Literary Travels

You don’t need to leave the library.

English-speaking writers sometimes choose other countries to set their stories.

Japan — Arthur Golden “Memoirs Of A Geisha”

MemoirsOfAGeishaA historical novel by American writer Arthur Golden was published in 1997. The novel, told in first person perspective, tells the story of a fictional geisha working in Kyoto, before and after World War II.

At the age of nine, Chiyo Sakamoto is taken from her poverty-stricken fishing village of Yoroido on the coast of the Sea of Japan with her older sister and sold to an okiya (geisha boarding house) in Gion, the most prominent geisha district in Kyoto.

Why travel? To explore one of the most intriguing and ambigious subcultures.

France — Joanne Harris “Chocolat”

“Chocolat” (1999) tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a young single mother, who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with her six-year-old daughter, Anouk. Vianne has arrived to open a chocolaterie — La Céleste Praline — which is on the square opposite the church. During the traditional season of fasting and self-denial; she gently changes the lives of the villagers who visit her with a combination of sympathy, subversion and a little magic.9788415945154

Harris has indicated that several of the characters were influenced by individuals in her life: Her daughter forms the basis for the young Anouk, including her imaginary rabbit, Pantoufle. Harris’ strong-willed and independent great-grandmother influenced her portrayal of both Vianne and the elderly Armande.

Why travel? Fairy-tale fiction with wonderful smells. And chocolate is good for your brain!

Holland — Jessie Burton, “The Miniaturist”

91j7w+EJXvL“The Miniaturist” is the 2014 debut novel of English actress and author Jessie Burton. An international bestseller, it was the focus of a publishers bidding war at the 2013 London Book Fair.

Set in Amsterdam in 1686/7, the novel was inspired by Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house on display at the Rijksmuseum. It does not otherwise attempt to be a biographical novel.

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Petronella Oortman’s doll’s hou

Petronella (Nella) Oortman, a poor 18-year-old girl from the Dutch countryside, arrives at the Golden Bend home in Amsterdam of the wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt, who married her a month earlier. She steps into a house of secrets held by Brandt’s ascetic sister Marin, the servants Cornelia and Otto, and Brandt himself, who treats her more like a friend than a wife. Brandt gives her a wedding present of a dollhouse designed to look like their nine-story home in miniature, and she engages the services of a local miniaturist to add realistic furnishings to it.

Burton, who had studied English literature at the University of Oxford before embarking on an acting career, wrote the novel over a period of four years whilst supporting herself as an actress. She came up with the idea while on holiday in Amsterdam, where she viewed Petronella Oortman’s doll house at the Rijksmuseum, and undertook extensive research on 17th-century Amsterdam, studying books, cookbooks, Dutch Golden Age paintings, maps, and wills. 

Why travel? If you have a doll house, you can pretend to be a God.

Ukraine — Jonathan Safran Foer “Everything Is Illuminated”

EverythingIsIlluminatedThe first novel by the American writer, published in 2002. The book’s writing and structure received critical acclaim for the manner in which it switches between two stories, both of which are autobiographical. One of them is the fictionalized history of the eradicated town of Trochenbrod (Trachimbrod), a real exclusively Jewish shtetl in Poland before the Holocaust where the author’s mother was born; while the second narrative encompasses Foer’s trip to Ukraine in search for the remnants and memories of Trachimbrod as well

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Trochenbrod Post Office

The real town of Trochenbrod (Polish: Zofiówka) was an exclusively Jewish shtetl located in the Wołyń Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic before the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland. After the German attack on the Soviet positions, a Jewish ghetto was established at Trochenbrod for local residents including those from nearby villages.

Why travel? Because memory is important, because past is future.

Portugal Yann Martel “The High Mountains Of Portugal”

 

51JrSffcd6L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_A 2016 novel by Canadian author is split into three sections, each of which concerns a widower.

Spreading its action over the course of the 20th century, “The High Mountains of Portugal” probes the tender center of grief: each of its three sections follows the fallout that results from the death of a man’s wife.

