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Literary Traveler Spreading the Literary Love on World Book Night!

April 1, 2013 in Literary News, Literature

Hey there, Literary Travelers! Last year on our blog we told you about World Book Night – an amazing event kicking off its second year in the U.S.  Many of you may be familiar with the fabulous organization, which promotes the spreading of book love to light and non-readers far and wide. The basic premise is this: On April 23rd, tens of thousands of “givers” all over the country will be out in their individual communities giving away a combined total of 500,000 free copies of one of 32 titles, ranging from classic literature and biography to YA Fiction, to those who do not consider themselves typically avid readers. World Book Night is a non-profit organization and all of the books are donated, made possible by the generosity of supporters ranging from community volunteers to book publishers.

“Givers” are volunteers, picked to cover a wide range of geographic locations and a variety of community environments. This year 6,200 towns will be represented on World Book Night, up 400 from last year’s event! Givers run the gamut from teachers to authors… to Literary Travelers!

Yes, that’s right. This year, Literary Traveler feels incredibly fortunate to be World Book Night givers! We feel doubly lucky because we will be spreading the love for one of our favorite early twentieth-century authors, Willa Cather, by giving away copies of her celebrated 1918 novel, My Antonia.

We feel a particular affinity for Cather because of her inspiring connection to Place. Many of her novels paint a remarkably vivid picture of early pioneer life on the expanding frontier of the Great Plains. We also feel that Cather’s novel is incredibly accessible and a great way to begin a long lasting love affair with the classics.

Please stay tuned over the next couple months for more on Willa Cather and World Book Night 2013.  In the meantime, check out the Literary Traveler article, “Red Cloud, Nebraska: Willa Cather’s Lifelong Muse.”

Ann Patchett and the Battle for the Bookstores

December 13, 2012 in Bookstores, Contemporary Literature, culture boundaries, Economy, Literary News

As I was driving into work, I heard an unnerving story on the radio. It was about Amazon, the largest corporate book retailer in the world. I listened with trepid curiosity as a caller in support of the company’s expansion went head to head with an owner of a local bookstore. The callers made the age-old arguments that arise when technology challenges the continuance of tradition; one vigorously vying for the convenience of a digital future while the other nostalgically recalled the advantages of our papery past. The latter spoke with some desperation, as if this was her final stand, her last chance to tell her story. She spoke of things beyond the joy of feeling the weight of a book, the smell and feel of paper. ‘The culture is what we’re losing, bookstores have always been what bring readers together.’

I thought about that for a minute. She was absolutely right. Bookstores did bring readers together. Books were not the only casualties of Amazon’s flood into literature; there was a culture at stake. The heart-felt words of the distressed caller made me realize how I had always taken bookstores for granted. I began to mourn the loss of something I had hardly known, and I decided that it was time to visit one before it was too late.

Porter Square Books is one of the most well known independent bookstores in the Boston area, and this is where I began my search for the endangered book culture. The first thing I noticed was the dog bowl at the front door. I had read that dogs were welcome inside the store, and I wished I had brought mine along. Inside, the place was buzzing. Casually dressed employees sorted books and chatted with customers. There was a coffee bar in the corner, and the smell of fresh espresso underscored the vibrant pace of book browsing. Customers filtered into their sections of interest, which were each divided into coves of booked walls. The spaces were so small that people seemed to be bumping into each other all over the place.

Two woman in the Cooking section were discussing recipes they had both found in the same Japenese cook book. In the Travel section, a young man pointed to pictures in a book of ancient ruins and told his mother stories of his experiences abroad. In Classic Literature, an employee was describing Thoreau’s majestic sketches of a New England Fall to a man who seemed to be salivating for such a literary feast.

I wandered around haphazardly, eavesdropping and browsing the shelves. Though it wasn’t quite a library, everybody kept their voices down and smiled at each other, like they were all in on the secret. They seemed very much a small society of booklovers in their place of worship, and I felt like a welcome guest.

I bought a few moleskins and a map of the United States. It wasn’t much, but it felt good to make any contribution. On my way out, I noticed a calendar marked with events. Every week had three or four authors coming in to lead discussions and sign books. I scribbled down a few dates and names and told myself that next time I’d bring my dog.

Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder, has recently opened up her own bookstore and taken advantage of her publicity to uphold the cause. After losing an independent bookstore she had cherished since childhood, Patchett decided to take matters into her own hands and recreate a literary sanctum for her community in Nashville, TN. She recognizes that the value of a bookstore is embodied in the community it creates (and visa versa).

