Category Archives: Novel

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!

Postmodern Literature

We often hear that in literature process the period from second part of the 20th century and up to nowadays is called postmodernism. But what exactly does it mean? These are the main (but not all) traits of these books:

✔ Irony and playfullness – one of the most important traits – you can be fooled and you need to be very attentive, it’s common for postmodernists to treat serious subjects in a playful and humorous way. Silly wordplay, within a serious context is very common.

✔ Intertextuality – postmodernism accumilated the experience of the past and now writers, creating undoubtedly unique works, always refer to the great works of the past and try to interprete them in a new sense. Reading such a novel is a test of your erudition as very often you have to guess what different allusions mean.

✔ Pastiche. It means to combine, or “paste” together, multiple elements. Postmodernist literature this can be an homage to or a parody of past styles. It can be seen as a representation of the chaotic, pluralistic, or information-drenched aspects of postmodern society.For example, William S. Burroughs uses science fiction, detective fiction, westerns; Margaret Atwood uses science fiction and fairy tales.

✔ Metafiction. It is essentially writing about writing. One of the most popular topics for workd of fiction in 20th and 21st centuries. Who is writer? What’s he actually doing? What is creativity and talent? How the text is created?

✔ Temporal distortion. The events are not necessarily presented in the order in which they took place.

✔ Paranoia. Perhaps demonstrated most famously and effectively in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the sense of paranoia, the belief that there’s an ordering system behind the chaos of the world is another recurring postmodern theme.

In our library collection we have several novels that are often refered to as postmodernistic.

Charlotte Brontё 200

With two notable works, the third of six children, Charlotte (21 April 1816 – 31 March 1855), is widely known for just one of them – “Jane Eyre”. This became one of the first books with strong female character. The book which tells a story of an independent woman with high moral standards. A woman who is ready to sacrifice her happiness, but to stay “pure”. But this is the story of two loving people who finally find each other. There’s another book – “Villette” (1853) – that tells another story, the story of unrequited love.

Portrait of Charlotte BronteBased on the author’s experiences as a governess in Brussles, the novel tells the story of lonely Lucy Snowe, who finds employment at a girls’ boarding school in the town of Villette. she encounters a culture and religion different from her own, and falls in love with a man (Paul Emanuel) whom she cannot marry.

“Villette, Brontë’s last and – to my mind – greatest novel, is less popular, perhaps because it is so uncompromising and so original. It is high time it was recognised as the blazing work it is. Reading it you enter an area of experience – of passion and disappointment and the violent return of the repressed – that has seldom been so lucidly articulated.

It is also an astonishing piece of writing, a book in which phantasmagorical set pieces alternate with passages of minute psychological exploration, and in which Brontë’s marvellously flexible prose veers between sardonic wit and stream-of-consciousness, in which the syntax bends and flows and threatens to dissolve completely in the heat of madness, drug-induced hallucination and desperate desire” (Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Telegraph).

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Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, where Charlotte Bronte fell in love with the master, Constantin Heger.

  “No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness. What does such advice mean? Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of Heaven. She is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of Paradise.”

― Charlotte Brontë, Villette