Dracula by Bram Stoker, Irish (1847-1912)
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW VAMPIRES?
The first thing you need to know about vampires is that they are “undead”! That’s right; these evil beings hover between this life and the next, sucking the blood from live victims, and turning them into vampires. Vampires sleep in their coffins between sunup and sundown. At night, they take the form of other creatures, especially bats and wolves, roaming the countryside for hapless victims. They do not eat human food, hate garlic, Christian crosses, and are powerless in sunlight. A vampire can only be destroyed by plunging a stake through its heart and cutting off its head–not an easy task.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, Russian (1828-1910)
Who among us is not afraid of death? We spend our days working, buying, selling, and hoarding goods to give our lives meaning and permanence. We know we will eventually die, but we ignore the fact. We think that if we avoid the word “death,” we can escape the inevitable. So, we describe death as “demise,” “passed on,” or “passed away,” telling our bereaved friends, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Not Tolstoy!
On the first page of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy announces, “Ivan Ilyich is dead!” His statement shocks us, sinks into our reluctant brains: We know how the story ends before it begins. So…why read such a morbid story? Can Ivan possibly have a happy ending? Perhaps. It depends on your interpretation of happiness. The story has, however, a realistic ending. It is an intimate, touching, and sometimes terrifying self-analysis of one man’s journey from vibrant health to incurable illness, self-pity to acceptance, and finally, from life to death. In Tolstoy’s short novel, three themes interest me: the hypocrisy, greed, and lack of empathy exhibited by Ivan’s work colleagues, doctors, and family. Even Ivan, as he analyzes his life, recognizes these human weaknesses in himself. Continue reading
NOVEL: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, American (1926 – Present)
“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
Imagine my surprise to learn that Harper Lee, the author of one of the greatest 20th century American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, is to publish a new book, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14th, 2015. It has been 55 years since Lee wrote a novel about the racism she observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nelle Harper Lee was the youngest of four children. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a lawyer with the Alabama State Legislature. Lee’s father once defended two African-American men (a father and son) accused of killing a storekeeper: they were tried by a jury, found guilty, and hanged. Clearly, this event had an impact on Harper Lee, for she followed in her father’s footsteps, studying law at The University of Alabama. However, she did not complete her law degree but moved to New York, obtained a job with an airline, and started writing fiction in her spare time. She published To Kill a Mockingbird in July 1960. It became an immediate bestseller, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. After her success as a writer, she assisted Truman Capote, her childhood friend (whom she based the character Dill on in Mockingbird), in researching material for his book In Cold Blood. Lee never published another book, making the upcoming publication of Go Set a Watchman next Tuesday very exciting. Continue reading
NOVEL: Persuasion by Jane Austen, English, (1775-1817)
I have been a fervent Jane Austen fan since I was thirteen years old. By eighteen, I had read all of Austen’s novels, her juvenilia, published letters, and even some biographies. Then came the decades of rereading Jane’s works with relish, exploring the many prequels, sequels, and variations by modern authors, and watching every movie adaptation of Austen’s novels.
Persuasion is one of my three favorite Austen novels. Although I consider Emma her masterpiece for its maturity and complex plot, and love Pride & Prejudice for its sparkling wit and intelligence, Persuasion is, for me, Jane Austen’s most authentically romantic novel. With its theme of renewal, it is a story of second chances – love lost, and love regained: Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s love story is one for the ages. Continue reading
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, French (1935-2004)
I have just finished reading Bonjour Tristesse, an incredible novel, written by Françoise Sagan when she was only eighteen. She failed her exams at the Sorbonne and decided to write a book instead. The book received instant international acclaim, and by 1959 it had sold 850,000 copies. It has since been translated into many languages and is a “must” for readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories. I first discovered this novel when I was twenty-five and have reread it every five years. Continue reading
Filed under France, NOVEL