Archive for October, 2021

The Greatest Villains in Literature – Bad Guys We Love to Hate

Thursday, October 21st, 2021

We all love a good literary villain. Evil characters bring excitement and drama to a story. Here are 8 of the greatest villains in literary fiction.

Every reader has a favourite literary villain, the character that wreaks havoc and spreads evil. We all love to hate the antagonist that makes life difficult for our hero and serves as the plot device that our hero must overcome. It is the bad guy that creates drama and excitement in fiction.

While this is not a definitive list of the best villains in literature, these bad guys sure know how to get our attention.

The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West is from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [George M. Hill, 1900], by L. Frank Baum. Unlike her movie representation, the witch was not green and did not fly on a broomstick. Instead she carried an umbrella and instilled fear into the hearts of Winkies.

When Dorothy arrives in OZ, the Good Witch of the North gives her the silver shoes, which the Wicked Witch of the West has coveted. Soon she is after Dorothy sending bees, crows, wolves and her Winkie slaves to get the shoes. When that all fails, she brings out the big guns, her winged monkeys.

Eventually the witch enslaves Dorothy, unable to kill her because she is protected by the silver shoes. She tries her best to get the shoes off Dorothy, but her plans are thwarted when Dorothy throws a bucket of water over her, causing her to melt. Turns out the Wicked Witch of the West is bone dry and water is her natural enemy. Who would have thought?

Bill Sikes

Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist [Richard Bentley, 1838] by Charles Dickens is one evil man. His goal in life is to fulfil his own personal gain and he’ll take out anyone who gets in his way, whether that be woman, child or animal. He is a thief, a murderer and a child abuser.

Like all good villains, Sikes does not have once shred of morality in his body. He even murders the one woman who loves him and defends his evil ways, the prostitute with a heart of gold, thus cementing his bad guy status.

His reign of terror comes to the end when he is hunted by an angry mob and he accidentally hangs himself trying to escape. It’s hard not to think he deserved such an end.


Before the Twilight craze and romantic vampires became so popular, the literature world had Dracula. Bram Stoker’s Dracula [1897, Archibald Constable and Company] is cold, calculating and above all, not human. Unlike the vampires of today, Dracula has no qualms about feeding off humans, using his power to control them and killing them when he has no use for them anymore. There is nothing romantic about that.

Patrick Bateman

Patrick Bateman is the creation of author Bret Easton Ellis. Brought to life in American Psycho [1991, Vintage Books], this novel was written as a statement on the shallow, consumerist culture of America. Ellis created Bateman as a character that embodies all the characteristics of a frightening sociopath.

At first glance, Bateman looks like a typical high flying executive. On the surface he has a great job, he is wealthy, he lives in a trendy apartment and is he engaged to a beautiful woman. Bateman is living the life. Too bad by night he amuses himself with rape, torture, murder and cannibalism.

Bateman is terrifying because he really is the guy next door, seemingly normal, but with some dark secrets.

Lord Voldemort

Lord Voldemort is the arch-nemesis of Harry Potter and probably one of the most well-known villains in modern literary history. First introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [1997, Bloomsbury], Voldemort inspires fear in those of the wizarding world. They fear him so much, that they cannot even say his name, often calling him he-who-shall-not-be-named.

Voldemort does whatever he can to gain power and immortality, even if it means murder. He is a sadist, as he enjoys his reign of terror and inflicting pain upon others, especially muggles, who he sees as inferior to wizards. He is followed around by his loyal band of Death-Eaters, dark wizards who have chosen evil over good.

The only fear Voldemort has is of death and his biggest hate is weakness. This is why he sets out to kill the one person who he failed killing, The Boy Who Lived.

Hannibal Lecter

Who isn’t afraid of Hannibal Lecter? First introduced in the novel Red Dragon [1981, Dell Publishing] by Thomas Harris, and later gaining fame in The Silence of the Lambs [1988, St. Martin’s Press], Hannibal Lecter is a name recognized by most.

