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The Results are In…and the Fauxscar Goes to…

February 24, 2013 in Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

As the stars begin to primp and prep for the Academy’s big night, here at Literary Traveler we are still sipping coffee in our pajamas as we announce the year’s big winners.  While the results of the Oscars may be kept under wraps for a couple more hours, we won’t keep you waiting any longer.  The fix is in and while some of these adaptations may not be receiving accolades from the Academy, we think they deserve acknowledgment for their spot on representation of some of our literary favorites.

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While Jennifer Lawrence may be cleaning up in the awards department for her portrayal of Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook, our voters have spoken and decided that Bradley Cooper deserves his share of the spotlight for his humorous and endearing portrayal of Pat Solitano, Jr,

Which is why our first Fauxscar, for “Best Character Portrayal by an Actor” goes to Bradley Cooper!


Best Character Portrayal by an Actor: Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano Jr. (Silver Linings Playbook)

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Luckily for Jennifer Lawrence, the acting nods at the Academy Awards are split into “Leading” and “Supporting” categories, because audiences can agree that Anne Hathaway’s Les Miserables‘ performance, however brief, was the ray of musical sunshine in the adaptation of the popular classic.  Here at Literary Traveler, we believe some of the best characters written are not necessarily the main protagonist in the work, which is why we chose not to split the category in two.  Sorry Jennifer! (Editor’s Note:  Good luck, Jen, fingers crossed for you!)
The Literary Fauxscar for “Best Character Portrayal by an Actress” goes to Anne Hathaway as Fantine!
Best Character Portrayal by an Actress: Anne Hathaway as Fantine (Les Miserables)
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The selection of Literary Love Stories portrayed on film this year has been wide ranging and dare I say, epic.  From an unrequited high school crush, a sweeping nineteenth century extramarital affair, an unbeatable team forced into a dystopic death match, a couple crazy kids vampires living happily ever after and a couple facing tragedy and finding humor and each other.  We couldn’t choose just one if we tried, and turns out neither could anyone else.  We have a tie!  It all comes down to the ill-fated affair portrayed in a long-loved classic and our favorite baker and badass, joining forces in a contemporary young adult juggernaut. (Which is sure to be a staple in the Fauxscars for the next couple years)

So we are excited to award the Fauxscar for  “Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story” to Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky  AND Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark!  May the odds be EVER in their favor ;)

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Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story: Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky (Anna Karenina)
AND with a tie!

Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games)
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As Literary Traveler contributor, Antoinette, put it so eloquently:  “Every scene [of Life of Pi] is a visual indulgence. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I could have watched the thing on mute like a 2003 Windows Media Player sound Visualizer (you remember those right?)… It was, in addition to being a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, a display of artistry.”  It appears that voters agreed!

Therefore, the Fauxscar for “Best Visual Representation of a Novel’s Setting” goes to Life of Pi.
 Best Visual Representation of a Novel’s Setting: Life of Pi
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While the movie captured (a little too well) the expanse of time and space Pi felt on the open sea, the movie is almost an acceptable alternative to reading the book…after all, author Yann Martel, is in the movie, playing the interviewer who becomes friends with grown-up Pi, played by the amazing Irfan Khan.

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The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Almost as Good as the Book’ Film” also goes to Life of Pi.

Best “Almost as Good as the Book” Film: Life of Pi
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 Beating out the final installment of Twilight  to take this award would be a huge feat, had this been an MTV award show… but here at Literary Traveler, it was no contest.  The Hunger Games may be a YA series, but it is thought provoking, exciting, and presents a female protagonist that we can all be proud of.
The Fauxscar for Best “Young Adult” Adaptation goes to The Hunger Games.
  