Patchett wrote an article for The Atlantic, in which she tells us just how badly bookstores have suffered, and why there is still hope for them. “Now that we could order a book at any hour without having to leave the screen in front of us, we realized what we had lost: the community center, the human interaction, the recommendation of a smart reader rather than a computer algorithm.”

I agreed heartily before, but did not understand her distress until, like the woman I heard on the radio, Patchett began to wax prophetic. “I promised whoever was listening that from those very ashes, the small independent bookstore would arise.”

My experience in Porter Square was brief, but it was enough to make me understand why bookstores might be worth fighting for. Patchett finishes the interview with a plea to the consumer, and a resounding cry for book people to unite and make their voices heard over the cranking of Amazon’s assembly lines. “Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

Summer Reading: Asking Teens to ‘Own the Night’

May 23, 2012 in Literary News, Summer Fun, Summer Reading, YA Fiction

It seems like everyone feels nostalgia for school days-past during this fateful time leading into June. A time when we were given that final homework assignment: Summer Reading. Either a daunting or exciting task, depending on the student. For some kids it was an albatross preventing them from fully enjoying their summer camp adventures; for others, like me, it was a task just to wait to see which books were chosen. I would run to the local bookstore where the summer reading lists from nearby schools were displayed at the front of the store. I am not saying I always loved every book that was chosen, but reading each one was like unwrapping a present to find out what was inside. Some were the equivalent of a style sweater you would never wear, but you just had to open it to find out!

I’m interested in what “the kids” are reading “these days”. I pay attention partly out of curiosity and partly to get in ahead of the curve. After all, with the popularity among adults of young adult fiction such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, it seems that, for better or worse, teen readers are on to something.

This year, the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), in affiliation with libraries across the country, is giving teenagers an opportunity to ‘Own the Night.’ While students may not be able to avoid that assigned copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (C’mon guys, just give it a chance!), they can also be part of a program designed to encourage leisure reading in teens and young adults. The program is nationwide and a Google search of “Own the Night Summer Reading” pulls up library websites from Albuquerque to Boston and everywhere in between. While each library system is putting its own spin on the program to garner interest, the basic plan is the same:

The program runs roughly from June until August, targeting students entering grades 6-12, with a list of contemporary books involving creatures of the ‘night,’ including tales of zombies, vampires and other fantastical dystopian adventures. Books vary by library and different libraries are offering different incentives for participating.

The J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford, Massachusetts is offering raffle tickets in exchange for reading log entries; the more you read, the more chances you have to win prizes such as movie passes and gift certificates. The Jasper County Public Library in Indiana is offering cold hard cash with its “Books for Bucks” theme. The Gaston County Public Library in North Carolina is expanding its program to include a multitude of events: games, crafts and movie nights, as well as a “Gruesome Gala” where teens can dress as their favorite creature of the ‘night.’

With so many locations participating, make sure to check out your local library’s website for more information and don’t forget to pass the word along to the teenagers in your life. There are similar programs for younger children and adults as well. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and there is nothing quite like the joy of sitting in the sun with a good book. Whether you are a fan of the classics or in the mood for fifty shades of guilty pleasure, remember, summer reading doesn’t end with graduation. Whether you’re traveling to exotic places or venturing no further than your back porch, pick up a book and enjoy the trip.

World Book Night 2012

April 22, 2012 in Literary Festivals, Literary News

This Monday, April 23marks the first annual World Book Night in the United States.  Started in the UK last year, World Book Night is an extension of World Book Day, which is in its fifteenth year and is celebrated in over one hundred countries.  World Book Day was originally started by UNESCO and according to their website was conceived as “a worldwide tribute to books and their authors…encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and to gain a renewed respect for the extraordinary contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”  The date, April 23, was chosen in particular for its literary importance, as it marks the birth and/or death of many famous writers including Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.  The date also has historical significance, coinciding with St. George’s Day.  Fittingly, in Catalonia, Spain, the day is marked by the giving of roses and books to loved ones, with the incantation, “a rose for love and a book forever.”

