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

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

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

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.

Aesop’s, The Wolf and the Lamb: Beware of Tyrants – Underlying Fable Message

September 29th, 2021

In this particular fable, a lamb has wandered away from its fold. A wolf spies on him and notes that he will not simply attack him and devour him. He will need to find a reason to eat the young creature.

First, the wolf tells the lamb, “Last year you grossly insulted me.”

However, the lamb had not yet been born. When that does not work, the wolf accuses the lamb of eating from his pasture. However, the lamb also denies that charge. The wolf then blares that the lamb has drunk water from his private well.

But the noble lamb is adamant. He has not yet been weaned; his mother sustains him completely. At this point, the wolf becomes exasperated. It is not that the lamb is clever; he is merely forthright, speaking the truth of his brief life. The wolf declares that these reasons will not prevent the wolf from obtaining his supper. Thus he seizes the lamb and eats him.

The Innocent Lamb Is Collateral Damage

Humans have often identified themselves with animals, with aggressive people being “sharks,” “bears,” “tigers,” and of course, “wolves.” Lambs have been a timeless symbol of gentlefolk, who are often simple-hearted and unschooled. The wolf, in this fable, wants the lamb to admit to trespassing upon his land or honor. Clearly, he believes it will be easy to trick such a plain creature. And in this case, not only does the lamb lack guile, it is young and unaware of the ways of the world.

The underlying message of this fable is that lambs will exist for the gratification of wolves. In real life, wolves may be bullies, ordinary predators, or the heads of unfavorable governments. The lambs are vegetarians, and the wolves, meat-eaters. In this way, Aesop is showing us that there are members of society who live by doing no harm to others, while there exist other classes of people who profit only from using the flesh of others.


Does the Wolf Have a Conscience?

If the wolf has a conscience, it is a very weak one. He wants to feel justified in his eating the young lamb, so he looks for an excuse to do his deed. Yet, after a mere three attempts, the wolf gives up because the noble lamb has beaten him. It would be better for the wolf to simply portray his true nature, instead of disguising himself as one who has been harmed by invented intrigues of the lamb. He is going to get what he wants, no matter what; however, his digestion might be a bit better, if he extracts a confession from the young lamb.

The Noble Lamb Wins

The wolf slaughters the young lamb, and the tyrant has dined well again. The lamb dies, but is nevertheless heroic, in his death. If gentle creatures, such as lambs, are to have any chance at surviving the tyranny of creatures such as wolves, they will need to stick together, gathering strength in numbers, for clearly the tyrant is prone to frustration when confronted by nobility and truth.

Millennia after this tale was first told, we still see that the peaceful, only when united in numbers, can stand a chance of defeating totalitarianism.

Children’s Literature Reviews for Parents and Teachers

September 21st, 2021

There are a number of informative and interesting resources available for those who wish to stay informed about the wide variety of children’s and young adult literature now available. These are just a few that might be useful.

The Alan Review

The Alan Review is published by the United States based Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English. It publishes 3 issues in magazine form in the fall, winter, and summer of each academic year. An individual subscription is $20 per year, making it quite affordable, especially for a school or department.

Articles are peer-reviewed, and the organization requires that all articles be both scholarly and practical. Each issue is also themed, in order to create a more coherent and cohesive resource. The issues have a relatively loose structure, depending on the types of articles and the theme of the issue. A “From the Editors” section outlines the theme as well as introducing each article.

The other constant section is “Clip and File Book Reviews,” which provides standardized book reviews written by teachers for teachers. This would be a marvelous resource for an individual or a department to keep in a continuing file, building an easily accessible literary resource.

The articles in each issue provide insight and inspiration on how to understand, appreciate and teach diverse forms and specific texts in the field of Young Adult Literature. They tend to be easy to read, with subheadings to allow for quick reference and non-traditional elements such as pictures, text-boxes and bold-face quotes to make them more visually appealing.

More: Free Online Literature Reviews for Parents and Teachers


Bookbird is a quarterly publication by the International Board on Books for Young People, offering a global view that has given it the subtitle of A Journal of International Children’s Literature, previously A World of Children’s Books. It is themed by region or genre of literature, offering a history and study of that theme as well as new discussions of it.