 Best “Young Adult” Adaptation: The Hunger Games
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The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Family Fun’ Adaptation” goes to The Lorax.
Best “Family Fun” Adaptation: The Lorax
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We love ourselves some Tolstoy, and reading his original masterpiece, Anna Karenina,  is a commitment all bibliophiles should make at some point in their life, but alas, pushing 800 pages, it is a commitment.  In the meantime, check out the 2012 film version as a teaser — it seems that our readers agree that it is one of the best adaptations of the year.
The Fauxscar for “Best Adaptation of a Classic” goes to Anna Karenina.
Best Adaptation of a Classic:  Anna Karenina
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Sweeping the first annual Fauxscars like Katniss with a cross bow, The Hunger Games is a force to be reckoned with.
The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Adaptation” goes to The Hunger Games.
Best “Guilty Pleasure” Adaptation: The Hunger Games
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Literary Traveler contributor, Amanda, would not stop gushing about this film until the entire staff agreed to see it.  It appears that voters are on her side (or she is somewhere maniacally stuffing the ballot box — just kidding, this film definitely stands on its own merits!)
The Fauxscar for “Best ‘Stand Alone’ Film” goes to Silver Linings Playbook.
Best “Stand Alone” Film: Silver Linings Playbook
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Looking forward to the fabulous adaptation coming in 2013, from a new YA favorite, Beautiful Creatures, to a Helena Bonham Carter led Great Expectations reboot.  While both sound fabulous, this award was nearly unanimous and it seems that we are not alone in our uncontainable excitement over the 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age masterpiece.
Without further ado, the Fauxscar for “Best Anticipated Literary Adaptation of 2013″ goes to The Great Gatsby.
Best Anticipated Literary Adaptation of 2013: The Great Gatsby
On that note, until next year… Let us know in the comments section if you agree with this year’s winners, or if your favorite was snubbed. Thanks for joining us and we will be tuning in to the Oscars tonight to see how our favorites fare with the Academy!

Fauxscar Nominee: Silver Linings Playbook

January 11, 2013 in Comedy, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

The Mad Hatter:  Have I gone mad?

Alice:  I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers.  But I’ll tell you a secret.  All the best people are.

After seeing Silver Linings Playbook, I left the theatre in a really good mood.  One of those moods where, if life had been a musical or I had any rhythm or dexterity, I would have jumped up and clicked my heels together as I skipped down the street.  Instead I took to telling anyone who would listen how amazing and uplifting the film is and how they must drop everything they are doing and see it immediately. (Seriously, stop reading this and go see it.)  A couple people, intrigued by my insistence, asked me what it was about. A feel-good film about an emotionally damaged man, whose bipolar disorder is only discovered after a violent outburst brought on by his wife’s infidelity lands him a court-ordered stint in a mental health facility, you say?  They looked at me like I was the one who might be crazy.

Bradley Cooper plays the protagonist, Pat Solitano, Jr., in David O. Russell’s film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, and the film begins with his release from the hospital.  He has lost his job, he lives with his parents, his neighbors think he has gone off the deep end, and a restraining order requires him to stay 500 feet away from his wife.  But he has a plan: stay positive; be stronger; and find the ‘silver lining’ in his situation — doing so, he believes, will surely bring his wife back to him if he works hard enough.

The problem, however, is that the ‘silver lining’ isn’t always what you think it should be.  For most of the film, Pat is too close to the situation he’s in, and too stuck in his ways, to see this. In one scene, for example, he has an outburst over Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms – He wakes his parents in the middle of the night with a tirade about the unexpected tragic ending that befalls the characters, raving, “They were happy.  You think he ends it there? No. He writes another ending.” — Hemingway’s novel provides a parallel to Solitano’s own story, in which he believes his ‘ending’ will find him back together with his wife.  Yet, as John Lennon once sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Pat soon meets his match in Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a brazenly unapologetic young widow, who is equally as broken.  Thus, Pat and Tiffany make a deal.  Tiffany will help him get a letter to his estranged wife and in return Pat will be her partner in a dance competition.  The film culminates in their final dance, two well-matched individuals performing a fun, choreographed mash-up that paints with painstaking clarity the humor, trust, and genuine admiration between the two.  Their performance is made even more endearing by contrast to the competition, a line-up that resembles the professionals from Dancing with the Stars.  We know they won’t win, but in this moment we also know (and so does Pat) that sometimes what you originally thought was the silver lining may have actually been the cloud.

