Category Archives: Books

Novels That Are Remakes of Classic Novels

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIf you have ever watched 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), a romantic comedy set at Padua High featuring a rebellious, bossy, snarky teenage girl (Kat Stratford) who intimidates most boys, you begin to recognize the plot. Hey, didn’t William Shakespeare write a play like this? And the answer is yes, since this film is a remake or modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, written four centuries earlier (1590-92). Adaptations also happen in the literary world. Here are some modern novels that are remakes of classic novels:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang – Ulysses by James Joyce

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – Snow White by The Brothers Grimm

Dorian, An Imitation by Will SelfThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare

Brazil by John Updike – Tristan and Isolde, a Celtic legend from the 12th Century

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For further reading: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/5-books-didnt-know-remakes/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/6-modern-adaptations-of-classic-novels/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_modernized_adaptations_of_old_works


What Book Should Every Student Read in 2018?

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year in the United States, there are 600,000 to 1 million books published each year. Of those, about 50% are self-published titles that sell less than 250 copies. So the book lover’s dilemma — what should I read? — is quite a challenge. But no need to pore over countless book reviews, book blogs, and best-seller lists — why not ask the smartest people on the planet: college professors. The bibliophiles at Business Insider (who knew?) recently asked the brilliant professors at Harvard University: what one book should every student read in 2018? Here are their recommendations.

EJ Corey, organic chemist: Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun. Janet Napolitano, president of University of California writes: “[Aoun’s] book is a thought-provoking analysis of our technology –infused world and higher education’s place in it. Far from fearing the dislocation caused by the increased use of robots and the development of AI, Aoun offers an optimistic, practical view of what higher education can do to prepare the next generation. Anyone interested in higher-education policy will greatly benefit from this cogent, persuasively written work.”

Claudia Goldin, economic historian and labor economist: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “There is no better novel I know about how women (and I don’t mean just Anna) – elite, intelligent, educated – are ignored, oppressed, and have little legal recourse. Women are the caregivers, the empathetic. They hold society together and provide salvation even as the priests take the credit.”

Stephen Greenblatt, English professor: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Incidentally, this book is one of the most popular books assigned as summer reading for incoming freshmen at over 70 colleges in America. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to defend those need it most: the indigent, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the byzantine and Kafkaesque criminal justice system. Author John Grisham compares it to the timeless legal classic To Kill A Mocking Bird: “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.” Ted Conniver, from The New York Times Book Review, adds: “You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man… The message of this book… is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”

Steven Pinker, psychology professor: The Internationalists: How A Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro: [The authors] explain the decline of interstate war and conquest [via]… the Kellogg-Briand Paris Peace Pact of 1927, which declared war illegal… [The] book presents a sweeping vision of the international scene, making sense of many developments in the news and recent history.”

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For further reading:https://www.businessinsider.com/harvard-university-professors-book-recommendations-2017-12
https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2013/01/08/thinking-of-self-publishing-your-book-in-2013-heres-what-you-need-to-know/#2132763e14bb


Famous Authors Who Were Rejected by Publishers

alex atkins bookshelf books“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat,” observed American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. That’s great advice for an aspiring writer who will most likely face his or her share of rejection slips from publishers and agents. And Fitzgerald should know. His timeless classic, The Great Gatsby, was rejected by several publishers. One publisher had the audacity to write this preposterous note: “You’d have a decent book if you ‘d get rid of that Gatsby chapter.” WTF? Did he or she read the entire manuscript? Another famous American author, L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wizard of Oz novels, received so many rejection slips he kept them in a journal that he titled “A Record of Failure.” But in the final analysis, persistence pays off. Consider the sea of rejection slips that young authors — who are now famous and highly regarded — once received at the beginning of their writing careers. Recall the famous proverb introduced by American educator Thomas H. Palmer’s Teacher’s Manual: Being an Exposition of and Efficient and Economical System of Education Suited to the Wants of a Free People (1840): “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women was rejected by several publishers. One publisher completely dismissed the novel, penning this advice: “Stick to teaching.”

Anne Frank: The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected by 15 publishers.

William Golding: Lord of the Flies was rejected by 20 publishers.

Joseph Heller: Catch-22 was rejected by 22 publishers. One publisher wrote: ““I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.”

Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises was rejected by many publishers. One publisher wrote: “If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive. You really are a man’s man, aren’t you?…Your bombastic, dipsomaniac, where-to-now characters had me reaching for my own glass of brandy.”

Frank Herbert: Dune was rejected by 20 publishers.

James Joyce: Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers.

Stephen King: Carrie was rejected by 30 publishers.

Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers.

Herman Melville: Moby-Dick was rejected by many publishers. One publisher wrote: “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?… For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?”

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind was rejected by 40 publishers.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita was rejected by many publishers. Sometimes publishers can be really mean; check out this rejection note: “overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian… the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream… I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

George Orwell: Animal Farm was rejected by 4 publishers. One of those publishers was Faber & Faber, where T.S. Eliot worked. Eliot wrote the now famous rejection letter: “we have no conviction (and I am sure none of other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time… Your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm — in fact, there couldn’t have been an animal farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.” Another publisher wrote: “There is no market for animal stories in the USA.”

