a child learns his way in the world among the comical social sphere of small-town Saskatchewan. The novel has since become a classic read by children and adults alike, and like many other Canadian novels focused on specific localities, is proof that it is not the location but the people who define who you are.

8. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959)

Duddy Kravitz can arguably (and I do emphasize the ‘arguably’) be called Canada’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This novel of adolescent formation set in the impoverished quarters of Jewish Montreal is eclectic and downright hilarious. As Duddy myopically seeks his dream of owning a swath of land in the countryside, his schemes become ever more comical and destructive. While it is primarily an indictment of materialism getting in the way of traditionalism, the novel has remained a classic for its dark humor and honest portrayal of growing up poor in Montreal.

9. Sheila Watson – The Double Hook (1959)

1959 saw the beginning of an unexpected but dramatic shift in Canadian literature. Sheila Watson’s Double Hook is a meandering and subversive text centered around the fictional town of Nineveh, a desolate town haunted by an old woman who steals all of their fish. When she is murdered by her son, it sparks a great moral quandary, as the manifestation of their greatest fears is revealed to breed further implications. Surrealism and poetic, the novel’s unique form and subject matter reinvigorated literary movements in British Columbia and in other provinces.

10. Leonard Cohen – Beautiful Losers

Cohen has achieved international recognition for his music and poetry, but his brief foray into fiction still provided us with a pleasure of a read. Beautiful losers follows a love triangle that seems to transcend time and space altogether, but interwoven through accounts of Montreal beat culture, Quebec separatism and Aboriginal Canadian history, it presents a surrealist but alluring account of Canada during a volatile time. Just like Double Hook, the novel anticipates the shifting of Canadian literature from objective historical accounts to personal and sensual experience. It will also carry the particular erotic flavor that has and still defines his work up to the present day.

11. Robertson Davies – Fifth Business (1971)

The first novel of Davies’ Deptford Trilogy about a man obsessed with the connection between the events of his life and the lives of saints is today a staple in Canadian classrooms, and for good reason. Blending Canadian history with an encyclopedic exploration of religion, spirituality, Jungian philosophy and magic, Fifth Business defies the limiting definition of genre to create something wholly extraordinary. Followed by The Manticore and World of Wonders, Davies channels the more radical prose styles of his day without corroding his seemingly limitless will to create a masterful work of art.

12. Margaret Laurence -The Diviners (1974)

Laurence writes a particularly idiosyncratic style of fiction that explores the relation between various cultures, and The Diviners is no different. About a Scottish-Canadian woman who enters relationships with a young Metis (Part Caucasian, Part Aboriginal) musician and a mysterious scholar, the novel focuses on the teetering line between truth and repression in the modern world. Like I mentioned in my commentary on Susanna Moodie, the notion of survival in the wilderness is an important theme in Canadian fiction. Laurence puts great emphasis on the spiritual aspect of survival, and asks how such needs have transcended generations.

13. Jacques Poulin – Volkswagen Blues (1984)


The ‘Road’ novel has been a recurring plot in many major American works, but Canada’s largely horizontal highway system has made the same tale quite difficult to tell. Fortunately, Jacques Poulin’s road trip from the edge of Quebec to San Francisco is both a touching homage to Kerouac and a revisiting of French exploration through North America. The further west they go, the more the Quebecois brothers realize that their version of history should doubted, as the Metis hitchhiker they picked up challenges their well-ingrained belief system. The novel has fortunately received a resurgence of attention in the past few years, and English translations are now available.

14. Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

Once in a while, a dystopian novel will come along and capture the hearts and minds of an entire generation. Just like Brave New World and 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale presented a seemingly distant but ultimately relevant world where the women became imprisoned and were forced to bear children from prominent male leaders. The novel follows one such prisoner, Offred, and how she manages to rebel against the forces that put her there in the first place. Atwood has written several novels worth mentioning, and Handmaid’s Tale is has given her an audience the world over.

15. Michael Ondaatje – In The Skin of a Lion (1987)

I think one needs to look beyond all the talk of Ondaatje’s novel as being one of a great postmodernist or post-colonial work to best appreciate the audacity of the novel’s vision. In the Skin of a Lion is an immigrant novel with a twist—as opposed to chronicling the banal challenges of adapting to new Canadian life, Ondaatje envisions 1920′s Toronto as a city alive and electric, a place mysterious and erotic. I think that this novel exemplifies what many historical fictions did during this time period; Ondaatje seems to focus equally on what is specifically ‘unseen’ or ‘unknown’, and in doing so makes a case for such fictions late in the 20th century.

16. Thomas King – Green Grass, Running Water (1993)

Few outside of Canada realize that First Nations’ literature has risen in recent decades, due in large part to the contributions of authors like Thomas King. Green Grass, Running Water is just one of the many that question the place of spirituality in the contemporary world, but his comic storytelling and colorful characters makes this novel enjoyable to audiences in Canada and abroad. Centered around the ever-shifting lives of five Blackfoot in Alberta, the novel examines the tensions pushing them away from each other while also providing them (and the reader, for that matter) with the humorous but ultimately essential road back to spiritual solitude.

17. Anne Michaels – Fugitive Pieces (1996)

As you may have noticed, Canadian novels have shifted from being sternly realist to more expressionistic and fantastical. Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces is no exception. From Poland to Greece to Toronto, Anne Michaels follows a Polish boy from his escape of invading Nazis to his eventual home in Toronto. But unlike the conventional immigrant novel, the past returns to him unpredictably, and its very presence becomes the very art that modifies this story from a mere account to a troubled but beautiful dance with memory.

18. Wayne Johnston – The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (1998)

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is perhaps the great Newfoundland epic, but that doesn’t mean that Wayne Johnston positively spins the story of Joey Smallwood, the underdog-turned-politician who joined Newfoundland into the Confederation in 1949. Including his foray into journalism in New York City, as well as his 700-mile journey across the province by foot to spread his political message, the novel is ambitious and sprawling, At the heart of it, however, lies pressing questions about the true merits of confederation, as well as the questionable lengths that some went to to achieve political favor at the time.

19. Alistair Macleod -No Great Mischief (1999)

It may seem surprising to some that the first Canadian novel to win the Dublin IMPAC award was specifically regional and a very personal exploration of his own genealogical history, but it is Macleod’s very intimacy with the world of his youth and of his ancestors that gives this novel so much life. Set on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island and in the mines of Northern Ontario, the novel shifts between a nostalgic celebration of family and a elegiac tribute to the inexorably destruction of the narrator’s family.

20. David Adams Richards – Mercy Among the Children (2000)

Also set on the beautiful and stark Maritime coast, Mercy Among the Children is a novel with about a boy who promises to be nothing but good all of his life, and we the reader must of course suffer through all of the obvious trouble that will get him into. David Adams Richards has remained a popular figure on the Canadian literary scene for his novels, as their combination of parable and regional history have helped transform the challenging and unforgiving Canadian landscape into a place of great enchantment.

21. Yann Martel – Life of Pi (2001)

Recently made into an Oscar-winning production, Yann Martel’s novel is an exploration of spirituality through the eyes of a precocious boy lost in the Pacific with a tiger on a lifeboat. The novel has since become an an international hit, and it is difficult to actually categorize this as a “Canadian” novel, since much of the plot takes place in the nation-less void of the Pacific. I would argue, though, that many of Martel’s sleights about the deceptive but redeeming aspects of storytelling possess a particularly Canadian flavor, and as many of the previously-mentioned novels discuss, the journey to Canada is also an important facet of the formation of its culture heritage.

22. Miriam Toews – A Complicated Kindness (2004)

Toews’ novel about growing up in a rural Mennonite community in Manitoba presents an oft-forgotten aspect of Canadian life. Just as so many immigrated from Europe and joined the melting pots of the big cities, others chose a different route, opting instead for isolated, religious life in a very isolated place. Following the decline of Nomi, a teen attracted to rebellion who wants to escape to New York City to meet Lou Reed, Toews shows us just how dangerous the youth can be when its most essential ingredients are withheld from its most vivacious.

23. Heather O’Neill – Lullabies for Little Criminals (2006)

Heather O’Neill’s stunning novel about growing up in abject poverty in Montreal is as touching as it is horrific. When the narrator, Baby, must watch as her heroin-addicted father succumbs to the soul-sucking vicissitudes of his own addiction, it prompts her to escape the emerging realities of the real world, but as her life among children begins to dissipate, she must resist the affronts of a salacious pimp to avoid repeating the cycle that tore she and her father apart. While the subject matter is enough to intrigue the average reader, it is O’Neill’s remarkable use of narration that sets this novel apart from others.

24. Joseph Boyden – Three Day Road (2006)

Combining the realities of early 20th century First Nations’ life with the horrors of World War I, Boyden’s account of two fictional aboriginal warriors is like few other works of fiction out there. Told from the perspectives of the elder Niska and Xavier—the one who successfully returned from war—Three Day Road is a surprisingly subdued account of battle and death. Like many other First Nations’ authors, Boyden interweaves elements of oral storytelling and spirituality with the inevitable persecution suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to be on their side.

25. Esi Edugyan – Half-Blood Blues (2011)

Almost a century and a half after confederation, Canadian authors have shifted from locally-based narratives to tales set all over the world. Edugyan tells the story of several Jazz musicians living in the crosshairs of Nazis at the beginning of World War II in Berlin. Combining heavily-stylized historical fiction with a cast of characters as musical in their trade as they are with their language, Half-Blood Blues focuses on the difficulties of being black in a country on the brink of racial purging. Canadian literature has time and again looked back at ancestry and various cultural heritages for answers to our present-day problems, and I believe it is this particular type of fiction that will solidify Canada’s reputation on the international literary scene for years to come.

20 Great Russian Novels You Should Read Right Now
MAY 14, 2013 8:17 PM / 6 COMMENTS / EDIT
Russia’s output of great literature over two centuries is nothing short of miraculous. Having endured tyranny under their czarist regime, as well as great suffering during two world wars and under Josef Stalin, it seems unlikely that they would have time for sure monumental, soul-searching novels. But don’t be fooled; the Russian literary tradition rivals most if not all countries, and its consistent ambition to define (and even redefine) social conditions has kept even it’s oldest works relevant in the public sphere. Here are twenty of the greatest novels in Mother Russia’s storied history.

1. Mikhail Lermontov – A hero of our Time (1840)

Previously to Lermontov’s groundbreaking novel, Russian literature had been populated by short prose works and dominated by the poetry of Evgeni Pushkin. But once Lermontov introduced his character Pechorin, he would go on to set a benchmark for the complexity of characters in Russian fiction. A flawed, non-Romantic figure who must live up to ideals he can’t uphold, Lermontov proclaimed the end of the Romantic era and ushered the great era of realist fiction.

2. Nikolay Gogol – Dead Souls (1842)

Gogol’s novel about a man who tries to trick landowners into buying their dead serfs (“dead souls”), who are technically still alive until the next Russian census, is a satirical picaresque similar in style to Cervantes but which stands alone for its odd and grotesque caricatures of Russian provincial life. Although Gogol was a self-professed conservative, the younger generations used it to argue against the ills of 19th century Russian society.

3. Ivan Goncharov – Oblomov (1859)

Goncharov tied together the social and personal issues of the day with this novel about a member of the gentry grown who is caught between the “idyllic” life of pre-emancipation serfdom and the “new”, more liberated Russia. Combining the romance of Pushkin and the rising school of realism, Oblomov is one of the best records of Russia’s great societal transition.

4. Ivan Turgenev – Fathers and Sons (1862)

Fathers and Sons did what many other Russian novels did: pit the younger generation against the old. When Bazarov, a strict nihilist, challenges the well-established mores of Provincial life, he lures the naive towards his radical ideas. But when his beliefs get challenged by the unexpected appearance of passionate love and spirituality, he suffers a crisis that will force him to rethink his entire worldview.