Similarly to this beautiful tradition, the giving of books is the backbone of World Book Night, which is modeled after a World Book Day event in the UK, which sends “tokens” to schools –redeemable only on World Book Day for a free book at participating bookstores.  Started last year in the UK, World Book Night is a spin off of sorts, geared to adults, and while the moniker would suggest an after hours celebration, World Book Night is an all day event.  Instead of sending out tokens to schools, World Book Night relies on volunteers to act as “givers.”  The givers choose their favorites from the thirty titles selected to take part in the event; this year’s choices range from Maya Angelou’s classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to pop culture phenom The Hunger Games and 28 other titles with a variety appropriate for both older teens and adults.  The givers will receive twenty copies of one title and on April 23 will go out into their communities to give away the books free of charge.  The event is made possible through the generosity of volunteers, who give their time, but also the authors, who do not receive royalties, and the publishers and printers, who produce the books free of charge.

As the premise of World Book Night is to promote reading in adults who are not typically avid bibliophiles by nature, givers are expected to go to places off the beaten path for readers.  Instead of schools and libraries, they will set their sights on shopping malls and train stations.  One New Providence, NJ giver spread the word through The Alternative Press that they will be outside of a local Dunkin Donuts handing out copies of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Almost 80,000 givers have been secured world wide and will distribute 2.5 million books on Monday.  The United States makes up 25,000 of those generous volunteers, spread over 6,000 cities and towns.  While it is too late to get involved this year, visit the website and add your name to the mailing list so that during next year’s event you can personally help spread the literary love.  For now, remember, if you are out and about on April 23rd and see someone in front of your local coffee shop handing out books, smile, wave, and wish them a Good (World Book) Night!



Bram Stoker’s Legacy Lives On After Death

April 17, 2012 in Classic Literature, Gothic Literature, Literary News, Pop Culture, Travel to England, travel to Ireland, Vampires in Literature

Birthdays are not an occasion given much significance in vampire lore; it is death that denotes the beginning of a vampire’s immortality.  Therefore, it’s only fitting to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Irish author Bram Stoker, whose characterization of Dracula was the vampire who spawned all others.  Although he died one hundred years ago April 20th, much like Dracula, he lives on.

As nearly everyone knows, there’s no shortage of vampires in pop culture today–from Twilight to True Blood, readers cannot seem to get enough of the undead. Do we have Stoker to thank (or to blame) for the overwhelming popularity of the vampire in literature? Although the myth of the vampire dates back to the 15th century when Vlad the Impaler, son of Dracul, whose reputation for sadistic killings inspired the story, Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, is often regarded as the archetypal vampire novel.

Museum exhibits, interdisciplinary conferences and events honoring Stoker’s centenary are being held throughout the year all over the world, including Dublin (where Stoker was born and educated) London and Salt Lake City. Vampire-themed conference topics like “Vampires and/as Science” and “Bram Stoker and Gothic Transformations” will take place at Trinity College and the University of Hull, respectively. Trinity College will also hold a separate Bram Stoker Centenary Conference this summer which focuses on the life and writing of the author, who graduated from the school in 1870.

Fans of the vampire genre and Gothic era can to pay homage to Stoker by taking in the vampire themed cruise, Vamps at Sea.  The Alaskan cruise honoring Dracula and his contemporary fanged bedfellows sails roundtrip from Vancouver this summer.  Special guests on Holland America’s week long voyage include John Edgar Browning, an expert on vampire lore whose forthcoming book focuses on Dracula and vampires in visual culture.  C.J. Ellisson, author of contemporary vampire stories targeted to the over eighteen set, will also be on board.  (The cast of Ellisson’s VV Inn series would make even the palest Twilight vamp blush.)  Another fitting guest rumored to make an appearance is Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great-grandnephew.

At the World Horror Convention, held this past March 31st, the Horror Writers Association also honored Stoker’s memory by giving away the “Bram Stoker Vampire Novel of the Century Award.” Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I am Legend beat out Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire for the title.  Upon winning the award, Matheson indicated that he was influenced by Stoker’s novel and its film adaptation.  Of his first experience with Dracula he states that “even as a teenager, the thought occurred to me that if one vampire is scary, what if all the world were full of vampires?”  Now, more than ever, it appears that his question has been answered.  Vampires are inescapable in popular culture, and none more infamous than Stoker’s Dracula.  So on April 20th, sleep until dusk, avoid garlic and raise a glass of red wine to Mr. Stoker.  Although he may have died one hundred years ago, not even a stake to the heart can snuff out his legacy.



The National Book Awards Go Viral

November 16, 2011 in American literature, Literary Books 2011, Literary News

National Book AwardThe National Book Awards are a pretty big deal. They may not be as publicized as the Grammys or as glamorous as the Oscars, but on the American literary scene, there are few greater honors.