James Patterson: The Thomas Berryman Number (the first in the Alex Cross series) was rejected by 31 publishers.

Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishers.

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected by 12 publishers.

Kathryn Stockett: The Help was rejected by 60 agents. Stockett wrote: ““In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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Daily Rituals of Writers: Herman Melville

atkins-bookshelf-literatureAmerican novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891), best known for writing Moby-Dick (or The Whale), wrote six to eight hours a day. It took Melville 18 months to write Moby-Dick. In September 1850, Melville had purchased a 160-acre farm, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from his father-in-law for $3,000. In this remote, bucolic setting, he learned how to balance writing with farm life. In a letter (dated December 1850) to a friend, Melville wrote: “I rise at eight — thereabouts — and go to my barn [where I feed my horse]… Then, pay a visit to my cow [and feed her]…. My own breakfast over, I go to my work-room and light my fire — then spread my manuscript on the table… take one business squint at it, and fall to with a will. At 2:30 PM I hear a preconcerted knock at my door, which (by request) continues till I rise and go to the door, which serves to wean me effectively from my writing, however interested I may be.” He goes on to describe how he spent most evenings: feeding the horse and cow, eating dinner, and taking his sisters and mother on a sleigh ride to the nearby village. When he returned home he spent time “skimming over some large-printed book” since he was too tired to read.

Incidentally, students of American literature know that Melville’s magnum opus, Moby-Dick, about man’s epic struggle with evil was a commercial failure when it was first published in 1851. The 600-page book sold only 3,215 copies in America; he earned about $1,259. Melville died in 1891, and it took about 100 years, specifically the 1919 centennial of his birth, for literary critics and scholars to discover his works. This critical reassessment of his work (known as the “Melville Revival) finally established Melville in the pantheon of America’s greatest writers and recognized Moby-Dick as a classic of American literature and certainly one of the Great American Novels. Today, a first edition of Moby-Dick is worth more than $60,000 and the novel has sold millions of copies.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Daily Rituals of Writers: Truman Capote
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For further reading: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey (2013)
http://www.melville.org/earnings.htm


God and Freedom are Totally Antipathetic Concepts

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“God and freedom are totally antipathetic concepts; and men believe in their imaginary gods most often because they are afraid to believe in the other thing [free will]. I am old enough now to realize they do sometimes with good reason. But I stick by the general principle, and that is what I meant to be at the heart of my story [The Magus]: that true freedom lies between each two [God/divine intervention and rational free will], never in one alone, and therefore it can never be absolute freedom. All freedom, even the most relative, may be a fiction; but mine, and still today, prefers the other hypothesis.”

From the Foreword to The Magus by British author and intellectual John Fowles. Fowles worked on the novel for 12 years and continued to revise it after publication. The Magus is considered a modern classic, ranked in the Modern Library 100 Best Novels (1999) and the BBC’s The Big Read (2003). In his review of The Magus, The New York Times critic Eliot Fremont-Smith heaps lavish praise on Fowles’ magnum opus: “The Magus is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical… No summary can convey accurately the sense of this extraordinary book. It is original and contemporary; it is intelligent… It is a marvelous, compelling novel, of a kind that doesn’t come around very often.”

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Read related posts: John Fowles on The French Lieutenant’s Woman
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For further reading: The Magus by John Fowles
http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/bigread/top100.shtml
https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/31/specials/fowles-magus1.html


Endangered Species: The Handwritten Note and Letter

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIf you ask a young person (Gen X – Z), “Did you send a handwritten thank you note?” they look at you as if you just asked them to take their smart phone and dunk it in a glass of water — “WTF?”  Those who are part of older generations remember the simpler times — you know: before cell phones, email, instant messaging, and social media — when people actually took the time to send handwritten notes and letters, written from the heart, to one another. Biographers know that without archives of personal correspondence, many of the notable people in history would remain largely unknown or not fully understood in the context of their time and relationships.

But there are those who refuse to believe that the handwritten note is a dead — perhaps an endangered species, but certainly not extinct. Enter Margaret Shepherd, a calligrapher and author of The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication. Particularly in the Age of Google, when most if not all communication is digital, the handwritten note or letter is more precious and more appreciated than ever before.

“The handwritten note,” observes Shepherd, “has so many virtues that you ought to reach for pen and paper first, before you pick up the phone or move the mouse. In contrast to a phone call, a handwritten note doesn’t arrive demanding to be read when you’ve just sat down to dinner; it courteously lets you know who sent it even before you open it… And in contrast to email, a handwritten note looks beautiful and feels personal; you won’t get an electronic virus from opening a handwritten note nor find a list of last week’s lamebrained jokes. You can still write a note by candlelight when your electricity fails, and mail your note while your server is down. The handwritten note has been around for hundreds of years, and it’s not going to die out just because some of its everyday functions have been taken over by email and voice mail. Adapting to the needs of every fresh generation, it continues to connect people. In fact, a handwritten note is even more vital now than it was a few years ago because it’s less routinely used. A note in the mail brightens a dreary landscape of junk mail, form letters, and prefabricated greeting cards, and it shines through a virtual blizzard of abrupt digital memos and disembodied voice chat. When a handwritten note comes in the mail, people pay special attention to what it says. It announces beyond a doubt that reader really matters to you. Your handwriting insures that your words will be read and thought about in a way that can’t be mimicked by print, email, or voice. Handwritten notes are not going to die out, because people still love to receive them and they value each note more as they receive fewer of them.”