Pat and Tiffany are portrayed as outsiders, looked at by their families and friends as off-kilter, damaged goods, possibly a few cards short of the deck.  And it is true that Pat and Tiffany may be ‘crazy,’ but they aren’t the only ones.  Pat’s dad, a phenomenal Fila track-suit-wearing Robert DeNiro, spends football Sundays in obsessive compulsive mania masquerading as old school superstition. As Pat Sr. rearranges the remote controls so that the Philadelphia Eagles will win, Pat’s best friend Ronnie has his own stress and anger issues that find him punching walls in his garage to let off steam.  The story manipulates our perception of sanity.  After all, Pat and Tiffany may be nuttier than fruit cake, but they admit it.  And how does the old adage go about crazy people?  If you think you’re crazy, you are probably sane enough?

Cooper is flawless in his portrayal of Pat.  With memorable roles in classic comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, he doesn’t get the credit for his acting ability that he deserves. With a Best Actor nod in the Oscars (and the Fauxscars!) maybe that will change.  Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame is hilarious as Tiffany, a character that comes off as a less stable, yet equally kick ass (albeit R-rated), Katniss.  Robert DeNiro is Robert DeNiro, enough said.  Yet, as the OCD Solitano patriarch, his performance is both comical and touching.  Chris Tucker rounds out this dream cast as the loveable, questionably unhinged, Danny, a fellow patient Pat meets during treatment, whose random drop-ins add an extra helping of comic relief to the already very funny film.

Simultaneously witty, intelligent, poignant, and heartwarming–there is something universal about this story.  Like Pat says in the end, “life will break your heart… and I can’t begin to explain that, or the craziness inside myself and everybody else.”  Maybe the moral of the story is in acknowledging that, and being better for it.  And if, like Pat, you are lucky enough to surround yourself with people whose ‘crazy’ is compatible with your own, then maybe that is the real ‘silver lining.’

Fauxscar Nominee: The Hunger Games

January 2, 2013 in American Authors, children's literature, Contemporary Literature, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies, Movies, YA Fiction, Young Adult Literature

I will clear the air right away and say, I was a fan of Twilight.  It seems that this question has been on the tip of bibliophilic tongues everywhere and a pro-vampire stance confessed to the wrong person will have you ostracized to a community of lowbrow lepers doomed to wander the colony with a scarlet V on your chest.  Many a debate has been had amongst readers over the merits of these now iconic young adult novels.  Are they literary? Are they well-written?  I typically shy away from this line of questioning the same way I shy away from talking politics or religion on a first date.  Nothing good can come from it.  Maybe they aren’t literary, but they are addictive and a fine guilty pleasure.  Actually, my only problem with the series is its protagonist Bella. A hormonal teenage girl mooning over the emotionally unavailable bad boy is nothing new to literature, film, or life for that matter, but to have said character mope about for the span of an entire novel, acquiesce to Edward’s every overbearing whim and ultimately sacrifice her human life to be more compatible with him? As a role model for the novels’ target audience, Bella is lacking in a seriously unhealthy way.  Regardless to say, I was “Team Jacob” and doomed to be disappointed.

Despite my obvious bitterness over the outcome of the series, however, there were more important things at stake. If Twilight was to be indicative of today’s youth, I felt that we were certainly in trouble. How do we reconcile a world where girls look up to a character like Bella, who spends most of New Moon despondent, only prying herself away from her armchair to attempt personal injury in hopes that she might glimpse a hallucination of Edward?  My friends, don’t fret, the future of female empowerment in not doomed. It can be found in a dark corner of a distant post-apocalyptic universe. Enter Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss is powerful, responsible, knows her way around a bow and arrow, and doesn’t need protection from either of the strapping gentlemen who make up her very own Twilight-esque love triangle.  The difference between the two young women: Katniss doesn’t really care about hers.  Not initially, anyway.  She has bigger things to do, like save her sister…and save the world.