It also includes a number of regular features, including a “Country Survey” that focuses on a specific country’s history and literature, an “Author Spotlight”, reviews of “International Children’s Books of Note,” and a review of “Professional Literature” that is of interest to authors and educators as well as academics.

This is all published in an easily accessible magazine format, enough illustrations to attract attention without the flashy colour and gloss that might compromise its low price and academic audience. It seems the perfect blend of academic and practical information for teachers to use, and is accessible and affordable enough, at US$50 per year, to prove an invaluable resource for individual use.

Book Links

Book Links: Connecting Books, Libraries and Classrooms is a quarterly magazine published by the American Library Association. At $9 per issue or $110 for an annual subscription that includes 22 issues of Booklist, these magazines are probably best bought one at a time unless the school has a subscription, as they are thematically organized by subject. That said, each issue contains valuable information that could be applied in any classroom, as no subject stands isolated from the other material students are learning.

It is consistently organized into standard sections, not all of which are present in every issue, but which make it quick and easy to find whatever information is needed, or just to browse through at leisure.

“Spotlight on the Stars” offers reviews of books for all reading levels, from preschool to high school, with thematic links to other works and other genres. “Classroom Connections” are a number of short articles followed by excellent annotated bibliographies on specific subjects, that are also clearly identified by the grade and reading level. “Book Strategies” outline teaching methods for specific books or themes, providing an invaluable resource to all teachers and the possibility for an archival file of ideas and lesson plans.

Other sections include an author focus, a review of early book, “Points of View”, and other genre-focused sections such as “Poetry Place” and “Visual Learning.”

This format is good because it breaks up lists of reviews into easily identifiable categories, as well as providing ideas on how to use these books in the class. Also, the levels provided should not be constricting. Many of the books and lesson plans could be used at higher levels, which is especially helpful because few of the articles are actually classified as relevant at the senior high school level.

These and many other literature reviews can provide invaluable information about what books children should read and how their parents and teachers can help them get the most out of them.

Book of Kells, Yeats and a Literary Pub Crawl: Dublin Honors its Irish Literary History and Famous Writers

September 14th, 2021

The Irish are center stage as a literary force, dating back over 1000 years to the Book of Kells, which are housed at Dublin’s Trinity College. The walkable city also exhibits William Butler Yeats at the National Library of Ireland. Other writers shine at the Dublin Writers Museum. Add in a nighttime literary pub crawl with actors performing works from Ireland’s best-known writers and this literary feast can be encapsulated into a one-day excursion.

The Book of Kells

Before the monks of Iona created the Book of Kells in the 9th century, literature was rooted in oral history. But when four scribes and three artists wrote down the four gospels of Christ, their creation changed the world. And thanks to Henry James, Bishop of Meath, for sending them to Trinity College in 1661 for safekeeping. Written in Ogham script and read from bottom to top, it took about 185 calfskins to create the ancient pages.

Black ink came from lamp soot. The use of lapis lazuli for the blue ink still baffles historians since its only source was Afghanistan: how did the monks get it?

“Turning Darkness into Light’ is Trinity’s Exhibition Hall where through photos and video the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow are explained. Even intricate edits done by the scribes are shown. A smaller, darkened room where two Kells’ books are enclosed in glass cases is a hallowed area; one shows a decorated page, the other is text. Three times a year Dr. Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts, turns one page in each book.

The Exhibition Hall and well-stocked Library Shop are opened daily. However, the building is closed for a half day when the Kells’ pages are turned. The admission charged also includes access to the Long Room, which is an upstairs hall housing 200,000 volumes, marble busts and temporary exhibitions.

William Butler Yeats Exhibition at the National Library of Ireland

Yeats’ aged voice reading his The Lake isle of Innisfree greets the visitor at the National Library of Ireland’s fascinating exhibit of his life and works. The library holds the largest collection of Yeats’ manuscripts and other items donated mostly by his family. Noted for his poetry, he published as a journalist; helped form the Abbey Theatre; rubbed elbows with the likes of George Bernard Shaw and held a somewhat secret affinity for the supernatural.

“The mystical life is the center of all that I do & all that I think & all that I write,” Yeats wrote to John O’Leary.