The National Book Award is given to writers by writers, recognizing the best of American literature since 1950. This coveted award has advanced the careers of both emerging and established authors, and many past winners have become staples of American literature, including William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Pynchon, Rachel Carson, and William Carlos Williams – just to name a few.

Each year, the National Book Foundation receives many entries, but to be eligible, a book must be written by an American citizen and published by an American publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year; no entry can be self-published. This year, 1,223 books were submitted to the foundation, which were then narrowed down to only twenty finalists, or five finalists per category: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. Judging each category are five reputable authors who are doing great work in their genre, and who are sometimes past finalists or winners themselves.

Although there has always been a ceremony to announce the winners of the award, for the first time in history, the 2011 award ceremony will be webcast live from New York City tonight at 8 pm EST.  There is no registration necessary: the broadcast will be featured on the foundation’s homepage, Here viewers can watch, in real time, the winners in each of the four categories accept their awards, and see Mitchell Kaplan (co-founder of Miami Book Fair International) and John Ashbery (National Book Award and Pulitzer-winning poet)  receive their lifetime achievement awards. If that’s not exciting enough, the host of the event will be John Lithgow, a talented author, actor, and musician who has written ten books and acted in films and television shows such as Dexter, the Shrek franchise, Terms of Endearment, and Dreamgirls.

This year boasts an incredibly talented group of finalists, all of whom are after the hefty $10,000 prize, a bronze sculpture, and the respect of writers and readers all over the country. These finalists are:

For Fiction:

–       Andrew Krivak,  HE SOJOURN (Bellevue Literary Press)
–       Téa Obreht, THE TIGER’S WIFE (Random House)
–       Julie Otsuka, THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC (Alfred A. Knopf)
–       Edith Pearlman, BINOCULAR VISION (Lookout Books)
–       Jesmyn Ward, SALVAGE THE BONES (Bloomsbury USA)

For Nonfiction:

–       Deborah Baker, THE CONVERT: A TALE OF EXILE AND EXTREMISM (Graywolf Press)
–       Mary Gabriel, LOVE AND CAPITAL: KARL AND JENNY MARX AND THE BIRTH OF A REVOLUTION (Little, Brown, and Company)
–       Stephen Greenblatt, THE SWERVE: HOW THE WORLD BECAME MODERN (W.W. Norton)
–       Manning Marable, MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION (Viking Press)

For Poetry:

–       Nikky Finney, HEAD OFF & SPLIT (TriQuarterly)
–       Yusef Komunyakaa, THE CHAMELEON COUCH (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
–       Carl Phillips, DOUBLE SHADOW (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
–       Adrienne Rich, TONIGHT NO POETRY WILL SERVE: POEMS 2007-2010 (W.W. Norton)
–       Bruce Smith, DEVOTIONS (University of Chicago Press)

For Young People’s Literature:

–       Franny Billingsley, CHIME (Dial Books)
–       Debby Dahl Edwardson, MY NAME IS NOT EASY (Marshall Cavendish)
–       Thanhha Lai,  INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN (Harper)
–       Gary D. Schmidt, OKAY FOR NOW (Clarion Books)

Tune in to the live feed now to see which four finalists walk away with the prize!

Jessica Hische Designs for Barnes & Noble Classics

July 4, 2011 in amazon kindle, Classic Writers, ereader review, European Writers, Literary News

Though I love paperbacks and adore my Kindle, there is nothing that feels quite as literary, quite as solid and impressive, as a leather-bound book. I’ll admit, my current collection is made primarily of used books and well-thumbed paperbacks, but I treasure the few nice books I own. Someday, I like to think, I’ll have floor-to-ceiling shelves, displaying a Hogwarts-esque collection of weighty old classics, covered in just the right amount of dust.

My library fantasies were recently reawakened when I stumbled across a collaboration between Brooklyn-based designer  Jessica Hische and Barnes & Noble. Working with art director Jo Obarowski, Hische created an exclusive series of covers for a collection of classic novels. The books, which are available only in Barnes & Noble stores and on their website, are very reasonably priced. For $63, you can get the entire boxed set, which includes a copy of Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Though I already own many of these books, I’m still considering getting Hische’s set—mainly because they’re so gorgeous. I am not an expert in typography, but even I can see that the fonts are truly wonderful; each one is clearly chosen to fit the subject matter within. For example, the cover for Dracula is done in a vivid red and black, dripping blood and decorated with creeping vines that morph into batwings, rather than the expected three-pointed ivy leaves. In contrast, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn brings to mind a vintage fairground flier. Cattails extend from the sunburst corners and little leafy tendrils underline each carefully-set letter. The titles are in turn eerie and spectacular, whimsical and romantic.