Suzanne Collins’ novel is set in a dystopic future where the United States has become the twelve districts of Panem.  There were originally thirteen, but a failed mutiny left District 13 to serve as a cautionary tale to those remaining.  As a punishment and reminder, each year the districts must send two children to “The Hunger Games” – a Survivor type reality show where only one victor comes out alive.  While the subject matter is disturbing, the story quickly grabs hold of readers.  It is almost impossible to stop reading until you have gone straight through to the end of the third book.  And despite its morbid undertones, it presents a powerful story of hope.  As the evil President Snow states in the filmic version: “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.”  The viewers quickly learn, as does the villainous Snow, that Katniss’ fire cannot be contained.

Her male counterpart in the Hunger Games, and one third of the aforementioned love triangle, is Peeta Mellark. I loved the character of Peeta for every reason I loved Jacob, and every reason I couldn’t stand Edward.  Peeta might not sparkle, but he also won’t climb through your bedroom window and hover over you while you sleep.  He compliments Katniss in the best ways, and their relationship is one of genuine adoration and respect; it’s believable, real, and something we can all aspire to, whether we are 15 or 65.

For these reasons and more, I was ecstatic to find out a movie was being made based on the books. While adaptations can cause the original material to get lost in translation, this was not the case for The Hunger Games.  This book, full of eerie landscapes, futuristic inhabitants, and an arena where no one is safe, was begging to be adapted for the screen.  Between the elaborate costumes and the incredible settings, the faultless casting was the cherry on the sundae.  Jennifer Lawrence easily slides into the role of Katniss, a strong, capable character whose healthy body is a refreshing alternative to the stick-thin waif.  (Bella, just because Edward can’t eat food, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t).  The role of Peeta seems as though it was written especially for Josh Hutcherson; his flawless blend of self-deprecating humor, charm, and authenticity is unparalleled.  But the absolute scene-stealer of the movie has to be the unexpected, yet perfectly executed performance, of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the alcoholic former Hunger Games victor-turned-mentor.  Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, and Stanley Tucci round out an ensemble cast that cannot be beat.

I recommend the books to anyone with a taste for well-written YA Fiction—I recommend the film to anyone, period.  There isn’t much from the book left on the cutting room floor, and the plot is easy to follow without any prior knowledge of it.  Male, female, teen or adult, The Hunger Games has something for everyone and will surely provoke discussion about our culture’s disturbing fascination with reality television, among other topics usually reserved for the second date.

As we begin to choose nominees for our 2013 Fauxscars, I say to The Hunger Games: “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

Post originally published here on the Literary Traveler website, in the Books section.

Interview with Linda Olle, Author of the Upper East Side Cookbooks

October 10, 2012 in Fiction, Interviews

Linda Olle’s alter ego Parsley Cresswell is an intriguing character. Glamorous, yet frugal, evasive, yet conspiratorial, she’s the perfect guide to New York’s Upper East Side. Like Parsley, Olle is an avid birder, and the Upper East Side Cookbooks are a little bit like bird-spotting guides you might take with you to a café, while you sip and observe the neighborhood’s characters.

They’re also scrapbooks of tips on how to enjoy life and literature in a wealthy neighborhood on a budget. When WNYC’s Brian Lehrer asked Olle how she differed from her creation, she said coyly, “well, I don’t wear furs.” She does however forage for mushrooms and Gingko nuts in Central Park. And like Parsley, who manages to be both spontaneous and organized, she advises using caution and proper gear.

The UES Cookbooks are narrated by Parsley’s neighbor, a straight-laced accountant who, after Parsley ends up in prison, pulls together the pieces of Parsley’s scandalous life from the notes in her cookbooks. Parsley’s crime? – a former writer and critic fallen on hard times, she pragmatically takes the job of dominatrix, and has the misfortune to be present at the scene of a wealthy old businessman’s death.

Linda Olle blends the drama of Parsley’s life with practical tips from her own experience living on the Upper East Side. The combination of humor, rumor, recipe and literature is a really unique way to be introduced to a neighborhood.

Literary Traveler: What is it that makes artists and writers like yourself want to stay in the Upper East Side, despite the cost of living there?

