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Cover Blurb:  “Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society BookSweet but never boring.  Intense but never overdone.  Inspiring but never preaching.  Loving but never raunchy.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a rare novel, one that comes into our life without a sound, but leaves having made an imprint on our soul.

Such an odd, cumbersome title, and one that may have never appealed to me personally except Random House professionals, Susan Kamil, SVP, Editor-in-Chief, and Jane Von Mehren, VP, Publisher, Trade Paperbacks, came to my NYU SPI class to share their experience and the road to success.  This title is globally recognized as this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller List since publication in 2008 (read the inside story of how it achieved such fame in my column on Beneath the Cover, “The Making of a Bestseller”).  Small in stature (the trade paperback a mere 274 pages), this book may initially be cast-off as a whimsical historical fiction novel until you try to put it down… I dare you to leave it untouched for a full 24-hours once you’ve begun.

The characters are lively, quirky, and lovable as they communicate via hand-written letters in 1946, as they rediscover themselves and their world post the trauma and impact of World War II.  You find yourself wanting novelist Juliet Ashton as your own pen pal and quiet Dawsey Adams as a neighbor.  Twists and turns are discrete and natural so that you almost don’t realize when a revelation occurs and the impact in the character’s life.

This novel celebrates people who love books and the written word.  Text, language and history are embraced within remarkable friendships.

Though the era has passed, issues of love, hope, and the kindness of the human spirit will always be timeless and this book (I wager) is destined to become a classic alongside the titles of the authors celebrated in the text, including the Brontes, Austen, Shakespeare, etc… This book  appeals to a wide audience, as it is told from multiple perspectives allowing a glimpse into different psyches.  I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote, above, to give yourself the gift of this book.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A
  • Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Publisher: Random House

Everytime I endeavor to clean my room I get frustrated with the post-its I find, scribbled with some piece of an author’s name or book title.  Thinking there has to be a better way to keep track of books, I discovered (shout-out to my friend Kyle!) the Shelfari system.

Preview of NovelWhore's Shelfari shelf

Preview of NovelWhore's Shelfari shelf

“The Site for Books & Readers”, Shelfari offers a social networking component (don’t judge me for not having any friends yet!), as well as book rankings, reviews, and a way to keep track of what yourself and other users are currently reading, have read, or plan to read in the future.

I’m not even going to attempt to add the books I’ve read in the past, but starting from today, April 3, 2009, I am determined to keep my digital library up-to-date with titles I’m currently enjoying (eight at the moment) and plan to read in the future.  My public bookshelf is available at http://www.shelfari.com/novelwhore, or by clicking the link “NovelWhore’s Digital Bookshelf” to the left side of my blog.

So peruse the site, join, build your library and “friend” me!

A half-century length career in book publishing is my dream, and Jason Epstein is the icon and achiever of this goal.

Epstein is kind enough to expel his knowledge and experience of the publishing industry in his professional memoir, Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future.  While catered toward the niche group of people interested in book publishing, this is also a wonderful tale of history and the way relationships with books have evolved throughout the 1900s.

This iconic career began when Epstein stumbled across an editorial position

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

Epstein sharing his knowledge in 2009

with Doubleday in his early 20s (and I do mean stumbled, he claims to have known nothing about publishing at the time when the opportunity was offered him), during which he repeatedly said he was ready to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice, though he ended up staying there a decade.  Within that decade he was the man responsible for the invention of Anchor Books – the imprint responsible for the “quality paperback” book, which made literature more affordable for the masses as opposed to the superior quality, expensive hard cover novels.

After that success, Epstein moved over to Random House, now the world’s largest trade publisher.  When Epstein first made the career transition Random House was a family-style business located within the wing of one New York mansion, in which he tells tales of famous authors delivering manuscripts in slippers and spending the night on couches (and not always alone!).

Epstein is a big-picture businessman.  Able to look at book publishing from the editorial and quality of literature angle, as well as the ability to envision new venues for sales and marketing, he is a man I would trust to carry a book from conception to success.

Responsible for numerous advances in the publishing industry throughout his career, Epstein was among the first to embrace the online retail giant in its struggling years, Amazon (ironically he found fault with Amazon’s business model, which has boomed since the publication of this memoir in 2001).  This enlightening book, surprisingly small in statue considering the wealth of information contained within, cites book publishing to be on the edge of a vast transformation, in which I see future opportunities without bounds.