Yann Martel: “The High Mountains of Portugal have no mountains, as various characters in the novel discover. And yet these characters have aspirations; they wish to climb mountains. And they do. Tomás wants to climb a mountain to conquer it, out of pride, hurt, mournful madness. Peter quite contentedly lives on a mountain, in a state of blessed detachment”.

Why travel? Through times and countries we all have the same troubles. And, besides,  it’s warm in Portugal.

Materials from New York times , Wikipedia,

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The European And American Gothic Fiction

The word “gothic” in connection with literature is usually associated with the combination of horror and romance. The term is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) “A Gothic Story”. Gothic fiction grew from romantic literature of the second part of the 18th century. So yes, these are mysterious, blood-curding, the-dark-and-stormy-night stories, but they attract the reader brining a strange kind of pleasure for him. Very often we think of them as of fairy-tales for grown-ups. Here’s what a reader can find on the Britich Book Centre shelves:

 

There are many characteristics in Southern Gothic Literature that relate back to its parent genre of American Gothic and even to European Gothic. American Gothic literature began in the 19th century, with short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Nathaniel Hawthorne also writes with a sense of mystery, and his characters are very flawed. There are some supernatural elements to his writings and many questions about the society that they represent. Poe’s short stories usually focus on death, but he tells the tale of death with a dark humor and a desire to expose the complexity of his characters and society.

The genre of Southern gothic literature emerged in the USA in the wake of the Civil War (1861-1865). The Civil War, which brought an end to slavery in the South, left behind it a society that was devastated, economically and socially, by defeat. The Civil War forced Southern writers — many of whom were born in the aftermath of the war — to really think about what it meant to be Southern. So the paradoxical fruits of wars are also the works of literature that come after the wars finish. And here comes Gothic that has nothing to do with a fairy-tale.

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Grant Wood “American Gothic” (1930)

The setting of these works are distinctly Southern. Writers from Alabama (Harper Lee), Georgia (Flannery O’Connor), Louisiana (Trumen Capote), Mississipi (Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner) are exploring madness, decay and despair, continuing pressures of the past upon the present, particularly with the lost ideals of a dispossessed Southern aristocracy and continued racial hostilities.

The Southern gothic develops in 80s, 90s, 2000s and 2010s. Many of the events contained in the stories are linked to racism, violence and poverty. One of the characteristics of the genre is the frequent reference to the Bible. All these topics and motifs combine in Toni Morrison’s novels. One more contemporary writer from Mississipi is Donna Tartt. A number of recurring literary themes occur in her novels, including those related to social class and social stratification, guilt, and aesthetic beauty. When talking about contemporary southern gothic, the works of Stephen King are also mentioned. The main trait of them that lets us do it is of course the theme of supernatural. But these books also reflect social problems and show us that the most dangerous creature is a human being.

Those in St.Petersburg can visit our library and borrow the books mentioned in this article. Of course all these writers are more than just these genre, but finding the traits of this genre in their books helps us understand the, better.

In June at the library: talks about war and peace

“I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re runnung at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me” –

reminds us Death, the narrator in “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak.9781742624068

At the British Book Centre in June we were talking about the topic as paradoxal as life itself: war and why people do it. They do it again and again. They do it even at the moment I’m writing this post and drinking my morning coffee. We didn’t hope to find the answer and just tried to see how war is reflected in literature and cinema and to remember once again those who should never be forgotten.

The central event was a Book Club devoted to the discussion of Marcus Zusak’s “Book Thief”.

The book was chosen as one that is easy-to-read speaking about language and style and also, notwithstanding its main theme, speaking about the plot. The participant remarked not just once that they loved “the humour” of the book. So how did the author managed to maintain such a style? Certainly, one of the answers might be is that he used Death itself as the narrator. Because, who would be afraid of a friendly and easy-going Gream Reaper?