5. Nikolay Chernychevsky – What is to be Done? (1863)

Written while the author was in prison for subversive activities, What is to be Done? became a favorite among the rising left for the next half-century. The novel tells the story of Vera Pavlovna, a woman who looks to be free and emancipate herself from the conservative oppression of the czarist regime. Lenin professed that it was his favorite novel, and he saw its positive-minded protagonists as models for the revolutionaries that would eventually take over the country several decades down the road.

6. Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment (1867)

The first of Dostoevsky’s major novels, this presumably simple tale about a murder and its aftermath has remained one of the great preservers of 19th century urban life in Russia, describing everything from poverty, religion, family and of course, evil. When Raskolnikov, a former student enamored by Napoleonic ideals of superiority, decides to commit a murder against a old pawnbroker, it provokes one of the greatest personal transformations ever portrayed in literature.

7. Lev Tolstoy – War and Peace (1863-1869)

The Great White Whale of Russian literature, War and Peace is a 1,300 page work that includes hundreds of subplots and characters all intertwining during the failed Napoleonic invasions of 1812. It has been criticized for its narrative looseness, but the transition from innocence to experience of its 5 main characters beautifully details the personal and historical happenings of early 19th century Russia.

8. Lev Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1875-1877)

Before Oprah Winfrey praised Tolstoy’s great work about adultery and family life in Russia’s aristocratic circles, Karenina was already one of the most important novels in the European canon. Written on a much smaller and personal scope than War and Peace, Karenina has been touted as Russia’s great realist novel, and along with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and George Eliot’s Middlemarch, it has become an exemplary text of the genre.

9. Fyodor Dostoesvky – The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880)

It is difficult to exclude many of Dostoevsky’s works, but Karamazov has not only retained its status as one of the seminal works in Russian Literature, but it has also gone on to become one of the most celebrated novels of all time. Part murder-mystery, part exploration of faith, the novel describes the murder of a father at the hand of one of four brothers, and like many other works by this great, troubled visionary, questions in great detail the existence and purpose of God.

10. Maxim Gorky – Mother (1906)

One of the first major works of socialist literature, Gorky’s Mother exposed the absurdities of the czarist regime in Russian Provincial life in the late 19th century. Based on the life of his grandmother, this deeply intimate portrayal of a typical Russian life gradually undergoing an ideological metamorphosis would, in a little over a decade, help influence the Bolshevik revolution and change Russia forever.

11. Andrei Bely – Petersburg (1916/1922)

Bely’s Petersburg tells the story of a senator’s son looking to assassinate his father in the midst of the failed 1905 revolution, and its publication before and after the Bolshevik revolution became was of little surprise, as no other text could better account for the massive changes the country was undergoing. Both a contemporary account of a changing generation and a revisiting of Russian history and literature, the novel’s unique ‘ornamentalist’ style became the benchmark of Russian literature’s brief foray into literary modernism.

12. Evgeni Zamyatin – We (1920)

One of the first novels to be critical of the Bolshevik Revolution, We questioned the principles of socialism by setting the story in the distant future. Considered to be one of the first dystopian novels, its ridiculous depiction of a glass-encased city state told from the perspective of a mathematician with a number for a name would soon become an uncanny representation of a society gone mad. Banned in Russia until 1988, the novel had a profound impact on George Orwell, and would later become a major influence to his great work 1984.

13. Ivan Bunin – The Gentleman from San Francisco (1922)

Bunin’s critique of capitalist society may have been deemed ironic when he escaped Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, but his pessimistic view of technological advancement and American society became an instant hit among the angry youth in the country at the time. Set on a passenger ship heading from America to Europe, it follows the “inevitable-death” model of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Lev Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych to evoke what he saw was the spiritual void of capitalist society.

14. Mikhail Sholokhov – Quiet Flows the Don (1928-1940)

While War and Peace was influenced in part by the glories and ironies of war, Sholokhov decided to forgo any elevation of battle and depict in all of its brutality and sorrow the decline of the Cossack civilization in this four-novel series. The novel was at first controversial for its antagonizing of the Bolshevik invaders during the revolutionary war, but Sholokhov’s emphasis on Cossack life and cosmology is as humanizing as it is painfully elegiac.

15. Vladimir Nabokov – The Gift (1937)

Nabokov is more well-known for his English masterpieces Lolita and Pale Fire, but before his success in America, he endured brief success by writing in his native Russian as an emigré in Germany. The Gift is quite fitting, considering it was his final Russian novel–closely paralleling his home country’s literary history in the 19th century, the novel tells the story of a man leaving Russia behind, and it explores various literary styles and forms while also explaining, in semi-biographical form, his own departure.

16. Boris Pasternak – Dr.Zhivago (1957)

Boris Pasternak’s sprawling epic tells the story of Yury Zhivago, an orphan turned doctor and poet during the first few decades of the 20th century. The novel is bleakly poetic but undeniably beautiful–using the turbulent events of the revolution as a backdrop, Pasternak demonstrates the protagonist’s transition from an admirer of Tolstoy to an opponent of Soviet communism. Written nearly a hundred years after the great period of large Russian novels, this work marked a resurgence of the genre, and even inspired one of the most celebrated movies of all time.

17. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)

While many Russian novelists carefully approached anything closely related to subversion during the Soviet Regime, Solzhenitsyn’s honest and brutal portrayal of a “good day” at a labor camp in the Siberian GULAG is as hopeful as it is heartbreaking. The novel’s greatness can be found in its biting irony. Men from all over the Soviet Union and abroad come together and build their own successful society within the camp, and in doing so live “free” from the tyrannical policies of this failed state.

18. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (1966)

The Master and Margarita was like nothing written before it. Published posthumously more than two decades after the death of the author, this bizarre but fantastical twist of Goethe’s Faust tells the story of a figure named Woland–presumably the devil–who wreaks havoc on Soviet Moscow. Hilarious, fantastical and ridiculous, Bulgakov’s novel is still celebrated today in Russia, and is considered by some to be the founding text of magic realism.

19. Evgeny Popov – The Soul of a Patriot (1989)

As one of the first authors to emerge out of the 1986 liberalizing of Russia known as the Glasnost, Popov had free rein in criticizing the failures of the Soviet Experiment. Inspired by Gogol, Popov used this epistolary form to chronicle a generational line, as well as the end of an era. When Brezhnev died in 1982, the feeling that the USSR was perhaps coming to an end began to dawn on people, and Popov became (and remains today) one of the foremost critics of modern Russia.

20. Victor Pelevin – Omon Ra (1992)

One of the first celebrated novels to emerge out of the collapsing Soviet Union in the early 1990′s, Omon Ra tells the story of Omon Krivomazov, a former war-hero turned “cosmonaut” who believes he is undergoing training for a moon landing. Both a satire of conspiracy theory and the Soviet Union’s desperate push for modernity, the need for Omon to leave the earth to be free from the USSR is a funny but poignant commentary towards a utopian ideal that failed so many.

The Great Gatsby and The Death of Subtlety
MAY 12, 2013 7:01 PM / 1 COMMENT / EDIT
The newest Hollywood rendition of The Great Gatsby is more lavish, colorful, loud and crazy than ever before. So why does it feel like something’s missing?

For anyone who has seen the newest Hollywood version of The Great Gatsby, it’s hard to ignore the constant reminder of that green light at the end of the Buchanan dock. As the camera pans across the CGI’d Long Island, we are reminded of that effervescent glow to the point of unease, as though more is encapsulated in that one object than in the entire litany of dialogue, party scenes and wistful soliloquies.

Perhaps It’s what your Cliffs Notes defines as “symbolism”—or, certain objects put in place to remind or suggest something to the audience without actually telling them the answer. Symbolism is one of the reasons people are so enamored by literature and all art for that matter; it’s the classic give-and-take between the creator and the witness, the answer to the riddles hidden beneath the veneer of Romantic or Pleasant scenes. Beyond that, even, it’s a subtle nod from the author telling us that he is in control of these characters we have grown to love. And as Fitzgerald leads us through the hypnotic Gatsby estate, all the way down the rolling knolls of grass all the way to the dock, we too should feel something like catharsis—that fear that our greatest desires may not ever be captured, and that tragedy inexorably drives towards its own realization and we are helpless to stop it.

With such a grandiose maxim embedded within a novella-length text about the Roaring Twenties, it would be a shame if someone spelled that out for me.

Baz Lurhmann has never been one to shy away from bells and whistles. Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet, for example, are not just period-piece representations of a bygone day. Their respective portrayals of Belle-époque Bohemianism and Elizabethan theatrics seem to pluck cultural artifacts from the past and future, creating worlds built out of pop culture’s echoing preconceptions of those times. Moulin Rouge! uses Bowie and Nirvana as though they had always existed in the cultural imagination, and Romeo + Juliet invokes the melancholic dirges of our era to enliven the forgotten sorrows of tragedy. Similarly, Lurhmann’s Roaring Twenties is a fusion of elements old and new. Fats Waller and Fergie get equal airtime in the movie, and not just one but several Jay-Z songs repeat every time the flappers and suits choose to abandon all things and drink themselves silly.

It almost feels right that Lana Del Rey croons over slow-motion, Instagram-tinted shots of people swimming. But as the movie neared it’s climactic ending, I couldn’t help but feel a little dissatisfied. It was as though something was missing from the film, and it beckoned to me like some like some green light at the end of a—no, that’s too obvious.

You would think Luhrmann’s unique brand of maximalist film-making would leave no stone unturned, but I couldn’t help but sense this movie was being overshadowed by a great emptiness. Fitzgerald’s novel speaks to that feeling of emptiness by inserting subtle gaps in the narrative. Nick Carraway, for one, is portrayed as a precocious, authorial observer in the film, but in the novel his narration is much more unsettling. Beyond his speeches about Americana and the glory of Gatsby’s fortitude are suggestions that he is the source of all these delusions. Luhrmann, of course, forgoes this and makes Tobey Maguire more of a bumbling, half-drunken fool than an obsessive man driven towards madness.

What the novel gives us that the film simply cannot is what is not said. Fitzgerald has often credited Joseph Conrad as a major influence for his writing style, and although novels about seafaring or domestic terrorism have little to do with the Roaring Twenties, Conrad’s use of dubious narrators should be considered. In his 1899 classic Heart of Darkness, Marlowe—a self-aggrandizing moralist, supposedly wants to tell the people of England about the Horrors of Imperialism by telling his story, only to wholly contradict himself by vindicating Kurtz, the grotesque representation of the disastrous scramble, to his European widow.

The irony of The Great Gatsby movie is that we have lost touch with what the title character originally represented. today he is a figurehead for the nouveau riche, a kind of rags-to-riches, get-rich-or-die-trying demi-god that rappers like Jay-Z (who helped produce this movie) model themselves after. Gatsby represents the culmination quick and aesthetic pleasures. It’s no wonder he works so well on the big screen, but all it takes is an attentive read of the novel to notice that Gatsby is a thin mockery of those who misread, of those who choose aesthetic indulgence over serious study. He was the sedative for the necessary death of the 1920′s. Unfortunately, Luhrmann seems to forget this, and makes him the culmination of our fetishistic need for material wealth without really deflating the folly of what he represents. I left the theater with the impression that I had just seen an homage to Pinterest and not literary tragedy.

With the ever-increasing quality of visual effects and the ever-rising trend of high-budget adaptations, you would think we could finally come full circle, and use the extra dimensions not to sell cream-colored cars and dresses, but rather to approach serious, cerebral themes with some sense of maturity. The biggest casualty of this movie is not Gatsby, but subtlety. The ability to suggest and to hint at is not some sleight authors use for fun, but rather an appeal to the reader to get involved and not to misread. But I guess we all need a green light at the end of the dock.