A quick look through Hische’s portfolio shows that this isn’t unusual for the designer. Under her hand, letters don’t look like stark symbols, but individual pieces of art. We are so surrounded by the written word that it no longer feels at all miraculous (after all, a highway sign rarely evokes emotion, much less a feeling of admiration for the chosen font), but projects like this serve as a reminder that this doesn’t have to be the case. Books were once hard to come by, and letters were once treated with a sacred and artistic respect.

Leaving aside for a moment my personal bibliophile tendencies, I have to point out that this box set would make a perfect gift for a recent graduate—particularly if that newly minted scholar happened to major in English. Or you could consider them the first step toward the creation of your own perfect library, which is precisely what I plan to do.

J.D. Salinger at Ursinus College Reports the NY Times

March 22, 2011 in American literature, J.D. Salinger, Literary News

Curtis Hall

Even after his death, everyone still wants a piece of J.D. Salinger.  As the New York Times reports Ursinus College has attempted many times to lure its most famous alum back to the college.  A literary festival, an honorary degree.  And all to no avail.  While Salinger was still alive, the college made one last attempt: a J.D. Salinger creative writing scholarship.

Not a shock to anyone who knows Salinger’s reclusive ways, the author’s literary representatives wrote to Ursinus, instructing them to remove their client’s name.  Again, the university was out of luck.  Then they came up with the name the Ursinus College Creative Writing Award, but it’s unofficially called “Not the J.D. Salinger Scholarship.”

The award recipient (an incoming freshman) sleeps in 300 Curtis Hall, Salinger’s old dorm room, her/his freshman year.  The room is pretty small, but a great honor.

Find out if the award winners enjoy the room, what they do in the room and if they are Salinger fans in J.D. Salinger Slept Here (But Don’t Tell Anyone).

For more reading on J.D. Salinger, please read Holden Caulfield in Winter Manhattan.

Will Literary Colin Firth Win the Oscar?

February 25, 2011 in British literature, Literary Movies 2011, Literary News

Colin Firth / Nicogenin, CC LicenseColin Firth is certainly a handsome brooder.  He’s made his mark on literary television when he played the always brooding Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  For those of us–especially the ladies–who remember this epic series in 1995, we all remember Colin Firth’s scene stealing dark glares.

Firth has made quite a bit of money off of the literary.  In fact, he played the modern version of Mr. Darcy as the character of Mark Darcy, a lawyer from a well-established, British family, in Bridget Jones’ Diary.  The movie was a modern and quirky adaption of Pride and Prejudice.  Firth then continued his literary movie success acting in hits such as Shakespeare in Love, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dorian Gray and A Christmas Carol.

For anyone who has seen Colin Firth in his latest movie, The King’s Speech, you’re probably not surprised to hear he’s a favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actor.  The King’s Speech is not exactly literary, but it is historical.  It keeps in line with Firth’s career, which is to put quality over anything else.

So what do you think, will Colin Firth win the Oscar?

Derek Walcott Wins TS Eliot Prize for Poetry

January 28, 2011 in Caribbean Writers, Classic Writers, Literary News, Literary Traveler Poetry

Omerta-ve / Wikipedia / CC LicenseJust this past week, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott won Britain’s most prestigious award for poetry, the TS Eliot prize.  He won for his poetry collection White Egrets, which meditates on aging and dying.

White Egrets was published after Walcott suffered from allegations that he sexually harassed two female students at Harvard University.  One of the students alleges that Walcott said, “Imagine me making love to you.  What would I do?” (The Independent).  Walcott says he was a victim of a smear campaign because, at the time, he was up for the highly regarded Oxford Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.  He eventually dropped out of the race.

Walcott hails from the Caribbean, from the island of St. Lucia, the setting for White Egrets.  The poet chose to celebrate his 81st birthday on St. Lucia, instead of traveling to London to accept his award.  In Walcott’s absence, Anne Stevenson, a judge for the TS Eliot prize, described his collection as a, “moving, risk-taking and technically flawless book by a great poet” (The Independent).

To continue this celebration, please enjoy our LT article entitled The Helen of the West Indies: Derek Walcott’s St. Lucia.

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