On display here is his hand-made magic wand used for his initiation into The Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn. Maud Gonne, the woman who would not marry Yeats and Georgie Hyde, the younger woman who did, share the exhibit with him. Hyde and Yeats had two children, did automatic writings together and believed deeply in mysticism.

An exhibit highlight is The Tower, which is the book’s title of his most famous collection of verse and a visual diagram of the poems showing their publication lineage. Several cubbyhole areas are “film rooms” depicting a typical flat he occupied in London and one about his philandering lifestyle as a married man. All items are beautifully displayed with a touch-screen panel beside each for detailed descriptions. The Library has an excellent site for the virtual visitor.

The Dublin Writers Museum

This museum promotes Irish literature and the lives and works of individual Irish writers. Located in a former 18th-century mansion in Parnell Square, works of Swift, Sheridan, Shaw, Behan, Joyce and others covering three hundred years can be viewed here on three floors. Audio tours are available in several languages. Lunchtime theatre and readings, plus a bookshop and cafe are here.

Dublin Literary Pub Crawl

Meet upstairs in The Duke pub, located on Duke Street, off Dawson, and sip a pint of Guinness as two professional actors introduce the onset of the Literary Pub Crawl. A recent performance was a Waiting for Godot scene. For two hours, the tour winds through the streets, stopping at landmarks to capture the spirit and words of Ireland’s literary giants, one being under the courtyard dome at Trinity College where Oscar Wilde’s letter about his adventures in a Colorado mining town is enacted.

Four pubs known for the famous writers who drank at them are visited, one being O’Neill’s on Suffolk Street, also known for its buffet-style food. Reservations are advised.

eBooks – The New Wave in Literature: Finding Great Books in Electronic Format

September 7th, 2021

The Internet boom has made more people aware of eBooks than ever before. An ebook is a book written in the electronic format and available in this format. There are a few differences between some ebooks and regular books. Some ebooks will only ever exist in this format whereas others will be printed and bound, and will exist in both formats.

There are ebooks that are full length. These range from entire novels and textbooks to much shorter works used by online organizations. Mini-ebooks are sometimes also called ebooks. Because of this, you may need to check to find out if you are looking at a full length ebook or a document that may be the length of a novella or even shorter but still called an ebook.

Ebooks as Literature

Often enough, new forms are included in new forms of art. Artists, being creative and resourceful also seek ways to further their art. eBooks offer another venue. One of the many novels available as an ebook is An Adventure in Indianapolis, which is accessible through Kindle and and in other electronic versions. This is a crime fiction novel.

Just as there are people who enjoy listening to the music of bands who are not “huge” or mainstream there is a similar situation for people who are interested in trying ebooks. Some will turn up in bookstores a few years down the road, whereas others will remain forever only ebooks. People intrigued by avant-garde literature may love to pursue the Internet in search of some fabulous ebooks.

Places to Buy ebooks

There are a number of places to purchase ebooks. Most of these are online, but more and more people with electronic reading machines can buy them directly through their devices. Universities are beginning to use ebooks for their textbooks – they are often less expensive. These are most often used for online programs but can also be used for campus-based classes. This means that your university bookstore has become a source of ebooks. Grand Canyon University, based in Arizona is just one of the university’s that offers electronic versions of textbooks to their students.

Electronic books have now been around for a few decades. With the proliferation of the laptop at the dawn of the New Millenium the potential audience for ebooks has escalated. The public’s interest has transformed the ebook from representing a minority niche in society to having the potential to become a mainstream item available to the public. The laptop revolution and the popularity of electronic reading machines mean that writing ebooks are no longer just a joke.

Listening to Literature: The Highs and Lows of Audio Books

September 7th, 2021

Day after day I commute to work in my car, which does not get anything approaching decent radio reception until about three-quarters of the way through the trip. So to stem the scenic boredom, I listen to audiobooks. Since my i-pod quit working recently, I’ve been listening on my trusty Kindle 2, but that’s beside the point.

No matter what the device, I’m happy to be able to “read” while I’m driving, thereby doubling my yearly reading list and satisfying my literary curiosity twofold. I tend to listen to newer releases that I might not normally buy in hardcover and save the actual reading for either free classics or current favorite authors on the Kindle.