Everything You Needed to Know about F.Scott Fitzgerald
MAY 8, 2013 12:18 AM / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT
Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming rendition of The Great Gatsby has many people excited, but beyond our distorted view of the Roaring twenties, few actually know about the triumphant, tumultuous and troubled life of Francis Scott Fitzgerald. Fortunately, I have compiled a concise but comprehensive who’s-who of Fitzgerald’s life and works. Enjoy!

Who was he?

Fitzgerald was born in 1896 in St.Paul Minnesota. Named after Francis Scott Key (composer of The Star-Spangled Banner), he was a sensitive, romantic type who was as charming as he was self-conscious. Many of the early records we have of his life are diary entries about love interests written at a young age. His father was an unsuccessful furniture salesmen who eventually moved to Buffalo, back the Midwest again before sending Francis to boarding school on the East Coast.

From his early high school days, Fitzgerald showed a penchant for theater and poetry, writing many Elizabethan plays, and when he was a popular football player at the Newman School in New Jersey, he even published a poem defending a fumble he caused. He eventually dropped out of Princeton to join the army and focus on writing, and it was during training that he met Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald at a base in Alabama. Eventually, he got rejected by Scribner’s Press for a hastily-written novel, but he caught their attention and soon after published This Side of Paradise, to much critical and financial success.

Fitzgerald’s Method

Fitzgerald’s writing style was inspired in large part by Joseph Conrad and fellow American authors like Sherwood Anderson. While Conrad’s style is extremely dense, a series of puzzles wrapped in enigmas, it is includes a sense of mystery and the exotic.

Fitzgerald’s prose is lighter than Conrad’s, but it nevertheless contains this layering. It is this type of subtext that allows his novels to contain a “sense” of doom and tragedy while also appearing blissfully romantic.

Sherwood Anderson is arguably another influence of Fitzgerald. Combining the clarity of literary naturalism and the psychological complexity of early 20th century literature (See: Freud), Anderson inspired the clear and crisp sentence structure that would characterize the work of the more significant American authors of the 1920′s. Of course, Fitzgerald puts a lot of his own life into his fiction, and many stories can be read for their allegorical qualities. Alcoholism, mental illness and marital issues factor into nearly every one of his novels, and they aggressively contrast his glamorous public image.

This Side of Paradise

Fitzgerald’s first novel. This autobiographical story chronicles the coming-of-age of Amory Blaine, a thinly-veiled Fitzgerald who begins in Minneapolis, then moves out East to go to Boarding School and Princeton. This type of novel is known in the literary world as a Bildungsroman, or a novel of personal and moral formation. Fitzgerald demonstrates his unique voice and style and even includes poetry and theater within the work. He also counters the romanticized aspects of the story with a feeling of existential dread, which will typify much of his latter fiction. He also proclaims the rise of a new generation, one “grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.”

The Beautiful and Damned

Two years after Paradise, Fitzgerald wrote his most naturalistic novel, that is, drawing on such predecessors as Emile Zola and Stephen Crane. About a young heir to a large fortune living among the rising socialites of New York City, the novel is, just like Gatsby, about the failure of the illusion of materialism to hold itself up. Of his four completed novels, the least successful and acclaimed. This novel, however, can be seen as a trial run for Fitzgerald’s seamless execution of tragedy in Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is almost unanimously known as his Magnum Opus, but it is not so because of it’s length or its stylistic breadth. Rather, Gatsby is simple and short (almost a novella, in fact), and more akin to the works of Joseph Conrad than James Joyce. The Great Gatsby is about Nick, another Fitzgerald-like narrator, who moves from the Midwest to Long Island to work as a bonds trader. There, he encounters Jay Gatsby, a mysterious and wealthy man who falls in love with Daisy Buchanan, a gorgeous Kentuckian married to the mean and bitter Tom Buchanan. The novel is about both the failure and success of illusion in the gilded age of materialism. Many of the minor characters are aesthetically beautiful but internally grotesque.

Gatsby has endured because of its layered complexity hidden beneath its conspicuous simplicity. While it did not do that well at first, Fitzgerald knew it would that it would eventually became the literary crown jewel of the decade. The extensive laundry list of remakes and tributes, as well as the flapper chic that has become synonymous with the book, are testaments of its legacy.

Check out our lecture below for further commentary and analysis of The Great Gatsby

Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night is Fitzgerald’s fourth and last completed novel, written nine years after the publication of Gatsby. More ambitious, complex and psychological than its predecessors, the novel tells the story of the charming Dick Diver (yes, the name does have snicker-worthy significance), an expatriate psychoanalyst who suffers an gradual but inevitable mental decline because of alcoholism. The novel is also about a love triangle between Dick, his heiress wife and movie star Rosemary Hoyt. The novel was relatively successful and has retained its stature as one of the great works of the lost generation, along with Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.

The Last Tycoon

The Last Tycoon (the original title given was The Love of the Last Tycoon) was published posthumously in 1941, but at the time of Fitzgerald’s death, it was incomplete and unedited. Following the biographical pattern of Fitzgerald’ s life, it told the story of Monroe Stahr, a Hollywood producer who succeeds through his charm but fails because of his sensitivity. Some critics have prudently suggested that a final edition could have even surpassed Gatsby in importance, but no one will ever know. What we do know is that Fitzgerald wanted to make this novel akin to Joseph Conrad’s more immaculate novels, and that he again wanted to connect the material pleasures and decadence of American society with the necessary downfall of those who try to uphold such an illusion.

Short Stories

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz

About a man who visits a hidden and strictly secretive estate in the Montana Rockies, this short story was initially rejected for its critique of wealth and iconoclastic religiosity. Just like his novels, opulence becomes the double-edged sword with which Fitzgerald both celebrates and denounces wealth. Mildly parodic and utterly fantastical, this short story/novella demonstrates just how significant the effects of wealth can be on character, and how the material goods meant to embellish lead those striving for immortality into the realm of the grotesque.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The short story that later became the acclaimed David Fincher movie was inspired by a Mark Twain quote. Paraphrasing Twain, Fitzgerald said that “it was a pity that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end.” About a man who is born an old man and dies an infant, this story was not as significant as some of his other shorts, but it displayed just how different his shorter fiction was compared to his longer works.

Babylon Revisited

An extremely personal story about a man trying to reconcile with a former lover and his past during a visit to Paris in 1930. When Charlie Wales meets with his brother and sister-in-law, the recovering alcoholic tries to get his daughter back, as she was taken away when a drunken fight unwittingly lead to the death of Charlie’s wife. Both a lament to his failures and a eulogy for a bygone day, “Babylon Revisited” is not only heavy because of its personal implications, but because Fitzgerald would in fact continue to replicate the troubled Charlie for a number of years after this story’s publication.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was many things. Free-spirited. Wild. Beautiful. Talented. She met Francis while he was stationed as a cadet in Alabama, and though they had their early doubts, they nevertheless wedded in a small ceremony after This Side of Paradise achieved monetary success. In the 1920′s, they lead an extremely decadent lifestyle. Early hiccups in their relationship (aka Francis stealing parts of her diary) lead to a crisis in 1924, where she allegedly engaged in an affair with a French pilot. She then unsuccessfully attempted to do ballet. In 1930, she was hospitalized and eventually sent to Switzerland for treatment, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia While hospitalized in America, she wrote her novel Save me the Waltz. During the late 30′s and 40′s, she painted extensively, too, and a large collection of work still remains. in 1948, she and eight other women died when a fire broke out at the hospital where she briefly visiting. While some critics are divisive about her work, her extensive writings have become commonplace in University classrooms.


It would be difficult to classify Fitzgerald and Hemingway as “friends”. From the moment they met, their authorial merits were overshadowed by Hemingway’s condescension and Fitzgerald’s alcoholism. An infamous passage in Hemingway’s A Movable Feast depicts a conversation between the two where Hemingway makes comments about Fitzgerald’s unimpressive…physique. Zelda and Hemingway were notorious arch-enemies, too, believing the other to be crazy and pretentious. Nevertheless, both authors did admit that each other’s works were good, but after 1930, their reunions were few and far between.


Fitzgerald had suffered multiple heart attacks in 1930, and his rampant alcoholism became the harbinger of many other suspected illnesses, including tuberculosis. On December 20th, 1940, Fitzgerald was pronounced dead of an apparent Heart attack. He left behind his partially finished The Last Tycoon. He was 44.

Please stay tuned for more extensive articles and lectures about Fitzgerald and other authors mentioned here. In the meantime, enjoy this Gatsby-inspired playlist while you wait for the movie to come out.

Fifteen Essential Novels About New York City
MAY 6, 2013 5:44 PM / 8 COMMENTS / EDIT
“I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it – overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.” – F.Scott Fitzgerald

I find it difficult to make a defining statement about New York City. The city itself is the pinnacle of urbanity the world over, with the one of the largest convergences of architecture, people, and of course, culture. The works below are only a few of the many that have tried to encapsulate the highs and lows of the Big Apple, and though it’s been said that everyone in New York City is working on their own novel, these have transcended the chopping block and become seminal journeys into the city that never sleeps.

Kevin Baker – Dreamland (1999)

Dreamland tells the typical New York City story in a uniquely atypical fashion. Centered around Coney Island’s “Dreamland” amusement park, Baker interweaves the plight of immigrants, grifters, gangsters and carnies into a historical novel garnished with the tawdry glitz of a turn-of-the-century landscape.

E.L. Doctorow – Ragtime (1975)

Set in the burgeoning turn-of-the-century rumble of a quickly-urbanizing New York, Doctorow chronicles the city’s history by clashing a middle class family’s life with that of Coalhouse Walker, a ragtime musician who is sick of racist persecution. Including real-life figures like Harry Houdini and anarchist Emma Goldman, this surprise hit has been continually studied by many critics who cite its maximalist treatment of historical fiction as a defining trait of late-century literature.

Henry James – Washington Square (1880)

Many of Henry James’ novels are set in the aristocratic circles of Europe, but his 1880 novel about a young woman struggling to find love happiness while living under the guidance of her manipulative and heartless father in New York City is exemplary of James’ timeless execution. While less complex than his later Ambassadors and Golden Bowl, few can deny the simple elegance of this straightforward but heart-wrenching novel.

Henry Miller – Tropic of Capricorn (1938)

Banned in the United States until 1961, Miller’s story of his day-to-day struggles as a telegraphist in New York City brims with as much spiritually-charged language as “obscenity”, though the erotic flavor of his work is today more of a literary characteristic than a legal distraction. Focusing on his relationship with his wife, this semi-autobiographical novel delves into the true nature of oft-romanticized Bohemianism with equal parts pleasure and anguish.

Toni Morrison – Jazz (1992)

Jazz is one Toni Morrison’s only “urban” novels, but she uses 1920′s Harlem in wondrous fashion to create a world that is as troubling as it is hopeful. Using the rhythms of jazz music to structure the novel’s unique style, Morrison analyzes in great detail the inter-generational consequences of Southern oppression upon those who migrated north.

Henry Roth – Call it Sleep (1934)

Critics have compared Henry Roth’s novel about growing up in poverty on the Lower East Side as both Dickensian and Joycean, but his exhaustive account of immigrant life in America has done much to reinforce New York City’s image as an uncontrollable but grotesquely beautiful leviathan of a city. Dealing with an abusive father, living in rat-infested homes and witnessing abject poverty every day, Roth’s work just may be one of the few works monumental enough to capture the zeitgeist of a city often too much for words.