Lector is a highly intelligent psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer. Despite his murderous activities, Lecter is a man of refined tastes, you wouldn’t catch him eating his victim’s brains any old way. Instead, he likes to sauté them over low heat and serves them with a fancy French wine. All while enjoying the sophistication of opera music. What a classy guy.

Randall Flagg

Stephen King fans all agree that Randall Flagg is one scary bad guy. He has appeared in several of King’s novels and is the embodiment of evil.

Although his physical appearance changes with each novel, Flagg has been described as a dark hooded figure, a “sickness” and a typical American guy. No matter what form this character takes, he has a penchant for evil, power and destruction.

Big Brother

Big Brother from George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984 [1949, Secker and Warburg], is a frightening villain indeed. “Big Brother is watching you”. Literally.

This leader of Oceania’s totalitarian government is the all hearing, all seeing, all powerful ruler that we never actually see, making him all the more frightening.

Big Brother rules with an iron fist and enjoys total manipulation and domination of his citizens. Freewill is a thing of the past, your every move must be accounted for and every citizen lives to boost up his power. He convinces his citizens to spy on each other, so no act goes unseen and if you dare oppose him, even in thought, you suffer terrifying consequences.

This unseen villain’s reputation for evil and the sense of horror he creates is so strong that the term “Big Brother” lives on in our dialect as a descriptive term for an oppressive government who exerts control over individual’s lives.

Check it: Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis – Literature Review: Challenging Aspects of The Other, Disability, Superficiality

Today’s Canadian Literature Leaders: Best Sellers Malcolm Gladwell, Eckhart Tolle and Joseph Boyden

Saturday, October 16th, 2021

These three Canadian authors have soared to the top of the charts with their best-selling books and helped put Canada on the literary map.

At first glance, writers Malcolm Gladwell, Eckhart Tolle, and Joseph Boyden may not have much in common. Social science writer Gladwell hails from Britain, spiritual teacher Tolle from Germany, and writer-in-residence Boyden from Willowdale, Ontario. However, all three share Canadian citizenship and a similar passion for words and writing.

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

By Kris Krüg –, CC BY 2.0,

There’s no denying Malcolm Gladwell’s rise to the top. Born in Britain and raised in Ontario, Gladwell now resides in New York.

He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has published three New York Times Bestsellers:

Gladwell was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine in 2005 and is sought out around the world for public appearances and readings.

Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle

Like Gladwell, Tolle has made a name for himself by analyzing the world around him. However, Tolle’s main interest is that of spirituality and religion. Born in Germany, Tolle now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Tolle, a spiritual teacher and motivator, has written five books since 1999.

These are:

  • The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment;
  • Practicing the Power of Now;
  • Stillness Speaks: Whispers of Now;
  • A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose;
  • and Oneness With All Life: Inspirational Selections from A New Earth.

Tolle has also released several Audiobooks about guidance and spirituality.

The Power of Now and A New Earth both topped the charts in the New York Times Bestseller List and A New Earth is also featured in the prestigious Oprah’s Book Club.

Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden grew up in Ontario and is new to the best-selling scene with his successful Three Day Road in 2005. It was nominated for a Governor General Award and won the Roger Writers Trust Fiction Fund Prize. His second book, Through Black Spruce, published in 2008, won the Scotia Bank Gillar Prize. Boyden has indicated that there is a third book, the final in a trilogy, in the making.

Boyden uses his Metis heritage as inspiration for his novels that tell of a Cree soldier and his struggle through war. He currently is the writer in residence at the University of New Orleans, but still considers Northern Ontario his home.

Of course, Canadian contemporary literature doesn’t stop with these writers. There are hundreds of incredible Canadian authors just waiting to be read.

Check out Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Douglas Coupland, Yann Martel, Elizabeth Smart, Scott Morrison, Christian Lander, Sara Gruen, Elizabeth Hay, William P Young, Miriam Toews, Alice Munro, Ian and Will Ferguson and prepare to be impressed.

UNESCO’s City of Literature Model: What It Is and What Criteria Interested Cities Need to Fulfill

Monday, October 11th, 2021

The City of Literature program by UNESCO is a great way for qualified cities to bolster and promote their cultural assets on an international scale.