Over the years, I’ve listened to many audiobooks and I have to say, although most, depending on the quality of the book, simply provide a pleasant and informative ride home, a small percentage can truly enhance or completely ruin the reading/listening experience.

  • One example of an audiobook enhancing the experience is The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. Besides the novel is very well written, poignant, and provocative, the audio version utilizes a cast of accomplished actors to read the various chapters, which alternate in character point-of-view. I can’t express how much a good vocal performance can immerse the listener in the story.
  • Another title that takes advantage of a full cast of actors is Colum McCann’s, Let The Great World Spin; once again a multi-point-of-view tale, all of which converge on a single common event: Philippe Petit’s wire walk across the Twin Towers span in 1974. This is a great book made even more robust by some inspired voice casting.

Certain voice-over actors are exemplary all by themselves:

  • George Guidall (Exit Ghost by Roth, The Dark Tower series by King, American Gods by Gaiman)
  • Don Leslie (Columbine by Dave Cullen, Blood and Thunder by Sides, Blind Descent by Tabor)
  • Jim Norton (The Third Policeman by O’Brien, Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce)

They stand out in my mind. Norton’s performance on The Third Policeman is phenomenal, his spot-on accent is essential to the story, and vaults the audio recording above the experience of reading the book. I recommend it to everyone who likes to laugh. Other notable narrators include Jim Dale, Kate Reading, Cambell Scott, and Will Patton.

Usually, authors reading their own work make up the lower end of the quality scale. Though, I must quickly mention certain authors as pleasant exceptions. Novelist T C Boyle (The Road To Wellville), for instance, is a very good reader and at times can reveal his unique perspective in the reading. Many non-fiction authors, who at their best lend an authenticity to the material, narrate their own books. Some capable writers/readers in this genre are Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down The Bones).

Historic performances are precluded from this observation as well, like E B White reading Charlotte’s Web or John Cheever reading from his oeuvre of short stories. Though, sadly these exceptions are few. One more typical example of an author reading his own stuff is the Hugo award-winning James Patrick Kelly, a great Sci-Fi short Story writer, but an abysmal actor/reader, whose performance actually detracts from the quality of his work.

Just as there are outstandingly good performances there are outstandingly awful performances, so awful sometimes as to be nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying and to raise goose flesh up the nape of the neck. One recent example that comes immediately to mind is Under The Dome, by Stephen King. King’s story is typically engrossing, humorous, and creepy, but the narrator, Raul Esparza ceaselessly distracts his listeners with inauthentic accents and grating vocalization.

His acting is fine, yet his attempt at regional inflection for the characters of this tale, which is set in a small town in Maine, modulate from a British-y Katherine Hepburn to an effeminate Crispin Glover to a wispy southern drawl. All these disastrous choices combine for a horrifying experience, and I don’t mean in a good way.

So by all means get out your iPods, Kindles, and the like and start downloading those audio titles (I use Just beware of the monotonous sleep-inducers and the story-killing whiners. I recommend listening to a sample before you buy; and the larger the cast, the better. Read my lips: listen to a book.

Check it: Tips for Book Club Organizers: How to Make a Book Group Run More Smoothly

Literature Review – John Steinbeck, Cup of Gold: A Tale of Sir Henry Morgan, With Occasional Reference to History

September 2nd, 2021

A swashbuckling adventure that also carries some very strong elements of medieval and Arthurian folk legend, John Steinbeck’s first novel Cup of Gold is an exciting and wonderful read for those interested in a little escapism that also happens to be more than fair in its historical treatment of Sir Henry Morgan‘s life.

Cup of Gold – Exotic Locales such as Panama, Jamaica, Tortuga, Barbados

Cup of Gold presents a wild variety of locations in which to place the action of such a whirlwind life, beginning with his life as a boy in Wales, complete with a teenage love story. After seeking sage advice from the aged minstrel, Merlin, Henry Morgan sets out for the Indes in search of fame, fortune, and the sea.