Don Delillo – Cosmopolis (2003)

While not as celebrated as his Midwestern White Noise or his nation-spanning Underworld, Cosmopolis foresees the modernization of New York City and the world through the eyes of a 28 year-old Billionaire roaming around Manhattan in a stretch Limo. Published after 9/11 but set just before it, Delillo pointedly predicts what will in the future become important while also eulogizing the significant historical ingredients of a past century.

Edith Wharton – The Age of Innocence (1920)

Edith Wharton explored the dark underbelly of the anachronistic New York upper-class of her time, providing the reader with a detailed exploration of an aristocratic love triangle steeped in biting social satire. When wealthy New Yorker Newland Archer becomes enamored with the Polish Countess Olenska, his love threatens to rip apart the fabric of an already-decaying social circle.

JD Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

JD Salinger’s seminal coming-of-age novel about the young and frustrated Holden Caulfield has become an essential read for youth today, but Salinger’s description of a labyrinthine New York City simply adds to the growing waves of angst he experiences over the course of the novel. Barring too audacious an interpretation, the city seems to add to the underlying feeling of disorientation that troubles one of America’s great anti-heroes.

Hubert Selby Jr. – Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)

Just like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, Last Exit to Brooklyn spent most of its early years of publication marred by an obscenity trial. It’s legacy, however, has ensured its place among the great mid-century depictions of harsh, urban life. Selby Jr.’s books is a combination of six stories about down-and-out New Yorkers who must endure the vicissitudes of poverty, drug abuse and violence for what little shreds of happiness they can find. Along with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, few works so accurately describe the infernal din of a city gone to Hell.

Paul Auster – The New York Trilogy (1985-1987)

City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room make up with postmodernist take of the film-noir genre, where Auster himself becomes a recurring character in a number of criminal investigations. These aren’t conventional investigations, however; City of Glass, for example, is about a linguist father who deprives his son of any external communication to try to return his language to a strata of purity. Both oddities and masterpieces, Auster’s works have gone on to influence authors such as David Foster Wallace and John Barth.

Tama Janowitz – A Certain Age (1999)

Although her short story collection Slaves of New York brought her immediate fame on both sides of the Atlantic, it is her more mature effort that has solidified her place as an enduring American author. Channeling the aformentioned novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton, Janowitz’s story about Florence middle-class New Yorker trying to court (or be courted) by the Manhattan elite, exposes the significant disparity between the lower and upper classes while also revealing the tragicomic nature of living defiantly.

American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

Ellis’ satire of Wall-Street, investment banker life is as horrifying as it is hilarious, combining the accounts of brazen, gruesome murders with product-emphasizing descriptions of designer clothing and extremely detailed summaries of embossed business cards. While Christian Bale’s enthusiastic portrayal of anti-hero Patrick Bateman from the 2000 movie is special in itself, Ellis sublimely intersperses his decaying thought process with a Rabelasian catalog of material goods, posh restaurants and hit music from the 1980′s.

Colm Tóibín – Bro0klyn (2009)

Sometimes the best descriptions of a place are from the outside in. Tóibín’s Brooklyn, the Irish author’s take on the American immigrant novel, differs from Theodore Dreiser’s and John Dos Passos’ narrative by providing the reader with little Romantic embellishing. Set in 1950′s Ireland and New York, the novel follows Ellis Lacey as she struggles to blend in and ultimately remain in the city she believed would provide her with fortune.

Colum McCann – Let the Great World Spin (2009)

Philippe Petit’s infamous tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center towers was no better documented than in the 2008 film Man on Wire, but McCann’s wonderful novel uses this event as a catalyst of a number of stories occurring down below, including the individual struggles of a monk, prostitute, artist and grandmother. Let the Great World Spin is, unlike Selby Jr. or Wharton’s novels, not enlivened by underlying currents of despair, but rather by the collective fragments of happiness and hope.

Qwiklit Presents: A Gatsby-themed Reading Playlist
MAY 5, 2013 3:13 PM / 1 COMMENT / EDIT

With The Great Gatsby coming out at the end of the week and the warmth of this Northern Hemisphere increasing everyday, I’ve created a playlist inspired by summer and Fitzgerald’s great American classic. A mix of the old and new, this playlist combines Blues, Dixie Jazz of the 1920′s, Electroswing and some modern indie-pop to create a warm and nostalgic experience for a warm day by the beach or in your backyard. Here is a full track listing below:
00:00-03:31 – Louis Armstrong – La Vie en Rose
03:31-06:20 – Sidney Bechet – Dardanella
06:21-11:48 – Parov Stelar – Jimmy’s Gang
11:48-16:06 – DJ Vadim and Katherine de Boer – Black is the Night
16:06-19:32 – Jabbo Smith’s Rhythm Aces – Michigander Blues
19:33-22:16 – Bix Beiderbecke – In a Mist
22:16-26:15 – Fats Waller – Ain’t Misbehavin’
26:16-28:56 – Nuno Endo – Christopher Columbus (Squirrels & Onions Remix)
28:57-31:36 – Original Dixieland Jazz Band – Palesteena
31:37-34:33 – Paul Whiteman – My Blue Heaven
34:34-38:10 – Air – Playground Love
38:11-40:29 – Kuricorder Quartet – Apao Overseas Travel
40:30-43:40 – Andy Preer – I Found A New Baby
43:41-46:58 – Original Dixieland Jazz Band -Broadway Rose Lilly I love You
46:58-51:18 – Avalanches – Since I left you
51:19-54:22 – Bix Beiderbecke – I’ll be a Friend With Pleasure
54:22-57:45 – Louis Dumaine – Pretty Audrey
57:46-1:01:40 – Air – Photograph
101:41-107:25 – Shemian – 1927
107:26-109:56 – The Beatles – Girl
109:57-113:10 – Napoleon’s Emperors – You Can’t Cheat a Cheater
113:10-121:56 – Oriole Orchestra – Bud Jackson
121:57-124:20 The Kooks – Seaside
124:20-127:13 – Thomas Morris – The Mess
127:14-130:26 – St.Louis Blues – Original Dixieland Jazz Band
130:27-132:31 – Vampire Weekend – Mansard Roof
132:32-135:27 – Jabbo Smith’s Rhythm Aces – Weird and Blue
135:27 – 138:27 – Real Estate – It’s Real
138:28 – 141:42 – Paul Whiteman – Whispering
141:42 – 145:18 – Caravan Palace – BrotherSwing
145:18 – End – Edith Piaf – La Vie en Rose

20 Classic Novels You’ve Never Heard of
APRIL 29, 2013 6:54 PM / 23 COMMENTS / EDIT
When I ask people about their favorite classic novels, I usually get a similar response from everybody: Jane Austen, A couple Brontës’, A few Dickens’, an odds-and-ends collection of complex modernist tomes, and of course a dystopian novel or two to garnish the collection. Here are a few great novels you have probably not heard of, but were nevertheless significant influences for some of the more common works on your bookshelf:
The Monk – MG Lewis (1796)

Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho was a landmark of the gothic genre, but it favored using rational explanations over the supernatural. MG Lewis’ horrifying depiction of evil within the Catholic church from the perspective of an outwardly pious but internally evil monk is as brutal today as it was two centuries ago. However, just like Marquis de Sade’s controversial and pornographic novels, The Monk has struggled to maintain its literary prominence because of the inherent subject matter.
Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell (1853)

Between Jane Austen’s early 19th century work and George Eliot’s peak in the 1870′s, Elizabeth Gaskell chronicled the social conflicts of rural England with a simple but transcendent voice that saw beyond the facades of men and women with an observant and sympathetic eye. Cranford is about a small English town taken over by women when the men must move to nearby Drumble to work, uprooting the long-standing gender dynamics and changing the social landscape indefinitely.
The Water Babies – Charles Kingsley (1863)

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a standard of Children’s literature, but a similar-yet-completely-different work, Kingsley’s Water Babies, used the concept of fairy-tale parable to explore Darwinian evolution and the issues of social progress. When Tom, a ten-year old chimney-sweep, falls into a mysterious pond, he explores an undiscovered world of water-borne creatures from whom he learns how to understand this complex and industrializing world.
The House by the Medlar Tree – Giovanni Verga (1881)

Charles Dickens and Emile Zola took great pains in dissecting the sheer difficulty of succeeding in the cutthroat world of industrializing England and France, but Verga’s story about a poor Sicilian family facing disaster goes beyond the conventional naturalist work to portray the impossibilities of a happy life in a newly-unified Sicily. Some of the most vivid realism of its day, The House by the Medlar Tree presented with stark lucidity what many other authors did in the late 19th century–bridge the gap between the old world and the new by depicting in great detail the impending consequences.
Against the Grain – Joris-Karl Huysmans (1884)

Oscar Wilde was known as the unofficial king of late 19th century decadence, a movement exemplified by excess, debauchery and boundless pleasures. However, Huysmans’ study of a lavish life in response to 19th century materialism and industrialism is an ode to the dying grandeur of aristocratic Europe, as its main character, the Duc Jean de Esseintes, lives and dies by his own rules, away from the boorish “respectability” of the rising bourgeoisie.
Effi Briest – Theodor Fontane (1895)

Largely overshadowed by the great 19th century novels of adultery (See: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina), Effi Briest has nevertheless survived in large part because of the praise of Thomas Mann and Samuel Beckett. Similar to Bovary for its subtle social critiques of rural life and marriage, Fontane’s tragicomic tale remains notorious for its ability to make the most erudite of readers weep uncontrollably.
Le Grand Meaulnes – Alain-Fournier (1913)

A book that famed novelist John Fowles claims has “haunted” him all of his life, this mysterious novel from this even more mysterious novelist has shown up in the oddest of places, appearing in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and even being the supposed influence for F.Scott Fitzgerald’s naming of The Great Gatsby. When a 15 year-old boy arrives at a school in the countryside, his adventures to a lost mansion filled with aristocratic extravagance enamors the narrator to no end, yet it marks the pivotal turning point of his youth, where the mysteries of love and the unknown painfully fade away before his eyes.
The Charwoman’s daughter – James Stephens (1912)

A little over a decade before James Joyce would publish his monstrous, groundbreaking Ulysses, Stephens’ novel about a sixteen-year old girl called Mary depicted the slums of early 20th century Dublin with colorful, imaginative language. The Charwoman’s Daughter contrasts the pains of poverty with simple pleasures, and it reminds that reader that the language can always transcend the ugliness of daily life by painting a more poetic and beautiful landscape.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressel (1914)

The subgenre of working-class literature was, in the early 20th century, largely overshadowed by the works of Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis. On the other side of the pond, though, Tressell’s jab at the vacuity of capitalism, where everything from daily life to the basic rhythms of work are revealed to be subject to the mechanisms of efficiency, became a cult classic among the working poor. Although it fueled brief socialist movements in England, the book has been largely forgotten for its surprisingly subtle treatment of the system that degraded the working class to destitution.
Locus Solus – Raymond Roussel (1914)

Panned by critics and largely forgotten during his own lifetime, Roussel’s surrealist novel about a lonely estate owner who creates macabre tableaux out of the dead is more of a poetic labyrinth than a straightforward tale. However, the ambiguity of his storytelling and the playfulness of his prose has helped revived the strange novel, and contemporary thinkers like Michel Foucault and poets like John Ashbery have credited this book as major influences of their work.
Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley (1921)

Huxley’s first novel has since been overshadowed by his dystopian Brave New World, but Crome Yellow is nevertheless a hilarious satire of British life and culture at a time when art and literature are marred by highfalutin pretension. When a shy poet goes to a country estate with his love interest, he meets a litany of ridiculously-named characters, many of them representing the decaying aspects of an intellectual class Huxley was quickly becoming a part of.
The Last Days of Mankind – Karl Kraus