Linda Olle: If you got your apartment a long time ago, your rent is probably cheaper than in the Bronx. I signed my lease in 1981. It’s quiet here and the architecture is spectacular. There are lots of restaurants and few places to food-shop. I wanted to write about this oddball neighborhood, and there had never been a regional cookbook of the UES.

About ten years ago, I took up bird watching, which is practically inevitable when you live next to Central Park. It opened up a whole world, and I met some wonderful New Yorkers. It’s also Museum Mile. Parsley Cresswell, the heroine of the fictional-cookbook, goes to museum free nights and takes up bird watching, which is also free.

LT: Do you think the recession has changed the habits of wealthy Upper East Siders, or is it just freelancers like Parsley who’ve had to tighten their belts?

LO: Honestly, I cannot tell. I hear rumors of penthouses in foreclosure. Though I bill myself as the Queen of the Upper East Side, and my twitter is CarnegieHillian, I don’t know how neighbors manage at all.

I assume they’re like Mitt Romney and have their billions stored offshore, tax-free. Some of my neighbors are cool people and support good causes. It’s mostly Democrat. I don’t begrudge my neighbors their money, I just wish they’d forked over the taxes to help out their fellow man.

LT: Eric Arthur Blair (A.K.A. George Orwell) is one of Parsley’s favorite literary personalities – and seems to influence her philosophy. Which non-food related author has influenced Parsley’s cooking the most?

LO: The news stories of Martha Stewart spending 5 months at Federal Prison Camp Alderson, in West Virginia, fascinated me. She was able to make crème brûlée in the prison microwave. In Volume 3 of the Upper East Side cookbook series, Parsley Does Thyme, to be published on December 6, 2012, Parsley Cresswell is in prison and manages to make chocolate soufflé in a mug and microwave banana cake. She meets a serial killer who murdered two fiancés who stood her up at the altar: “Julienne made the roasted chicken with lemon and garlic dish called Engagement Chicken with Marry Me Juice for each of her serial boyfriends. She served it with Dutch beer and a salad called Lettuce Alone.” (page 52, Parsley Does Thyme.)

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London influenced me. Eric Arthur Blair (A.K.A. George Orwell) had a job as a waiter at a restaurant in Paris, found himself working “seventeen and a half hours” a day, “almost without a break.” It prevented him from eating an expensive restaurant meal ever again: “I can point to one or two things I have definitely learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy… nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant.” (from Down and Out in Paris and London)

LT: I know that Parsley adores Julia Child – but in the Upper East Side Main Course (Vol 2.) I was surprised to learn that her accountant/neighbor/biographer doesn’t ‘get’ her. Does this reflect your mixed feelings about Julia Child – or do you, like Parsley, make the sign of the cross when her name is mentioned?

LO: I revere her and grew up loving her TV show – everybody did. She was a hoot! Yet I rarely refer to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s not the most dog-eared cookbook in my collection.

I met Julia Child in 1995, at her home in Cambridge, with my friend who went to the Cordon Bleu. It was about the best day of my life to sit listen to them talk about Paris. She served smoked salmon and dill sandwiches and champagne. Julia’s girlfriend played the piano. It was a sparkling couple of hours. I was higher than a kite.

LT: Parsley’s thriftiness seems to have been born out of her Midwest farming background. But I also notice allusions to the kind of super-organized hippie cooking of the 70s Superwoman. What do you think of the Superwoman model of housekeeping? Do you reckon it’s making a comeback with the recession – and is it sustainable in a tiny city apartment?

LO: The 70s Superwoman was barefoot in the kitchen, made her own bread, wore her hair down, drank cheap red wine, smoked a joint while she cooked. Parsley is that, but actually more of a 50s hostess who takes pains. If you visit her, you’ll find her refrigerator stocked with paté, a selection of cheeses and raw vegetables, and paper-thin rice crackers, capers, and olives. Served by candlelight.