Cities actively promoting the literary market through a diverse range of cultural institutions like libraries, bookstores, publishing houses, public-private partnerships furthering literature, regular literary events and festivals and school and college programs dedicated to national and international literature are good candidates for UNESCO’s City of Literature program.

UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network

UNESCO decided to focus on cities because, with more than half the world’s population living in them, they have the potential to further creativity in local communities while at the same time, provide a platform for international markets. As “creative clusters,” cities contain a network of partners involved in publishing, the dissemination of literature and programs strengthening the literary market.

The City of Literature program is part of UNESCO’s other efforts like the Creative Cities Network (CCN) launched in October 2004 that was developed as part of the Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity initiative in 2002. Currently, 20 cities are awaiting approval to join the CCN.

Designed to “promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world,” it focuses on a city’s following areas:

  • literature
  • film
  • music
  • crafts and folk art
  • design
  • media arts
  • gastronomy

List of Criteria for City of Literature Applicants

Cities that are interested in becoming a UNESCO City of Literature need to prove that their whole network of publishers, libraries, schools and bookstores actively promotes reading, literature and literacy.

Here’s a detailed description of areas that would be scrutinized by UNESCO:

  • the quality, quantity and diversity of a city’s editorial initiatives and publishers,
  • the quality and quantity of educational programs in school and universities focusing on domestic and foreign literature,
  • the role that literature, drama or poetry play in the urban environment,
  • the quality and quantity of literary events and festivals hosted in a city to promote foreign and domestic literature,
  • the quality and quantity of libraries, bookstores and cultures centers dedicated to preserving, promoting and distributing literature,
  • publishers’ efforts to translate a diverse range of national and foreign literary works,
  • the involvement of traditional and new media in promoting literature and supporting the literary market.

Currently Appointed Cities of Literature

The following cities became members of the City of Literature network:

  • Angoulême – France (2019)
  • Baghdad – Iraq (2015)
  • Barcelona – Spain (2015)
  • Beirut – Lebanon (2019)
  • Bucheon – Korea Republic (2017)
  • Dublin – Ireland (2010)
  • Dunedin – New Zealand (2014)
  • Durban – South Africa (2017)
  • Edinburgh – United Kingdom (2004)
  • Exeter – United Kingdom (2019)
  • Granada – Spain (2014)
  • Heidelberg – Germany (2014)
  • Iowa City – United States (2008)
  • Kraków – Poland (2013)
  • Kuhmo – Finland (2019)
  • Lahore – Pakistan (2019)
  • Leeuwarden – Netherlands (2019)
  • Lillehammer – Norway (2017)
  • Ljubljana – Slovenia (2015)
  • Lviv – Ukraine (2015)
  • Manchester – United Kingdom (2017)
  • Melbourne – Australia (2008)
  • Milan – Italy (2017)
  • Montevideo – Uruguay (2015)
  • Nanjing – China (2019)
  • Norwich – United Kingdom (2012)
  • Nottingham – United Kingdom (2015)
  • Óbidos – Portugal (2015)
  • Odesa – Ukraine (2019)
  • Prague – Czech Republic (2014)
  • Québec  City –Canada (2017)
  • Reykjavík – Iceland (2011)
  • Seattle – United States (2017)
  • Slemani – Iraq (2019)
  • Tartu Estonia – (2015)
  • Ulyanovsk – Russia (2015)
  • Utrecht – Netherlands (2017)
  • Wonju – South Korea (2019)
  • Wrocław – Poland (2019)

Edinburgh, as the first City of Literature and with one literary event almost every day of the year, generates approximately £2.2 million ($3.3 million) per year for the city and a further £2.1 million ($3.1 million) for the rest of Scotland from festivals, events and conferences dedicated to literature.

So, regardless of where a city is located in the world, as long as all or most of the desired criteria are fulfilled, applying for the City of Literature program comes with quite a few advantages for the city’s cultural and economic standing.

More information about the program can be found on the “How to apply” section of UNESCO’s website.