Kraus’ 800-page play has been read much more than performed, and his penchant for using both documents and personal accounts of the First World War to chronicle the fall of the Habsburg Empire has placed it among the great post-war novels of the 1920′s. Both an indictment of political language and an elegy to a lost empire, Kraus uses repetition to reinforce the impending doom awaiting the Austro-Hungarians, who must find whatever silver lining is left amid their impending suffering.
The Enormous Room – E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings is largely remembered today as the grandfather of nonsense poetry, but his autobiographical war novel about being imprisoned in a large cell with several others during the First World War was to introduce many of the themes Cummings would extrapolate for the rest of his literary career. Far from the playful rhythm of his verse, The Enormous Room can be read as an anarchist text, the room symbolic man’s place in relation to the government imprisoning them and the government supposedly helping them.
Confessions of Zeno – Italo Svevo (1923)

An acquaintance of James Joyce and Sigmund Freud, Svevo rarely revealed his secret passion of writing, but his hilarious and thought-provoking Confessions of Zeno used Freud’s psychoanalytic studies to create a character as unpredictable as he is miserable, inextricably bound to the desires of his subconscious. When Zeno tries to quit smoking, for example, he shapes his whole life around the act of quitting, and the performance thereof becomes the source of all his happiness and misery.
One, None and a Hundred Thousand – Luigi Pirandello (1926)

Pirandello is continuously featured in World Literature anthologies for his famous Six Characters in Search of an Author, a meta-theatrical play that brought him international attention. One, None and a Hundred Thousand, on the other hand, is on the surface a simple tale about a man alienated by his self-image, but at its heart is an exploration of the limitations of language, and how he are estranged from those around us because of such linguistic barriers.

Blindness – Henry Green (1926)

These days, Henry Green is seen more as a influencer than a great figure himself, but Blindness is a literary masterpiece that displays the sheer breadth of his abilities. Green uses parenthetical statements and an idiosyncratic sentence structure to describe innovative methods of interpretation in a state of blindness. One of the great unsung architects of modernist literature, Green uses the concept of blindness to show that we are inherently blind to the true nature of reality.
Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Doblin (1929)

Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos are still read today for their treatment of gritty urban life at the beginning of the 20th century, but Doblin’s sharp language, playful narration and honest depiction of life in down-and-out Berlin is both thrilling and cinematic. Using several forms of print–such as newspaper, street signs and popular music–Doblin (along with fellow Berliner Bertolt Brecht) would later influence the use of multimedia in late 20th century literature.
A Day Off – Storm Jameson (1933)

Storm Jameson did what Tressel did with The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, chronicling the difficulties of working-class urban life during the depression in England. The narrator travels through London’s West End dreaming of a better life, but ultimately pushed to a state of mental weariness because of the endless pressures of domestic life. Without displaying her message too blatantly, Jameson picks apart the misconceptions of urban life amid the futility of abject poverty.
The Man Without Qualities – Robert Musil (1933)

Of all the great few-thousand page masterpieces that were released in the first half of the twentieth century, Musil’s The Man Without Qualities is most often overlooked. A simple plot told in accessible language, Musil tells the story of Ulrich, an unassuming man who finds many lovers, joins a nationalist planning committee, then ends up in an oddly-spiritual relationship with his sister. Though unfinished, the novel is written with a philosophical elegance reminiscent of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
Independent People – Halldor Laxness (1934)

Laxness is now known as the grandfather of Icelandic fiction, but that’s probably the reason you’ve never heard of him. Heavily influenced by the Icelandic Sagas, Independent People tells the story of a man who begins growing the claws of Grimur, the demon-monster from the ancient poem. At once a reclamation of his heritage and also a journey through his home country, Laxness details the rise and falls of his beloved homeland with mythic undertones in a style the magic realists would eventually adopt.
Hopscotch – Julio Cortazar (1963)

A surrealist tale, a puzzle, a game, a metafiction — Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch defies most if not all of the conventions of novel writing in this story about a man trying to come to terms with his place in the world in Bohemian Paris. Unlike the work of Hemingway and Henry Miller, Cortazar does away with the romanticism of Paris and isolates the author-figure from society, and in a novel that proclaims its own insignificance, it becomes very difficult for them to affirm their place in the world.
Method to the Madness: 10 Essential Novels About Insanity
APRIL 26, 2013 5:18 AM / 3 COMMENTS / EDIT
Authors have often been bound to the cruelties of their own obsession. When inspiration strikes in all hours of the day, when writing a single sentence can exhaust the most firm-footed of minds, and when literary greatness may be subject to mere luck, it is not difficult to see why insanity has been a topic of great interest for novelists since the early 19th century. Here are ten novels that explore the artful underpinnings of madness within society and within the mind:
Djuna Barnes – Nightwood (1936)

Barnes herself called this novel of ill-fated passions the story of “a soul talking to itself in the heart of the night.” Based on a actual 8-year love affair she had with an American artist named Thelma wood, Barnes chronicles the destructive love life of an American heiress in the cultural milieus of Paris and Berlin just years before the continent would dissolve into chaos.
Barry Unsworth – Losing Nelson (1999)

One of the most celebrated British authors of historical fiction, Unsworth offers a very different treatment of the genre by having his protagonist, a man obsessed with Horatio Nelson’s life, descending into madness and murder as he “investigates” the famed war hero’s execution of Italian revolutionaries.
Antonia White – Beyond the Glass (1991)

Referred to by some as the British Bell Jar, Beyond the Glass is the semi-autobiographical story of White’s eventual admittance into a psychiatric institution and the subsequent experience she has living a dual life with a broken consciousness. Her last novel, White communicates the frustrations of mental illness with a tyrannical and ultimately destructive relationship based on corrupted Catholic mores.
Charlotte Brontë – Villette (1853)

The Brontë sisters were no strangers to including trauma and everyday mental illness in their groundbreaking novels, and Charlotte’s novel about Lucy Snowe, a schoolteacher struggling to make ends meet as a schoolteacher in the fictional country of Villette, challenges conventional models of reading by implicating her delusions and hallucinations into the narration.
Graham Greene – Brighton Rock (1938)

Set in the seedy underworld of Brighton during the 1930′s, Greene follows Pinkie, an 17 year-old sociopath mob boss who tries who struggles to cover his tracks after murdering a journalist who may reveal his culpability. At once an examination of Roman Catholicism in a broken society and also an introspective look at the destructive capabilities of adolescence, Pinkie is a terrifying look at lost morals and the effects it has on innocent people.
Herman Hesse – Steppenwolf (1927)

Written at the peak of a midlife crisis, Hesse’s novel about a down-and-out intellectual attempting to find reason for higher intellectual pursuits through vice is a mix of psychadelia and high art. Steppenwolf puts much emphasis on the volatile nature of illusion, and how the 20th century’s descent down the rabbit hole threatens to destroy the links between knowledge and pleasure.
Franz Kafka – The Trial (1924)

When a man named Josef K. is arrested one morning for an unknown reason, it sets off a virtually-interminable quest to get at the heart of a crime he fears does not exist. Both a satire of society’s endless legal quandaries and a look into the fragile mind of a persecuted man, Kafka’s unfinished novel is–without monsters, demons or ghosts to haunt the reader–the great nightmare of 20th century life.
R.K. Narayan – The English Teacher (1945)

When an Indian English teacher’s wife succumbs to illness soon after his wife moves to live with him, his journey for spiritual solace ends up being much more profound and mysterious than he expected.The English Teacher is a painful but ultimately hopeful novel about the vicissitudes of happiness and sorrow after in a world where answers to the more pressing questions are few and far between.
Malcolm Lowry – Under the Volcano (1938)

When Malcolm Lowry finally received critical acclaim for his entrancing and moving tale about an alcoholic expat in Mexico, it had come at the end of many years of mental instability, drug addiction and alcoholism. Under the Volcano is an examination of both personal and societal madness hitting their apex only months before the world would erupt into global war once again.
Vladimir Nabokov – Despair (1934)

One of his earlier Russian Novels, Despair prefigured many of the themes that would later adorn works like Pale Fire and Lolita. Set around an unreliable narrator’s supposed doppelganger and his eventual murder, Nabokov dissects the language and mannerisms of delusion in ways only an obsessive novelist can understand.
You Should Know: Canadian Author Alexander Macleod
APRIL 17, 2013 10:40 PM / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT
By Alex Carey

For a former runner, Alexander MacLeod is a meticulous writer. His first short story was published at the tender age of twenty-one, and his first collection arrives from Windsor-based Bibiolasis more than two decades later. In between, it should be noted he was no slouch: picking up a Masters from Notre Dame, a PhD from McGill and finding work teaching Creative Writing and Atlantic Studies must take some focus and energy. And focus and energy are definitely the core forces at work behind his imagistic prose.

These seven stories, none of which feel over-written or synthetically literary, are centered with intensely vivid imagery and a writer’s compassion for characters’ courage in the face of futility. There are runners who race just below the line of glory and adoration (“Miracle Mile”); there is a young family struggling to survive a road trip from Hell along Canada’s notorious Quebec-Windsor corridor (“Wonder About Parents”); a bricklayer fights temptation in the midst of Windsor’s runaway housing boom (“Light Lifting”); a swimmer dodges traffic in the putrid Detroit River (“Adult Beginner 1”). Macleod threads fear, compassion and an overall human dignity to characters backed into the undignified corners of contemporary Canada—mostly Windsor.

The minutiae, the finest details—like the difference between a mile run in 2:36 compared to 2:39—break and define Macleod’s figures. “We are made specifically by what we cannot bear to do” he muses in “Adult Beginner 1”. To quit competitive running, to swim a width of the pool, or pack up and move out of immensely tragic circumstance, Light Lifting is defined by what we fear the most. This is perhaps the most obvious in the first story, where the two runners and lifelong buddies run through the train tunnel from Detroit back to Windsor beneath Detroit River. The train looms as a manifestation of collected anxiety, an ironic white light behind you in the tunnel. But the runners don’t fear the train as much as they fear quitting—the ultimate loss. As much as Macleod’s fiction is pumped through the human body’s frailties and excesses, his world is almost an entirely urban and industrial space. This is a Windsor of a housing boom witnessed by an eclectic and ultimately violent work crew in “Light Lifting”, and in “Good Kids”, when the baby boom house expansion becomes irrelevant amidst another, bigger, wave of suburban sprawl and human demand. Light Lifting is both a critique and now an elegy for a disappeared city.

Macleod was a surprise selection for the 2010 Giller Shortlist, but that’s probably only because he didn’t market his book to death. In interviews he seems to almost find it funny, the mini-flood of publicity the collection earned him. If that cheeky sensibility only serves to keep him grounded in the flesh and bones of both his characters and the intensely urban environment they inhabit, then so be it. If it means we get treated to a collection as memorizing and layered as Light Lifting, Macleod can be as bemused by his success as he wants.

Macleod’s Light Lifting is available on Amazon and through Biblioasis

25 Rare Photos of Famous Authors
APRIL 16, 2013 1:08 AM / 20 COMMENTS / EDIT

“The trouble with fiction… is that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.” – Aldous Huxley from The Doors of Perception

“For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of Cancer Ward

“All art preserves mysteries which aesthetic philosophers tackle in vain.” – Anthony Burgess, author of a whole stack of books, including A Clockwork Orange

At any rate, let us love for a while, for a year or so, you and me. That’s a form of divine drunkenness that we can all try. There are only diamonds in the whole world, diamonds and perhaps the shabby gift of disillusion. – F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”. Pictured here with Zelda and their daughter, Frances.