Sold into indentured servitude by a less than scrupulous Irishman named Tim, Henry Morgan is thankfully taken as a pupil and, over time, a dear son to the plantation owner – James Flower. The plantation in Barbados becomes the launching point for Henry’s dream, as he is able to learn how to speak to men in order to command respect, cunning tactics for battle and diplomacy via James Flower’s immense library and business contacts, and a small fortune by investing in a worthy ship for the plantation itself.

From this point of departure, Henry Morgan’s career as a pirate (and later, privateer) begins in earnest as he sails for Tortuga and begins his terrible series of strikes against Spanish trading ships and port cities. Eventually, that Spanish pearl, Panama, must surely fall before the cannons of the fearsome and legendary pirate.

Sir Henry Morgan as Tragic Hero, Fatal Love for La Santa Roja

Perhaps the most interesting part for the reader to consider when encountering Steinbeck’s Cup of Gold is the engagement of the text as a character study. While it is true that the book reads very similarly to a boy’s adventure tale common to the era in which it was written, there is a depth of character afforded to Sir Henry Morgan that lends a maturity to the book which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Henry Morgan is a dreamer who, unlike his father Robert, is willing to actualize his goals – setting out, no matter the cost, to attain the reality that he sees within his own mind. This is the cause for his great success, and in keeping with the trope of the tragic hero, similarly the cause for his greatest defeats.

The Achilles heel for Henry Morgan comes into play in the second that he meets the famed La Santa Roja, reportedly the most beautiful woman in the world. Legends of her fairness spread the world over, and any man who might possess her love would be a mighty king indeed. As Panama burns, Henry Morgan, having taken the prize with nary any casualties of his own, it is, in fact, La Santa Roja that destroys the mighty pirate.

The clever and cunning Santa Roja manipulates Morgan emotionally, preferring to blindside his immense ego and carnal jealousy rather than to attempt any physical resistance – a far more effective ploy. What defense can a man such as Henry Morgan mount against this assault, far more terrifyingly introspective and deprecating than the more conventional hazards he might whisk away under the aegis of martial expertise?

Cup of Gold is a beautifully written fantasy tale that provides rich imagery of a time soaked in rum, violence, and plunder – truly an appropriate tone for a boy’s adventure with themes reaching far beyond the traditional boundaries of the genre.

Check it: Review: Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki: Tanizaki’s Novella Explores a Divorce in a Changing Japan

Five Novels Set in France

August 30th, 2021

These five novels are set in France. Not all are written by French authors but all tell of some experience, either fictional or biographical, of living in France.

Muriel Barbery – The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of the main character Renee, a seemingly unassuming concierge of an elegant Paris building. She hides her true self from her tenants and thrives in her own secret world of philosophy and literature. The novel takes on a political aspect and studies the theme of class divides whilst at the same time showing the brightness and beauty that life has to offer.

Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast is a personal account of Hemingway’s memories of living in Paris as an as-yet-unknown writer. Hemingway nostalgically documents his life during the 1920s which involved much drinking and spending time writing in cafe La Closerie des Lilas. The novel provides accounts of other literary figures living in the area at the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

Jack Kerouac – Satori in Paris

Key Beat writer Jack Kerouac travels to France to learn more about his heritage in this 1966 novel. As with many of Kerouac’s novels it is also a journey of spiritual enlightenment and Zen Buddhism. In tracing his roots he comes across a variety of people and the tale is told in the familiar spontaneous prose style of Kerouac’s other works.

George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London

Orwell’s first published novel, the semi-autobiographical Down and Out in Paris and London provides a portrait of society’s poor in the two cities of the title. The first part of the novel tells of his time in Paris. In order to survive the narrator works long hours as a poorly paid dishwasher, whilst in London he faces poverty and lives with the homeless. The Paris section of the novel is based on his personal experiences in the city after a situation where, after having had his money stolen, he took on low paid menial jobs.

Patrick Suskind – Perfume

An eery tale, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an unwanted orphan with an incredible sense of smell but no personal odour of his own. This repulses other people and he in turn is sickened by them and their smells. He comes across a beautiful scent and finds that is it that of a young woman.

The novel shows the strength that scent has on emotions and how it influences others. Grenouille dedicates his life to preserving smells and this leads to the murder of young virgins to create a perfect scent that manipulates human emotions. Perfume takes a look at the perception of identity and how this affects human relationships.