Come to my house and you get a cup of tea and cookies from the store if you’re lucky. I’m an insecure cook, but I aspire to be a 70s hippie, who puts out a fantastic one-dish meal, with crusty bread, and vegetable side dishes, with sensual pleasure and little effort.

LT: I’m sure other readers, like I did, will wonder which anecdotes are true or not. A few of them are so priceless that I just have to ask… I’m thinking of the very Upper East Side moment where a toddler with his nanny mistakes Parsley for his mother, because she is blonde. Or when the 80 year old neighbor who made his way down 80 flights of stairs during the Twin Towers disaster is greeted with cookies, freshly baked by Parsley…

LO: It’s so interesting you ask that. Like Parsley, I have almost an almost unhealthy fixation with Bob Dylan and George Orwell. I have a lot of friends who are writers, and a bookshelf full of intriguingly inscribed books. Here is a preview of volume four of The Upper East Side Cookbook: May I Have a Doggie Bag?: Parsley will be so destitute that she sells off the books, one by one, on eBay.

I too get my clothes second-hand at church bazaars and rummage sales. You can get barely worn expensive clothing at Upper East Side churches. These sales are so popular that their dates are more or less secret. My excellent winter coat came from the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue. There was a wrinkled twenty-dollar bill in the pocket – more than I paid for the coat. These Ferragamo shoes are from the Brick Church, between Park and Madison, where there’s a sale next weekend. I got a cashmere sweater from St. James Episcopal on Madison – the next one, November 16, is marked on my calendar.

The experience of being mistaken by a toddler for his mother happened to me three times in Central Park—with different children. I was in my twenties when I first moved to New York from Wisconsin. I’d be sitting on a park bench, reading. The child toddles up and shyly says, “Mommy?” Nannies on the Upper East Side are usually black. The baby has spent most of his life with the nanny, and rarely sees his mother—who is likely a blonde like I am. The kid looks at me, questioningly. I’d be smiling back and shaking my head “no,” but that only makes him more convinced that I’m his mother. When I give this rather poignant experience to Parsley, I can see the humor in it.

Yes, I know of an 80-year-old man who survived the World Trade Center bombings walking down from the 80th floor, and he walked all the way home to the Upper West Side. His neighbor greeted him with some freshly baked cookies. Talk about the restorative powers of baking!

Parsley’s esthetic is more European and Japanese. I spent a lot of time in the U.K. and in Japan. I’m not a 50s or 70s Superwoman, just a traveler who likes to eat wherever she goes. I’ve eaten fabulous meals in Japan, North Africa, Spain Italy, France, and especially, in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin.

The Best of the Best of 2011: A List

December 24, 2011 in American literature, children's literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Literary Books 2011, New Writers

Artwork by Dan Park

Jeffrey Eugenides, Artwork by Dan Park

There are a heck of a lot of “Best of 2011″ lists coming out this week. There’s the best music, the best films, and, of course, the best books. But with so many “best of” lists, put out by practically every blog, magazine, and newspaper around, it’s hard to tell which books really came out on top.

But fear not! After combing through some well respected sources’ “best of” lists, it was clear which books were the real winners. The lists consulted included those compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, National Public Radio, Barnes & Noble, The Economist, Paste Magazine, Slate Magazine, Goodreads, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Public Library, The New Republic, Amazon, The Horn Book, Esquire, and The New York Times.

There were, of course, books that made it onto just one or two lists, but to really be the best of the year, a book’s got to make a bigger splash than that. Therefore, the books that made it onto three or more of these lists are posted below on this compilation of what may as well be called “The Best of the Best Books of 2011″:

The Top 15 Fiction Books:
1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
4. Open City by Teju Cole
5. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
7. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
9. The Submission by Amy Waldman
10. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
11. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
12. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
13. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
14. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
15. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Top 13 Nonfiction Books:
1. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
2. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
3. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
5. Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
7. Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson
8. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
9. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
10. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
11. Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
12. 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
13. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

The Top 11 Young Adult Books:
1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
5. Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
7. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
8. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
11. Chime by Franny Billingsley

The clear favorite of critics is The Marriage Plot, which shows up on seven different lists. Additionally, 1Q84, Divergent, and Blood, Bones, and Butter all made it onto six. It goes to show how diverse readers’ (and editors’) tastes are across America. Clearly, though, there’s still common ground, and if you’re looking for a good book to devour this holiday season, chances are you’ll find plenty of worthwhile material on this list.