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” – Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird

“There are moments when a man’s imagination, so easily subdued to what it lives in, suddenly rises above its daily level and surveys the long windings of destiny.” – Edith Wharton, author of The Age of Innocence

“A strong sense of identity gives man an idea he can do no wrong; too little accomplishes the same.” – Djuna Barnes, author of Nightwood

“Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever. – Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart

“People always say things like, Oh, well, he was suffering so much that he was better off dying. But that’s not true. You’re always better off living.” – Dashiell Hammett , author of The Maltese Falcon

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance… and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” – Henry James, author of Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” – Ernest Hemingway, outside Shakespeare and Company in Paris

“Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self.” – Iris Murdoch, author of The Black Prince and A Severed Head

“To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread.” – James Baldwin, author of Go Tell It on the Mountain

“I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” – Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road

“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.” – Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22

“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” – Kurt Vonnegut, author of Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five

Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera

Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have. – Jean-Paul Sartre, philosopher, author and playwright

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.” – Julian Barnes, From “The Sense of an Ending”.

“Life calls the tune, we dance.” – John Galsworthy, author of The Forsyte Saga

“We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“I don’t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn’t true.” – Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood

“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.” – Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar

“Our imagination flies — we are its shadow on the earth.” – Vladimir Nabokov, chasing his second passion—butterflies.

“Language is a virus from outer space” – William S.Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch

10 Essential Novels From India
APRIL 11, 2013 9:25 PM / 7 COMMENTS / EDIT

Over a century ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote his infamous “White-Man’s Burden” poem, directing it towards the Indian populace subject to colonial rule. While his poem is today derided for its virulently racist tone, it said a lot about the troubled state of a culture under siege:

Take up the White man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Since India’s climactic independence in 1947, however, their literature—in particular their novel—has succeeded in reinvigorating the medium on a national and international scale. Authors like Salman Rushdie and V.S. Naipaul have reinvented the genre to best portray the storied but tumultuous nation. In the words of Priya Joshi, the novel

was seen as the form most capable of consolidating anticolonial sentiment, of resisting orthodoxy, and of promoting social change.

Here is an essential list of some of the finest works from modern-day India:

Sunetra Gupta – The Glassblower’s Breath

An experimental and at times absurd account of an Indian woman coming to terms with her responsibilities and her marriage duties, the novel weaves back and forth between Calcutta and New York. The narrator, who refers to herself in the second person, is but one of the many elusive but nevertheless remarkable characters in the novel, which has been compared to Virginia Woolf’s great modernist classic Mrs.Dalloway.

Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance tells the story of two Bombay tailors who struggle to stay afloat during the tumultuous infighting of the 1970′s. Mistry, an Indian-Canadian author who has become a reknowned figure in both countries, explores the vicissitudes of history upon communities and the stability of family in the face of great uncertainty

Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss

Daughter of fellow Indian Author Anita Desai, Kiran’s sophomore effort about a retired Himalayan judge’s family trying to hold his family together during the Nepalese uprising won her the Booker Prize in 2006. The Inheritance of Loss is both local and international, and like many other Indian Novels, explores the consequences of colonialism and present-day globalisation upon a once-isolated pastoral life.

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Interpreter of Maladies

This collection of short stories from this Pulitzer-Prize winning Indian-American author speaks volumes about the dissonance of the immigrant experience. The title story, among others, is built around our desire for health and happiness in a world both multicultural and connected, but unfortunately still stricken by Babel’s curse.

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

Now a required reading for anybody learning World literature, Salman Rushdie wrote one of the greatest works of Indian Literature when he was just 34. One of the foundational texts of Magic Realism, Rushdie describes India from the moment of Independence onward through the eyes of a child born in a world full of mystical forces. Darkly ironic but grand in scope, this novel is an essential introduction to the wild but contemplative nature of the Indian novel.

A Bend in the River – V.S. Naipaul

Just as Joseph Conrad shocked (and offended) the world with his classic novella Heart of Darkness, Naipaul’s novel about post-colonial Africa delved deeply into the issues that wracked newly-independent countries after the eventual exit of Europeans. Though controversial, A Bend in the River paints a troubling portrait of corrupt governance amid the vast Indian Diaspora in eastern and southern Africa.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain – Vikram Chandra

This novel combines all of the best elements of Indian Literature I have previously described: Magic Realism, the striking extent of globalization, and of course a uniquely wrought poetic voice enliving both India and Los Angeles. This novel is a celebration of multiplicity, pushing forward with a barrage of images, vignettes and anecdotes that almost jump out of the page.

The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh

This intergenerational novel about a Burmese boy falling in love with an Indian girl spans over half a century, beginning with the British Invasion of Burma in 1885 all the way to Indian independence in 1947. Extensively-researched and teeming with detail, The Glass Palace portrays both the decline of royalty and the rise of Industrial trade in a surprisingly personal manner.

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

The story of two telepathic twins from Kerala reunited after over 20 years of separation, Roy’s experimental style irked as many critics as she impressed, but the novel has been, like other contemporary Indian novels, hailed for its innovative and playful language. Regardless of the disparity, though, The God of Small Things is not merely a display of bells and whistles; rather, it is an intensely psychological examination of post-colonial, rural India.

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

The great Russian Novel of India, Vikram Seth tells delves into the complexities of what should be a simple marriage plot, and explores the relational dynamics between Indian people in an era where nothing yet seems solved. It is, however, a relatively hopeful tale that delicately combines satire with equivocal vindication of gender and caste.

The Guide – R.K. Narayan

The story of a conman turned guru is the most famous novel of who some critics refer to as the Indian William Faulkner, who is equally remembered for the creation of a Yoknapatawpha-style town called Malgudi. On top of being a classic story of redemption, The Guide’s two points of view shed light on both the Indian as individual and the Indian community as a whole, and Narayan’s expansive scope was repeatedly championed by British author Graham Greene.

Join the conversation and let us know what you think of the list.

You Should Know: Canadian Author David Adams Richards
MARCH 28, 2013 10:36 PM / LEAVE A COMMENT / EDIT

David Adams Richards has been whispered of in Canlit conversations since he was an undergrad in at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. Richards cut his teeth at the Ice House, a well-known retreat for Atlantic Canadian writers during the 1960’s. He didn’t even finish his undergrad, as his unfinished novel The Coming of Winter was picked up for a prize and publication.

Since then, he’s won both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award and shared with the former with Michael Ondaatje. He was recently named to the Order of Canada. He’s published over a dozen novels and he’s won major prizes for his non-fiction work as well.

His New Brunswick is found almost primarily along the Miramichi River and features the dejected and beautiful small towns that dot the big river’s banks. His characters struggle with absolute concepts of pure good and evil, sin and redemption. At moments of critical high tide, reviewers liken him to the Great Russian novels of the 19th century.

The serene but stunning Miramichi
But there’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of him. Maybe it’s his working class characters—or perhaps, for the bourgeois for us to relate to the beautiful bleakness of Richards’ New Brunswick. Maybe it’s Richards’ closeness to his characters—there is little ironic distance in the struggling figures of his fiction.

But trust me, he’s really, really good writer and an important one in Canadian fiction.

Here are five David Adams Richards novels you should read so this guy can even get a shred of Margaret Atwood’s zombie-like idolatry.

In no particular order, here is a sample of Richards’ works:

4. Nights Below Station Street (1988)

This is the first in his Miramichi Trilogy and centers around Joe Walsh, his close and extended family in a mill town. It won the Governor General Award for Fiction and it’s really not that long, nor does it have any big words, so you don’t really have an excuse. Richards masterfully ties together the dependent characters to the each other. There is love in this narrative, but also great loss. The stuff of Greek tragedy, transplanted on the snowy backroads of Canada’s only officially bilingual province.

3 Blood Ties (1976)

An earlier work, Blood Ties is definitely a tougher read than Station Street. I would recommend being a couple novels deep into Richards before tackling this one. But once you do—and once you get past the unfamiliar names and ensemble cast—you are rewarded with some beautiful descriptive passage of life in New Brunswick. Poverty, guns, drinking and family all take centre stage next to Richards’ dark and powerful Atlantic Ocean. It’s not light stuff, but then again, the truth rarely is.

2. For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down (1993)

This was nominated for the GG’s award and made it a decent T.V. movie. Employing characters from Station Street, Richards tells the tale of Jerry Bines—equally compelling and frustrating to those around him and to Richards’ audience. Richards takes a more avant-garde approach to this novel, with impressionistic chapters and fractured interior monologues. This novel is a fitting progression for a man who pretty much sticks to one river, in one province, in one country.

1. Lines on the Water (2001)

Again, Richards takes us to the Miramichi, but this time he tells it’s his non-fiction account of fly-fishing. Essential reading for anyone who’s tried the sport—which as Richards points out is much more than a recreational activity for man. A River Runs Through It, this isn’t. It’s a refreshing chance for to get a glimpse of Richards in his home environment, enveloped by his muse.

10 Essential Prairie Novels
MARCH 28, 2013 2:18 AM / 7 COMMENTS / EDIT
The American and Canadian Prairies are usually portrayed as one of two things: Either a desolate landscape inspiring ennui or a homely locale containing more genuine folk. These novels prove that the Prairies hold anything but; From frontier westerns to psychological explorations of the self, these ten works assure that literature leaves no land—however barren—untouched.

The Englishman’s Boy – Guy Vanderhaeghe (1996)

The stark frontier borderlands of 19th century Canada and America is described in brutal but vivid language, as a young Hollywood writer attempts to recreate the awful Cypress Hills massacre that killed 23 Native American Dakotans. Vanderhaeghe portrays the haunting beauty of Big Sky country in ways that few others can.

My Ántonia – Willa Cather (1918)

Willa Cather tells the story of two men exploring their memories of an immigrant woman from Bohemia who inspires nostalgia of the Nebraska prairies. Combining the experience of early 20th century America with carefully crafted language reminiscent of Henry James and Sherwood Anderson, Cather presents a non-judgmental view of the pioneering melting pot.

John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

The great epic of the Great Depression, Steinbeck’s unforgettable chronicle of the Joads, an impoverished Oklahoman family on the road to California, became an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Steinbeck portrayed the horrible conditions of migrant workers escaping the dustbowl, and in the process, eulogized the death of a quixotic American dream.

Sinclair Lewis – Main Street (1920)

Demonstrating the dark side of the immigrant Midwest, Sinclair Lewis dissects the double-sided nature of small-town Minnesota as his heroine, the diffident Carol Milford, succumbs to the dangers of judgement and isolation.

Richard Ford – Canada (2012)

When two unassuming North Dakotan parents botch a bank robbery in Montana, their son gets sent to Canada, only to be thrust into a deadly cycle of murder and betrayal. Told in a calm and calculated voice, Richard Ford’s hypnotic account of border country is just as difficult to forget than it is to put down.

As for me and My House – Sinclair Ross (1941)

First dismissed as a tawdry slice-of-Canadian-Prairie-Life, subsequent critical interpretations turned this novel into a troubling psychological tale of cabin fever on the fringes of empty Saskatchewan. Through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, we experience the poetic energy of the Canadian landscape in its purest form.

Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry (1985)

A Odyssean journey disguised as a shoot-em-up Western, Lonesome Dove explores the edge of the Prairies from Texas to Montana as a fugitive convinces to Texas Rangers to drive a herd of cattle North. Both a striking exploration of the American foothills and a introspective examination of old age, Lonesome Dove is a Western for the serious mind.

Who Has Seen the Wind – W.O Mitchell (1947)

W.O. Mitchell’s most famous work is an Anne of Green Gables for Prairie life, where a child learns his way in the world among the comical social sphere of small-town Saskatchewan. The novel has since become a seminal Canadian classic ingrained in the hearts of children and adults alike. This novel has become proof that it is not the location but the people who define who you are.