Shepherd believes that beyond being rare, the handwritten note has the ability to enhance a message and make a lasting impression on the recipient: “[A handwritten note] upgrades a wide variety of messages, transforming ‘Oops’ into ‘Please accept my apology,’ and ‘Got the money’ into ‘Thank you for your generosity.’ Ink on paper is still the classiest way to express the thoughts that really matter, on the occasions that really count. And sometimes it’s the only way; your words will carry sympathy and gratitude with a special kind of sincerity when your reader sees them on paper in your writing… It says to the reader, ‘You matter to me, I thought of you, I took [time] on your behalf, here’s who I am, I’ve been thinking of you in the days since this was mailed… The reader can reread what you sent and save it and think good thoughts about you.”

Writing a handwritten note also helps you become a better writer. Shepherd elaborates: “[The] handwritten note does more than inspire the reader who reads it it inspires the writer who writes it. Your words not only look better when you write them, but the act of writing them enables you to choose better words. You’ll probably be pleasantly and mysteriously surprised to find that the flowing line of pen and ink lets you express yourself in ways that key tapping just doesn’t allow.” One is reminded of the memorable tagline that appears on the cover of the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition): “You are Your Words. Make the Most of Them.” Amen.

Finally, Shepherd believes that a handwritten note is inspiring art form: “Corresponding on paper lets you elevate a simple pleasure into an art form. And art has always survived technology. A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Handwritten notes will add a lot to your life. You can still use the telephone or the Web for the daily chores of staying in touch, but for the words that matter, it’s courteous, classy, caring, and civilized to pick up a pen.”

OK. I know what you are thinking: “What if I don’t know what to write?” or “Sometimes I am not sure what to write during difficult times (eg, illness, death, divorce, etc.). No worries. You can turn to the perfect companion books written by etiquette experts: Just A Note to Say… The Perfect Words for Every Occasion by Florence Isaacs or Personal Notes: How to Write From the Heart for Any Occasion by Sandra Lamb. These small books offer hundreds of suggestions for all of life’s major occasions, the happy and the sad, to help you get started in writing meaningful notes.

So the next time you want to express your gratitude or your concern for someone, put down your smartphone or step away from your computer, pick up a pen, and write a handwritten note — surprise someone with the precious gift of your thoughts. Undoubtedly, it will bring a smile to their face and a profound sense of gratitude and affection as they read it and think of you.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Edgar Allan Poe’s Love Letter
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For further reading: The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd
Just A Note to Say… The Perfect Words for Every Occasion by Florence Isaacs
Personal Notes: How to Write From the Heart for Any Occasion by Sandra Lamb


Each Rereading of a Book is Unique Because We Have Changed

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Emerson said that a library is a magic chamber in which there are many enchanted spirits. They wake when we call them. When the book lies unopened, it is literally, geometrically, a volume, a thing among things. When we open it, when the book surrenders itself to its reader, the aesthetic event occurs. And even for the same reader the same book changes, for the change; we are the river of Heraclitus, who said that the man of yesterday is not the man of today, who will not be the man of tomorrow. We change incessantly, and each reading of a book, each rereading, each memory of that rereading, reinvents the text. The text too is the changing river of Heraclitus.”

From Seven Nights, a collection of seven lectures, that Argentine poet, short-story writer, and literary critic Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) delivered in Buenos Aires between June and August 1977. During the lecture series, Borges shared his profound and thought-provoking insights on Dante’s The Divine Comedy, nightmares, Buddhism, The Thousand and One Nights, poetry, The Kabbalah, and blindness. Borges’s father was a lawyer and aspiring writer who owned an incredible library of more than 1,000 books. Borges was home schooled up to the age of 11 and enjoyed exploring the treasures in his father’s library. By the age of 12 he had read most of Shakespeare’s works. Reflecting upon his education, Borges said, “If I were asked to name the chief event in my life, I should say my father’s library.” Borges was very near-sighted all his life. Sadly by the age of 29, Borges began losing his eyesight due to cataracts. Operations help extend his eyesight, but it deteriorated gradually over the years. Twenty years later he had lost vision in one eye and the other eye was barely functional. When he was 55 he fell during a walk that caused retinal detachment in his good eye. After an operation, Borges could see a little, but soon he was completely blind. In his thirties, Borges began his career as a public lecturer, and since he was losing his eyesight, he would write his lectures and commit them to memory. Alastair Reid notes, “Yet the obligation to memorize his material did Borges a great service, for, as his blindness encroached, he was at the same time memorizing a considerable private library of reference and quotation. Asked a question now, he will pause, as though riffling through bookshelves in his head, and come up with a verse from one of his essential texts, and idiosyncratic collection familiar to his readers.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges
https://www.benjamineye.com/blog/why-did-borges-go-blind/


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