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Another important moment is the important role that the love of reading and words play in the story. Books may harm and books may help to survive. Books are burnt and books are hunted for as the most precious treasure. Words help Liesel understand herself and become an individual, but they are also Fuhrer’s instrument to hypnotize the mass of people.

“Soon there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing”.

The third point, we suppose, is how all the basic concepts are reflected: love, sympathy, courage, death, memory – this is a book both for children and for grown-ups. A family reading and a platform for serious discussions.

In the end of the discussion we remembered other works and creators that also contributed to the anti-war theme. Among them are the books: “All Quiet On The Western Front” by E.M.Remarque, “Death Of A Hero” by Richard Aldington, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Farewell To Arms” by Ernest Hemingway, “The Red Badge Of Courage” by Stephen Crane, “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” by John Boyne. If you are in St. Petersburg, you can borrow them from our library. If not, you can borrow them from possibly any library in the world, because one can burn a hundred, a million copies of a novel, but they cannot burn the novel.

 

 

 

Ulysses: why is it so hard to finish?

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Recently the world celebrated Bloomsday –  one of the most famous literary holiday. The name is derived from the name of the main character of Joyce’s emblematic novel “Ulysses”. The holiday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of the Irish writer. The events of “Ulysses” are relived during just one day of June 16 in 1904. Joyce chose the date as it was the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle.

 

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And here is the paradox. “Ulysses” is one of the most famous books of the 20th century. The icon. The threshold. Joyce himself is a popular figure, his life being discussed and so many photographs and articles found in the Internet. Yet there are so many people who didn’t manage to finish it or even reach the middle of the book, including those who read it in the translaion to their native language from English.

We searched the Internet for some tips that can help you to read the book and understand the allusions hidden there:

http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Ulysses

http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2004/05/6747.html

https://www.extension.harvard.edu/inside-extension/why-you-should-try-read-ulysses-again

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/06/james-joyces-ulysses

But the most important piece of advice is the approach – look at it as the most exciting adventure and try to find a personal interest. It is a book about love, worries, books and love again – so there should be one! The authors of this article agree with us: https://biblioklept.org/2010/06/16/how-to-read-james-joyces-ulysses-and-why-you-should-avoid-how-to-guides-like-this-one/

Finally, here are some book titles “around” “Ulysses”. If you’re in St. Petersburg, you can borrow these books at the British Book Centre.

Books, mentioned in the novel:

 

Books on the topics of “Odyssey” and traveling, both real and in your mind:

 

Books on Irish history, nature, folklore and mythology:

 

On Beauty

These days, welcoming the Spring and celebrating Women’s Day, we are looking through the shelves of the library reflecting on the subject of beauty. “Beauty is but skindeep”, “beauty will save the world”, “apperances are deceptive”, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”… Are there any books to help us?

Homer, “Iliad” 6c28dfcb4d790bb4a29f2ea627008cdb

Of course! The most famous legend about how a war started. Beauty! Is it the root of the evil? The Trojan war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked “for the fairest”. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states, “The Iliad” tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.

Oscar Wilde, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray”2325167

The question of selling your soul for the eternal beauty. But who are you inside, are you still a human being? What’s the good looks worth? In this celebrated work, his only novel, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

OnBeautybookcover.jpgZadie Smith, “On Beauty”

A 2005 novel by British author Zadie Smith takes its title from an essay by Elaine Scarry (On Beauty and Being Just). The story follows the lives of a mixed-race British/American family living in the United States. On Beauty addresses ethnic and cultural differences, the nature of beauty, and the clash between liberal and conservative academic values. Not only does Zadie Smith’s work focus on physical beauty but it also looks at the concept of beauty itself and its value. Throughout the work many of the characters look at beauty in different ways or some, like Monty and Howard, fail to look at the beauty in anything,  even in the materials that they teach in their art history classes.