Gilead – Marylinne Robinson (2004)

A reflection of a life lived told in meditative but powerful prose is set in the quiet Iowa town of Gilead, Robinson chronicles a pastor’s ancestors all the way back to the civil war. The novel captures the human condition through small but moving events, reminding us that the most potent acts are usually free of bells and whistles.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote (1966)

Though a factual account of a shocking 1959 quadruple murder in rural Kansas, Capote’s stylistic interventions turned a bland description into a literary firestorm. Combining the struggles of an quixotic investigation with the intimate sketch a two troubled fugitives, the book has been attributed with establishing the true-crime genre and subsequently influencing our contemporary representation of crime.

The New Canon: 15 Modern Classics You Should Read Right Now
MARCH 26, 2013 2:34 AM / 44 COMMENTS / EDIT
People may tell you that literature is dying, but plenty of authors are hard at work redefining the book world with groundbreaking and mind-bending works sure to be read and reread for quite some time. With so many books vying to be the next “Great American Novel”, this is merely a list of those who have earned their eminence and moved a generation some believed was devoid of literacy. Let us know what makes your list of modern classics in the comments.

1. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

What is it about?

Spanning three generations, this novel chronicles a hermaphrodite’s shift in gender identity in 1960′s Detroit. The story jumps between Greece, Detroit and San Francisco in this moving coming-of-age tale with a twist.

Why you should read it:

While Oprah sang this novel’s praises by including it in her book club, Eugenides is a very skilled storyteller that understands the often-complicated relationship between family and sexuality.

2.The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen (2001)

What is it about?

Centered around a family from the American Midwest, The Corrections tells the story of a dying patriarch’s three children as they suffer the consequences of modern American life.

Why you should read it:

Still relevant over ten years later, the Corrections foresees the inevitable shift the 21st century will have on the American psyche. Franzen’s portrait may be sprawling and humorous, but most important it is deeply personal.

3.The Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem (2003)

What is it about?

Two boys growing up in 1960′s New York City receive a magical ring from a drunk that allows them to fly and be invisible in this mad-cap, postmodern tale about childhood in a tough place.

Why you should read it:

Lethem knows how to intersperse a litany of historical and cultural artifacts without sparing the past of its nostalgic and emotional burdens.

4. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson (2006)

What is it about?

As Father Ames faces his final days, he recounts his family’s past all the way back to the civil war. A meditation upon death and a subtle examination of daily American life, Robinson seems to be searching for the roots of spiritual transcendence in the ordinary.

Why you should read it:

Don’t be fooled by the plot; this novel does away with the bells and whistles to dissect the emotional and moral foundations we hold ourselves upon.

5. White Teeth – Zadie Smith (2000)

What is is about?

Set in modern London, Zadie Smith’s debut novel chronicles Bangladeshi and Jamaican families as they struggle to express their identity in an increasingly saturated society.

Why you should read it:

Smith has no intention to make grandiose statements about the modern immigrant condition. Rather, White Teeth is an unbiased view of modern urban life through the lens of characters we learn to love and hate in startlingly uncanny fashion.

6. The Savage Detectives – Roberto Bolaño (Published posthumously in English in 2007)

What is it about?

Set over several decades all around the world, the novel tells the story of an elusive Mexican poetry group called the Visceral Realists–and those just as eager to find its origins.

Why you should read it:

Roberto Bolaño’s posthumous popularity is still growing, but considering the depth of this novel, it’s no wonder that this encyclopedic and complex novel will continue to be read for years to come.

7. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (2004)

What is is about?

Cloud Atlas is a compilation of six different stories set in the past, present and future, from the South Pacific to rural Belgium to a futuristic South Korea. It is told in Matryoshka-doll fashion about people facing their mortality while realizing they are part of a deeper, more transcendent pattern of life.

Why you should read it:

While the movie championed hope and personal connectivity, an attentive read of this challenging book is doubly rewarding.

8. Joseph O’Neill – Netherland (2008)

What is it about?

Netherland tells the story of Dutch immigrant Hans as he tries to adapt to a post 9/11 New York City by joining the Staten Island Cricket Club.

Why you should read it:

New York City has long been the setting of the immigrant novel, but O’Neill writes a more mature version of the American Novel, where the page is not necessarily a hub of falsifiable ideals.

9. Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami (2002)

What is it about?

Haruki Murakami’s novel is a mind-bending retelling of Oedipus Rex from the vantage point of a 15 year old boy named Kafka, though Murakami’s world is a place where nothing is as it seems.

Why you should read it:

Kafka on the Shore may be confusing, but Murakami’s language is surprisingly approachable considering the inherent complexity of the content.

10. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon (2000)

What is it about?

Similar to The Fortress of Solitude, this coming-of-age tale combines the cultural nostalgia of comic books amid a world that is slowly losing its innocence. When Josef Kavalier escapes Nazi-occupied Prague, he joins his brother in creating a world-famous comic book, The Escapist, resulting in a intricately-woven saga brimming with the American Spirit.

Why you should read it:

Chabon has released several successful works since Kavalier and Klay, but few, if any, match this novel’s unbounded energy.

11. House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski(2000)

What is it about?

House of leaves is another mind-bending tale combining horror and postmodern satire that literally flips the haunted house-story upside-down. When a tattoo artist enters the house of a recently-deceased man, he discovers a manuscript about a shape-shifting house that drives its tenants to unspeakable actions.

Why you should read it:

This work will immediately redefine your conception of postmodern literature. Reading this book is frustrating and at times seemingly impossible, but Danielewski revives the journeying spirit that so many novels lack.

12. A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (2010)

What is it about?

A series of connected short stories, a story about the impermanence of time moves too quickly for the musician characters to even keep up.

Why you should read it:

Egan references Marcel Proust in the epigraph, and this novel serves as a good introduction/substitute to the timeless but lengthy In Search of Lost Time, at least for those who don’t have time for 3000+ page novels.

13. Life of Pi – Yann Martel (2001)

What is it about?

Recently made into an oscar-winning production, Yann Martel’s novel is an exploration of spirituality through the eyes of a precocious boy lost in the Pacific with a tiger on a lifeboat.

Why you should read it:

Not only is the novel’s language accessible, but the story takes on different forms when told to different people, and most people who read it end up with a completely different interpretation of the story.

14. Junot Diaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

What is it about?

The story of a young Dominican boy named Oscar Wao becomes a deep exploration into three generations of a cursed family who struggle to make ends meet in New Jersey as immigrants.

Why you should read it:

Dr.Who, Dominican and Jersey vernacular and the odd literary reference all make their way into this novel, capturing youth in America in a few authors have done before.

15. Cormac McCarthy – The Road (2006)

What is it about?

Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, The Road is a less political than personal novel about a father and a son salvaging whatever shred of humanity they can find in the bleakest of worlds.

Why you should read it:

McCarthy has retold the Frontier experience with a nightmare vision about the failure of humanity in such a way that makes you cling to the characters like the last remaining threads of a tattered coat.

10 Essential Comic Books and Graphic Novels
MARCH 23, 2013 4:19 PM / 9 COMMENTS / EDIT
Here are ten graphic novels and comic books worth a look. The list explores many groundbreaking works that have kept the medium popular well into the information age. Let us know about your essential reading lists in the comments.

1. Blankets – Craig Thompson

Blankets is an autobiographical story about Craig Thompson’s childhood and adolescence, growing up in an Evangelical Christian family, and documenting his renunciation of the faith. Through his retelling of his early life, Thompson shows us repressed memories covered up with childhood imaginations, guides us through the fantasies of teenage romance and heartbreak, and explains that during those periods of our lives, many of the obvious facts that we learn as we grow are still unknown to us.

Why you should read it now

If you ever feel yourself confused by the rampant emotions of younger generations, this book is a humbling and humanizing reminder of how difficult growing up is.

2. Maus – Art Spiegelman:

Maus brought a lot of attention to the medium through its controversial anthropomorphic depiction of the Holocaust–Jews are portrayed as mice, Nazis as cats, Americans as dogs and the Polish as pigs. Maus is not only a historical piece, but also an introspective story that explains the survivor’s guilt shared among historians and authors who study the Holocaust. Spiegelman used his father, a Holocaust survivor, as his source, and struggled to fully capture the pain that his father went through.

Why you should read it now

We find ourselves and Spiegelman trying and failing to understand that amount of suffering, Maus is a meditation on the sorrows of not knowing a loved one’s pain.

3. Sandman – Author- Neil Gaiman, Artist- Various through the series:

Sandman follows the incarnation of dreams, Dream, and his brothers and sisters, Death, Delirium, Despair, Desire, Destiny and the retired Destruction, collectively known as the Endless. Gaiman uses these characters to explore philosophical themes by having them discuss and question the absolutism of their existence. Supporting characters include a suave & fashionable Lucifer, the biblical Cain, who obsessive-compulsively murders a reincarnating Abel, and the ghost of Richard Nixon, who harasses a future president through his dreams.

Why you should read it now

Effortlessly blending mythology, fantasy,history and philosophy, Sandman is without a doubt one of the most thought-provoking comic series ever written, and is worth reading for a multitude of reasons, if only to be immersed in the brilliant universe Gaiman has created.

4. Kick Ass – Author: Mark Millar, Artist: John Romita, Jr., Inker – Tom Palmer, Colourist – Dean White

Kick-Ass puts forward a semi-realistic view on what would happen if a teenager decided to act on his fantasies and become a superhero. It goes about as well as you’d expect, and that’s why you need to read it. Kick-Ass is completely devoid of catharsis and Millar’s bleak and borderline nihilistic storyline is perfectly complemented by Romita, Jr.’s art, which is intentionally sloppy and visceral. Kick-Ass should be read understanding that there isn’t going to be a happy ending, and even then, you will constantly find yourself surprised by how horrible everything ends up.

Why you should read it now

Millar has said that Kick-Ass is based on his own fantasies from adolescence and coming to terms with how terribly they would have concluded, and if there’s ever been a comic that could remind us that our fantasies don’t always go as planned, it’s Kick Ass.

5. Planetary – Author: Warren Ellis, Artist: John Cassaday, Colours: Laura Martin

Planetary is an organization dedicated to investigating the paranormal, metaphysical and pseudoscientific history of the world. Ellis’ series is based off of this organization interacting with alternate versions of popular fiction and science-fiction characters, such as the Justice League, Godzilla, and Tarzan. Not only do these alternate versions deconstruct the original stories of these characters, but Ellis also manages to interweave an original story explaining the origins of the Planetary group itself.

Why you should read it now

Planetary is a phenomenal exploration of the origins of pulp culture, and a self-aware yet non-contrived commentary on how many of these characters would be seen if created in modern times. It would also be inconceivable to mention Planetary without praising John Cassaday and Laura Martin’s absolutely stunning art.

6. Y: The Last Man – Author: Brian K. Vaughan. Artist: Pia Guerra, Goran Sudžuka, Paul Chadwick. Inker: Jose Marzan, Jr.

When a mysterious plague kills every mammal with a Y chromosome on earth, except for amateur magician Yorick Brown and his monkey, Ampersand, they are contacted by secret agent 355, who is tasked with escorting them to Boston where they can be studied. While ‘Y: The Last Man’ sometimes struggles with its feminist themes, the subplot is clear; Yorick is an average feminist-leaning male who has been thrown into a radically different woman’s world.

Why you should read it now

Both the character and the book are perfect examples of patriarchal men trying to understand the feminist perspective and having difficulty. It’s a touching and well-written story about a man and his monkey, wrapped in an endearingly and frustratingly naïve attempt at feminism.