Readers interested in UNESCO’s City of Literature program might also be interested to learn more about the idea behind World Book and Copyright Day, what an ISBN is or the upcoming World eBook Fair that will enable free e-book downloads of more than 1.5 million titles.

10 Multicultural Novels for Book Groups: Recommended Fiction From Around the World

Wednesday, October 6th, 2021

For readers who like to explore diverse cultures through fiction, it has been an excellent decade.

Since 2000, authors from many countries have published award-winning novels in English. The following is a small sample of this rich literary production. Each of these books lends itself to discussion of historical and contemporary social issues and to follow-up activities — ideal for book groups.

Ancestor Stones, by Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leonean)

The author was 11 years old when her dissident father was hanged for treason in Sierra Leone. The novel explores the trauma of that country’s civil war through the life stories of four sisters in the fictional Kholifa family.

Afterward: Read The Devil that Danced on Water, Forna’s memoir of her childhood in Sierra Leone.

Brick Lane, by Monica Ali (Bangladeshi)

At age 18, Nazneen immigrates from her village in Bangladesh to the East End of London to enter into an arranged marriage with an older man. The novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, presents a rich though controversial portrait of London’s Bangladeshi community.

Afterward: See the movie Brick Lane (2007), starring Tannishtha Chatterjee.

The Hummingbird’s Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea (Mexican American)

In 1889, as Mexico is descending into civil war, 16-year-old Teresita arises from her coffin with miraculous healing powers. This epic novel, set in the borderlands of northern Mexico, is inspired by the story of Urrea’s real great-aunt Teresita, who was regarded as a saint.

Afterward: Read the interview with Urrea in which he discusses The Hummingbird’s Daughter.

The Lizard Cage, by Karen Connelly (Canadian)

In a dismal prison in Yangon, Burma, a songwriter named Teza is serving 20 years in solitary confinement for his opposition to the brutal Burmese dictatorship. His friendship with a young orphan who lives in the prison is the core of this haunting political novel.

Afterward: Read Burmese Lessons: A Love Story, Connelly’s memoir of her experiences on the war-torn Thai-Burmese border, where she spent two years among Burmese exiles.

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian American)

After their arranged marriage in the late 1960s, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli emigrate from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Years later, their U.S.-born, Yale-educated son Gogol struggles to define himself in both the Bengali cultural world of his parents and the milieu of the American professional elite.

Afterward: See the movie The Namesake (2006), directed by Mira Nair and starring Kal Penn.

The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (Australian)

William Thornhill, convicted of petty theft in late 18th-century London, is exiled with his family to New South Wales, Australia. After gaining his freedom, he erects a homestead on the Hawkesbury River, coming into conflict with the Aboriginal inhabitants of the land.

Afterward: Read Searching for the Secret River, Grenville’s account of her research into her family’s history, which became the basis for the novel.

The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar (Indian)

Set in Mumbai, the novel centers on the complicated relationship between Bhima, a lower-caste Hindu serving woman, and Sera, the educated, well-to-do Parsi woman who employs her.

Afterward: Read interviews with Umrigar on the author’s website.

Star of the Sea, by Joseph O’Connor (Irish)

This historical novel, full of plot twists and intrigue, delves into the intertwined lives and checkered pasts of a shipload of passengers fleeing the Irish potato famine in 1847.

Afterward: Read about the Irish potato famine.

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith (British)

This acclaimed first novel by a young writer paints a picture of immigrant life in multicultural North London. It centers on the friendship between a working-class Englishman, Archibald Jones, and a Bengali Muslim waiter, Samad Iqbal.

Afterward: See the four-part television miniseries White Teeth (2002).

The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany (Egyptian)

At the prestigious Yacoubian Building in downtown Cairo, wealthy residents inhabit the apartments while poor families live in made-over storage sheds on the roof. This novel, a bestseller in the Arab world, is a sharp-edged critique of contemporary Egyptian society.

Afterward: See the movie The Yacoubian Building (2006), starring Egyptian film icon Adel Imam.