A side-order of fiction

June 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

You might have already heard the assertion that we — Americans, specifically — choose to spend most of our leisure time “participating in experiences we know are not real.”  (I read it here, in Paul Bloom’s essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)  Reading is part of that, but movies, video games, and daydreaming are included as well.  Still, the author insists, these various media indicate an addiction to fiction, a pleasure in “playing pretend” that extends well beyond our childhood years.  Bloom offers three reasons that people may find imaginative experiences more pleasurable or moving than than real ones — the ability to acquaint oneself with a colorful range of characters, the distillation of experience, and the “technologies of the imagination” — the ability to rapidly shift in time, or read another person’s thoughts — that stimulate the mind in a way that is impossible in reality.

Even our fictional characters crave fiction.  Other Lives, a graphic novel recently reviewed in The Boston Globe, explores this dynamic by following several characters — among them, a conspiracy theorist specializing in web surveillance — as they mingle and sort out their real personalities and Second Life alter egos.  The protagonist of 45, another graphic novel, interviews forty-five people who, like his future son possess the “Super S-gene,” in an effort to anticipate — or vicariously experience? — his future experiences.

The appeal of fiction is both speculative and defensive.  We use it to explore strange, new worlds in a safe environment — and, as I mentioned to a frustrated, creative friend the other day, every modern invention was a “fiction” until someone made it tangible — but it also keeps chaos, amorality, and the ennui that feeds anxiety, man’s “quiet desperation” at bay.  Narrative, specifically, lets us believe that there is a structure, a direction, and a message, a significance, to the stimuli that we find on the page, and in the world.

If the “everything is [existentially] fine” mantra becomes attached to a real world object, we risk having to address the narrative, and the experience, in all of its complexity.  Consider Meghan Daum, author of Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House. She wrote, “I knew it wasn’t just a house I was after but, rather, proof of my existence. The house was . . . an ID badge for adulthood, for personhood, even. It was the only thing that would make me desirable, credible, even human.”  When she finds a house — not the house, which is, like the job or the One, a fiction — “a peculiar darkness” sets in.  “It was as if my mood had been goaded away from situational discontentedness into a dysthymia that seemed now to be heading into full-fledged depression,” she wrote.

The house didn’t get her through that.  The story, at least, helps the reader out.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

March 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, starting this week, the staff at Literary Traveler will gather up the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

Reading New Year's Resolution

December 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Time to make resolutions.  And many of us can’t keep them, let’s be honest.  It’s hard to stick to that diet, or lose those 10 pounds we really don’t need to lose anyway, right?  Try a solid New Year’s resolution you can do this year instead.

Here at LT, we suggest a reading resolution.  How many books have you read this year that involve great travels that inspire you?  How many of you still haven’t read On The Road or another great traveling work of fiction that you’ve been dying to read?  If so, then it’s time to set your reading resolution for 2010.

We suggest either trying to set an amount of books to read i.e. 10 great travel books for all of 2010 (we understand you like to read other types of literature as well!) or pick two travel classics you still haven’t had the time to read.  For ideas, troll Literary Traveler and see what inspires you.

Another tip comes from Sharp Brains, an article entitled 10 Brain Fitness New Year’s Resolutions by Alavaro Fernandez, which says:

“If you usually read non-fiction, try something new this season. Pick up a good fiction book. Or vice versa. For bonus points, subscribe to or simply read a new magazine, perhaps one that your partner craves? It will help you understand another perspective.”

We like that idea.

So this year, make a resolution you can achieve, and you’ll feel much more accomplished in 2010!

Jennifer

**Editor’s Note: LT thanks you for all your support in 2009 – we look forward to inspiring you in 2010 as well.  Happy New Year to all our literary travelers!