7. Watchmen – Author: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons, Colours: John Higgins

If you haven’t read Watchmen, go read it right now. Seriously, go read it. Arguably the single most important comic book in the genre, Watchmen is about superheroes whose political views, personal values, and interwoven histories clash in one of the most spectacular tour de force. ‘Watchmen’ is one of the most stunningly written critiques of the superhero genre, capitalist culture and the nuclear arms race. Watchmen is also the only comic book to be featured on the Time Magazine’s 100 All-Time Novels List

Why you should read it now

A portrayal of starkly different philosophies on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ‘Watchmen’ showed the world that comics could be just as intelligent, poignant, and influential as any other medium.

8. Alison Bechdel – Fun Home/Are You My Mother?

Bechdel revisits her past in two separate books, the first chronicling the life and death of her father, the other her mother. The story is told through non-linear vignettes, going through her youth, her formative years and early adulthood as she tries to come to terms with a past that lingers in every frame.

Why you should read it now

The graphic novels are funny and heartbreaking, but each frame is replete with internal references and hidden messages that turn the story into an introspective view of a melancholic but beautiful mind. Bechdel’s work is unsettling but it captures the difficulty of a life full of unanswered questions.

9. Pyongyang: Journey in North Korea – Guy Delisle

A non-fiction diary about a French-Canadian animator’s stay in North Korea, Guy Delisle spent two months overseeing an animation project that was outsourced to the isolated nation. In Pyongyang, he describes how truly bizarre the country really is; visitors are accompanied by tour guides almost everywhere they go, at night all the lights turn off except those illuminating the Leaders’ faces, and it’s mandatory that civilians wear a pin with Kim il-Sung’s or Kim-Jong Il’s face on it.

Why you should read it now

Pyongyang provides amazing insight into what North Korea is like by showing it through the eyes of a normal Westerner, not a photographer or a journalist, who are generally seeking something to bring out of the country. An intimate look at the shortcomings of the last bastion of Stalinism in the world.

10. Scott Pilgrim – Bryan Lee O’Malley:

Scott Pilgrim has to fight Ramona Flowers’ seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her. ‘Scott Pilgrim’ is on this list because it shows that for comic books to be taken seriously comic books don’t always have to be serious. The book is hilarious, juvenile, and fantastically written. The main character is an unemployed twenty-something who simultaneously takes his life too seriously and not seriously enough. O’Malley has captured what it is to be a young adult in metropolitan North America in the 21 st century, condensed it, and turned it into a book that both lampoons and applauds indie culture.

Why you should read it now

After you read all the heartbreaking and soul crushing books on this list, Scott Pilgrim acts as a great reminder that comics don’t have to be too cerebral to be enjoyed.

When Chinua Achebe Stood Up to a Giant
MARCH 22, 2013 8:48 PM / 1 COMMENT / EDIT

As we now mourn and celebrate the passing of one of the pioneers of African literature, I just want to look back at one of Achebe’s most controversial moments. In 1977, the Nigerian author wrote ”An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” in the Massachusetts Review, and since then, the short essay has become a major counterpoint to much of the novella’s critical analysis.

Joseph Conrad first published Heart of Darkness in 1899, and almost immediate, the short work became one of the most harrowing indictments of colonial occupation in Africa. While other literary heavyweights were promulgating the white man’s burden, Conrad delivered a calculated expression of horror across a decaying Europe and a ravaged Africa. The novel has ultimately become the Keystone of colonialist literature, a sub-genre on decoding the dissonance and after-effects of European colonialism.The 1979 movie Apocalypse Now , based on Conrad’s novella, briefly revived its popularity for the Vietnam War generation, where Marlon Brando echoed the words of Colonel Kurtz, the crazed, corrupted and dying Ivory dealer:

“The Horror! The horror!”

Many forget that beyond the harrowing descriptions of Belgian destruction beyond the Congo, few African characters contribute to the story, and those that briefly appear disappear just as easily. Heart of Darkness is a trip into an unknown world that the narrator has trouble describing, but unfortunately, the African people are dehumanized in the process.

Achebe wrote the essay in a sarcastic tone like someone who’d read the book for the first time and couldn’t believe no one has seen such overt racism. Here are some of the finer moments he reminds the readers of:

They were dying slowly it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.

And Later:

A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms.

And when Conrad praises the beauty of the Congolese, his subjects become fully-formed manifestations of nature:

She was savage and superb, wildeyed and magnificent…She stood looking at us without a stir and like the wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose.

The most remarkable part of Achebe’s essay is how convincingly he attacked such a reputed work. Not only that, but many saw Heart of Darkness as an indictment of racism, not a promoter of it. Yes, Conrad had been dead for 50 years, but the novella had been (and still is, mind you) a staple of high school and undergraduate syllabi. It may is still associated with ideological change, but Achebe points out that it did little to separate the Europeans from their own echo-chambered perspective.

Chinua Achebe established a genre of literature that had previously remained unfilled in the English language, but ironically, Heart of Darkness—written over half a century earlier—was still the standard image of Africa imprinted upon the European consciousness. He argued that the short novel did nothing but vindicate European businessmen and imperialists. In the same way that online causes get saturated by half-baked slacktivism, the intellectual circles of London and Brussels could now breathe easy, at least now that the societal view was shifting.

Heart of Darkness unfortunately depicted Africa from afar when people thought it was an intimate continental experience. While Conrad believed he was exposing the inhumanities of Belgian occupation of the Congo, his shadowy figures that lined the Congo River were nothing more than petty caricatures. Achebe was both a creator of ideas and a challenger of pre-existing notions. Since Things Fall Apart, many contemporary authors have gone against larger cultural institutions to celebrate their own histories and their own heritage, popularizing genres such as magic realism.

Achebe proved that literature can only develop if it challenged, even if the adversary you go against may not be so obvious.

50 Reasons You Should Be A Bookworm
MARCH 21, 2013 9:20 PM / 34 COMMENTS / EDIT
Let’s face it: I’m a bookworm. Some people might think that spending hours mulling over an old paperback edition of a Russian novel will help you with nothing. But there are many reasons why you should stop everything you’re doing right now and head to that odd-smelling used bookstore around the bend. Us bookworms know more than you think.

1. We know how to move on

2. We know how to get away with murder…and feel bad about it

3. We know how to make the worst possible things sound pretty

4. We know how to Dress for the occasion

5. We know how to question authority…

6 …Even when everything seems perfect

We understand:

7. Those who others ignore

8. The oppressed

9. The Lost

10. The Blind

11. the Faithful

12. The Non-faithful

13. The Drunk

14. The Addicted

15. The Good

16. The Bad

17. …And the Ugly

18. We Know how to get ahead in the Business world

19. We can host a pretty damn good dinner party…

20. …and find the best place to host it

21. We can live alone…

22. …but work with others

23. We know how to respect our fellow man…

24. …and ruin his life if we have to

25. We know how to use our imagination

26. We know how to dream…

27. …And how to make others dream too

28. We know how to ask all the right questions…

29. …And give all the right answers

30. We Know how to make it in America

31. Survive in America

32. Be free in America

33. Fight in America

34. We can release ourselves from the shackles of others…

35. …Or put on the shackles ourselves

36. We know how to fall in Love

37. We know how to find ourselves…

38. …Even if we don’t know where we are

39. We know how to organize a government

40. …And Bring one down too

41. We know how to look back on our past

42. We know how to play our part…

43. …Even if it doesn’t seem too important

44. We know how to get smarter…

45. And be the Smartest.

46. We know when to lead…

47. …And When to follow

48. We know how to grow old…

49. …And How to Stay Young

But Most of All…

50. We Know How to put in a good day’s work

In Defense of the Humanities
MARCH 21, 2013 3:58 PM / 2 COMMENTS / EDIT

The Humanities has become the butt of a lot of jokes on college campuses. Apparently, it’s the degree that’ll get you that waiter or barista job you’ve been dreaming of since you were a child. And guess what? You’ll be serving all those business and engineering majors five dollar frappés from Starbucks. Arts majors can dream about the bourgeois life while the others can measure success by the price of their coffee.

In his latest book, Physics of the future, Michio Kaku gives an optimistic view of the future involving automation and sustainability. While the reputed futurist gives a fairly ideal and frankly utopian view of the next 100 years, he also sheds light on our upcoming post-scarcity world Not only does he cite the emerging efficiency of renewable technologies such as solar power, but he notes that automation will leave many of us to take more specialized positions, since many basic service and manufacturing jobs will not be necessary. Foxconn, maker of Apple, Microsoft and Samsung products in China, will soon be adding up to hundreds of thousands new machines to their assembly line. Online shopping, too, will cause more salespeople to be obsolete. The age of automation is also the age of human obsolescence.

So what does this mean? Does it point towards a generation of unemployed or underemployed youth? Will it mean the end of a whole series of jobs we thought self-evident to a developed society?

The thing is, we don’t know. One thing is certain, though; companies are going to look for innovators. Creators. Inventors. People of ideas. It is no longer enough to just remember what something is and how to use it. It is no longer enough to just know. In the near future, you will have to know HOW to know. Our basic processes of understanding and creativity are no longer worth scoffing at, especially when taught through historical, philosophical, and literary works. The humanities fosters creative arguments and contradictory perspectives. Without knowing how to use creativity, companies will stagnate. The massive surge of start-ups and online businesses, on top of the apps that track all of these products and present the best possible purchasing options — will stifle old capitalistic methods and transform our society into what Michio Kaku has called “perfect capitalism”.

Since the efficiency of everything is increasing exponentially, as well, we have to understand that people will have more time to enjoy these literary works. People will not be exhausted by their repetitive manufacturing processes. People will have time to read. Whether it be on TV or in massive, Stephen King-sized tomes, people will have more time to digest them. This is necessarily increase the output of intellectual thought. Humanity will have the time to improve their minds.

Ultimately, people must now pay attention to the Humanities. It’s not that they were unimportant before, but now they provide real-world applications. The greatest and most-often overlooked aspect of it is that they teach you how to learn. They don’t just teach you how to copy or translate something, but they teach you how to question language, and at times even doubt it. This shift won’t happen right away, and frankly, the Humanities have not yet recognized their potential as a formative hub of creative thinkers. Many engineering and media studies programs have, and by embracing website and e-business creation, have heralded many of this generation’s young entrepreneurs.

The future, it seems, belongs to those who dream. It also belongs to those who know how to do it.

Scotiabank Giller Prize Announces All-Star Jury

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Committee has just announced that Margaret Atwood, along with Esi Edugyan and American author Jonathan Lethem, will make up the coveted prize jury for the 2013 award.

The Giller is one of the most coveted in Canada, and it will grant the winner of this year’s prize with 50,000 dollars in cash. Previous winner include jury members Atwood and Edugyan, along with celebrated writers like Alice Munro and Michael Ondaatje. Not only has this award bolstered the sales of previously-recognized works, but many have also gone on to be nominated for the Man Booker Prize, arguably the British Commonwealth’s largest literary recognition.

The Giller Prize was founded in 1995 by philanthropists Jack Rabinovitch as a tribute to his late wife, and has in recent years received the sponsorship of Scotiabank, helping to raise the prize money from 25k to 50k. While the grand jury is often lead by notable figures, this year’s choices are particularly considerable.

Edugyan rose to immediate fame with her 2011 tour-de-force Half-Blood Blues, winning the Giller and getting shortlisted for both the Orange and Man Booker prizes. Lethem is also a highly-decorated author; his book Motherless Brooklyn won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award in 1999 and he will be releasing a prolific ninth novel this fall.

We will still have to wait until September for the longlist and November for the final decision. Until then, you can check out a list of recent works that they have deemed eligible for the upcoming prize.


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