“In Search Of Paradise: Great Gardens Of The World” 61Y+0VaaqyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

For many of us, beauty is associated with nature, something, that was not created by humans, something that existed forever and is still a mystery for us. This book is a survey of the great gardens of the world, presented through photographic images and the descriptions of the garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse. Here you will find the oases of the Middle East, the gardens of Chinese scholars, Japanese sages and Renaissance humanists, French baroque gardens, the English landscape garden of Capability Brown and his followers.

William Shakespeare, Sonnets

9780099518860-us.jpgO how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

Dickens 205: writers in books and in the flesh

Image associéeThe bibliography of Charles Dickens includes more than a dozen major novels, a large number of short stories (including Christmas-themed stories and ghost stories), several plays, several non-fiction books, and individual essays and articles. Dickens’s novels were serialised initially in weekly or monthly magazines, then reprinted in standard book formats.

He is often called the “creator” of Victorian age, having described and “conserved” it for the future generations. When we read his books at school and in childhood we don’t really imagine him a real person. We seldom do that with writers of the decent past. When it concerns “the pillars”, the giants, the great masters, we tend to imagine them made of bronze or stone, but not of flesh and blood. But they were humans once.

Specialists in literature theory distinguish several types of authors: author as a real person, a human being; author as someone who created a text, creative personality, everything that is called poetics belongs here; finally – author’s point of view, his presence in the text not to mix up with narrator or storyteller.

At the library, thinking about recommendations what to read and watch Image associéeon the occasion of Dickens’ anniversary we looked at the book by Claire Tomalin about Dickens and his relationship with Nelly Ternan. And then there was a question: should we try to know more about writer’s real lifes? Or should we be satisfied with their works and what we can learn and find out in these works? Of course, there’s no definite answer to this. It depends on the researcher, and we think, if the aim is to learn about the time and not to judge someone, if the aim is to feel this connection with someone who lived long or not so long ago, then there’s probably nothing bad in our interest.

Our suggestion is to read talented works like Tomalin’s, which is not only the story of Dickens and Nelly, but a great excursus into theatrical world of England of the second part of the 19th century.

There are also a lot of works of fiction where writers are shown as characters and this is another curious direction of exploring the theme. Real people in fiction and fiction in real life – exciting reading is guaranteed!

In the British Book Centre:

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Claire Tomalin’s multi-award-winning story of the life of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens is a remarkable work of biography and historical revisionism that returns the neglected actress to her rightful place in history as well as providing a compelling and truthful portrait of the great Victorian novelist.
 The book is based on the life of the author Henry James. Lodge populates his novel with several of the most famous figures of English literature from the time of the book’s setting in the late nineteenth century.
 The novel features the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky as its protagonist. It is a deep, complex work that draws on the life of Dostoyevsky, the life of the author and the history of Russia to produce profoundly disturbing results.
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The novel depicts the life and character of Christopher Marlowe, one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan era.
The novel recites amateur Gustave Flaubert expert Geoffrey Braithwaite’s musings on his subject’s life, and his own, as he looks for a stuffed parrot that inspired the great author.
The book concerns three generations of women affected by a Virginia Woolf novel. The first is Woolf herself writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 and struggling with her own mental illness. The second is Mrs. Brown, wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 as she plans her husband’s birthday party. The third is Clarissa Vaughan, who plans a party in 2001 to celebrate a major literary award received by her good friend and former lover.

5 books, cocoa & marshmellows

Winter is coming to Saint-Petersburg and we are thinking where to hide from it. Books and hot drinks are always a wonderful idea. So, pick…

  1. Cathy Kelly, “Christmas Magic” (short stories) – for warm story-telling, stories about relationships and marriage, depression and loss, but always with an uplifting message and strong female characters at the heart.
  2. Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” – for the journey with no limits, universal wisdom and ingenious humour and wit.
  3. John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle, “Let It Snow” (short stories) – for sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow and the way back to true love that begins at Starbucks.
  4. J.R.R.Tolkien, “The Hobbit” – for the journey there and back again, dwarves, adventures, courage and cakes of course.
  5. “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” – for the spirit of good old England and inspiration for great deeds!