Since this publication, Epstein has capitalized on some of his own visions mentioned.

Espresso Book Machine - visit ondemandbooks.com

Espresso Book Machine: ondemandbooks.com

In 2004, he launched “OnDemandBooks.”  With yet another invention on his repertoire, the “Espresso Book Machine” is available at locations throughout the United States, Canada and England for on-demand, affordable printing of books

Read this if: You’re interested in hearing  a behind the scenes tale from a publishing great, and how the industry has changed in a mere 50 years and the how the transformation may continue.

Avoid this if: You’re looking for a raucous tale filled with gossip and dirt on some of the most respected authors.  This is not a tell-all, but a memoir of an accomplished career.

  • Title: Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future
  • Author: Jason Epstein
  • Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
"Summer of George" book club taking a break from intellectual discussion

"Summer of George" book club taking a break from intellectual discussion

I don’t knit (though I wish I could), but I do belong to a semi-monthly book club, a concept that also sounds rather old lady-ish.  “Summer of George” (named after a random Seinfeld episode, no one seems to be able to remember why we call ourselves that) has been together since last November, and in the four months since have managed to find time to in our busy lives to get together and have intellectual discussions.

In reality, I think the eight of us (missing two from the picture above) gather together to eat freshly baked goods, drink wine, catch up on each others live, gossip (the media really needs to leave Jessica Simpson alone on her weight issue), and then manage to find time to discuss our latest book, aka intellectual discussion.

The January-February novel we tackled was a pretty heavy choice – “Blindness” by Jose Saramago, the 1998 winner of the Nobel prize, the highest award in literature.  Before reading the book, I was remembering how when I was younger my friends and I used to play “blind” – where we would take turns putting on a blindfold and leading each other around a store, house, etc. to see what it would be like.  That innocent attempt at living without sight seems so trivial when faced with a book that brings up an unspeakable epidemic.

I am struggling with how to review this book – it is an epic novel and an extraordinary view on humanity, both from the aspect of just how low people can stoop, as well as the ability to survive against all odds.  Saramago takes us to a place full of horror and the degradation of society.  While even in the midst of the loss of all dignity and material things, generosity and finding beauty in the spirit of others still manages to exist.

Taking place in an unnamed city, country, that could feasibly be anywhere, one man is suddenly struck by a “white blindness. ” Opposite the idea of darkness typically associated with the blind, this affliction leaves leaves people with whiteness, as if they “were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea.”  The government tries to contain this epidemic by putting the first few hundred people struck blind into an ancient mental asylum facility to fend for themselves, with no leadership, health care or seeing eyes – except one.  The reader is aware that the “doctor’s wife” still has her sight (beyond all reason), though she claimed blindness to be quarantined with her husband.  This knowledge is privy to few, and eventually to a sort of rag-tag family unit that she leads out of quarantine, into a city in which every other person is blind, searching for food in the midst of human excretement and utter filth.

There are bonds forged in this novel, between characters who are never named or given much in the way of physical descriptions.  Through the shared humiliation of rape by a gang of blind renegade men, to the sharing of what little food is had, to the loss of life that was known before, the characters survive in an example of camaraderie and survival not to be rivaled by many other stories. The people are turned into animals by circumstance.

This was not an easy book to read.  It gets very dense in the middle, discussing survival and the more tactile problems like overflowing bathrooms (this book mentions bodily functions more than necessary, I believe) and simply all the menial aspects that become so important when unable to see.  I also tend to be a stickler for traditional grammar, and Saramago throws the MLA book out the window.  Run-on sentences with few dialogue indicators make this a book you have to stay actively involved with and can’t just ingest without putting forth intense focus and concentration.

I almost wonder if I am not a deep enough person to truly understand and appreciate this book.  While not a page turner that I was compelled to finish in one night, I have found myself reflecting on this novel in the days since I read it.   I would suggest this be a book you read with a discussion outlet available, I appreciated it more with the feedback from the other book club girls.

Alright my mini book report here needs to come to an end.  I will come back and edit this post as soon as I get around to watching the movie-tie in that just came out on DVD – Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore are in it, so pretty big names means it must be a decent movie?  I am curious as to how all the filth and violence will be portrayed, not to mention the struggles the actors must have faces pretending to be blind.blindness

  • Title: Blindness
  • Author: Jose Saramago
  • Publisher: Harcourt
  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Reading Enjoyment: C
  • NovelWhore’s Grade, Memorability & Impact: A

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