Archive for the ‘About’ Category

The Orta Oyunu and Halide Edip Adivar: The Use of Folk Drama as the Subtext of a Novel

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

Halide Edip Adivar, (1884-1964) was one of the most influential writers of the beginning of the Turkish republic. Her novel, Sinekli Bakkal, which she originally wrote in English as the Clown and his Daughter, is a look at the end of the Ottoman era that manages to be both nostalgic and unsentimental.

It covers a lot of ground, but one of the constant refrains is the performances, as a storyteller, in the puppet play Karagoz, and especially as the Zenne in the traditional folk drama Orta Oyunu, of the Clown of the title, Tevfik, who is one of life’s jokers but is eventually bitten by his own wit.

The Orta Oyunu was a play without a written script that involves much adlibbing and interaction with the audience, and one of the possible explanations of the name, which means literally in Turkish, game of the middle, is that orta was derived by confusion from arte, or the Italian commedia dell’arte. The orta oyunu has a large number of stock characters, as enumerated in the hyper linked article above, but the one Tevfik specialized in was the Zenne, the imitation of a woman. When he imitated his wife, Emine, a fire and brimstone Imam’s daughter, in the beginning of the book, she leaves him, taking with her their young daughter, Rabia, who is then trained by her grandfather to sing the koranic responses in the mosque.

If you wanna listen to the play on your device while having a walk, use Youtube 2 MP3 converter and have a good time!

Tevfik and the Orta Oyunu

Tevfik himself to some extent is designed as a stock character, the archetypical Turkish male, good-hearted, maybe a little lazy but very intelligent and artistic and not too religious. In the relationship of Tefvik to his artform, one can see the influence of the Italian writers, Giovanni Verga and the verismo opera composers, like Leoncavallo, who brought the commedia dell’arte and folk customs into “serious” literature.

Like Verga, Edip Adivar has a real affection for the folk milieu she is describing. But Sinekli Bakkal doesn’t treat the Orta Oyunu as a play within a play, like in Pagliacci. Real life is not separated from the fictional world, it is integrated into it. Like the Orta Oyunu itself, Tevfik’s clowning is not at all disconnected from the world of real life. Unlike in the Western tradition, there is no “fourth wall”.

This is what makes Sinekli Bakkal so seminal as a work of art for the development of African and Near Eastern literatures. Not only the twentieth century African novelists, but also people like Orhan Pamuk owe an enormous debt to Halide Edip Adivar.

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.

Free Online Literature Reviews for Parents and Teachers

Monday, August 16th, 2021

For many parents and teachers, the cost of receiving regular journals or publications keeps them from staying on top of current children’s literature. The two sites discussed here are both free to access and filled with resources and information to keep parents and teachers on the cutting edge.

The Looking Glass Online Journal

The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Books is an online journal about children’s literature, which has been in operation since 1997. It is written, published and edited by volunteers who come from all the fields that surround children literature, such as writers, teachers, publishers, and librarians. Many contributors have ties to other literary works, such as the journals Children’s Literature, Quill and Quire, The Alan Review. It is therefore a very reliable source of academic articles, which are kept archived online for public access.

Due to its fluidity, the structure of the journal has varied, but it tries to publish three journals per year, in January, April and September. Each issue contains a number of different pieces, but they are all arranged according to categories that are supervised by individual editors. Clear headings make it easy to find articles that will be relevant and interesting to whatever work one might be doing at the time, both in the current issue and in the archives.

The articles are filled with information about how to interpret, present, and apply a diverse number of texts, but the most interesting thing about this resource for teachers is the openness of its submission process. It provides a forum for teachers to not only read and think about but also write and share their thoughts on the vast genre of children’s literature. This possibility would be a great asset to both personal and professional development.

Check it: Short Story Review – Maria L Bombal’s The Tree: Magic Realism in Latin American Fiction

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is the center for a number of resources, including extensive links to authors’ websites and highlights from their two major publications: Canadian Children’s Book News and Our Choice. While the website format can be confusing and at times overwhelming, the resources available are definitely worth the time.

Among the highlights are very extensive lists of authors’ and illustrators’ websites as well Canadian publishing companies’ homepages, and selections from their publications. There is a good book review section, which is also tied to the Fleck Award for Children’s Non-Fiction, an award administrated by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

In addition to the free information available on the website, a $60 individual subscription grants access to the quarterly publications, and a $135 association membership would provide a school or library with even more resources and materials. This is a good resource for teachers particularly because of its Canadian content, and the number of links it provides to the ever-changing but always valuable resources available online and across Canada.

Both of these websites can provide book reviews and academic articles to keep parents and teachers involved in what their children and students are reading, and engaged in what those texts are really all about. For more information about printed journals to use in schools and libraries, have a look at Children’s Literature Reviews for Teachers and Parents.

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.

Children’s Literature Reviews for Parents and Teachers

Tuesday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Tuesday, 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

The Power of One: Author and Hero: Bryce Courtenay’s Novel on Youth in Apartheid South Africa

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Bryce Courtenay: Author Bio

The Power of One is a fictionalized story of Bryce Courtenay’s childhood. Courtenay was born in South Africa in 1933 and spent his early years on an isolated farm. Like his fictional hero Peekay, Courtenay began boxing for self-defense as a five-year-old at private school and then moved to Barberton. A German music teacher named Doc gave young Courtenay his true childhood education, which was followed by South African boarding school and Journalism school in London.

Forbidden to return to South Africa because he had led an educational program for native Africans, Courtenay moved to Sydney, Australia. He married a woman named Benita and had three sons, Brett, Adam, and Damon. Damon, a hemophiliac, contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during the early days of the disease. After Damon died tragically of AIDS, Courtenay wrote April Fool’s Day, the compelling novel that commemorated his son and brought attention to the AIDS epidemic.

Bryce Courtenay is the best-selling author of Australia. His many novels include a sequel to The Power of One, Tandia, in which Peekay’s story travels a separate path from Courtenay’s life. The Power of One enjoys international success and was made into a movie with Morgan Freeman. Courtenay continues to write prolifically. By his own account, he writes 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, 8 months a year.

You can find out more on Bryce Courtenay’s website.

Peekay: Character and Development

Though Peekay’s story parallels the author’s childhood, Courtenay is quick to point out that Peekay is “larger than life” (see the ‘In His Words’ section of Courtenay’s website). Indeed, Peekay’s intellectual faculties, athletic ability, and intrinsic goodness (demonstrated by his continual empathy for all types of people, even those whose characters are flawed) are at the core of the novel.

The Power of One is a modern bildungsroman, a novel about the moral and intellectual education of the protagonist. Peekay’s challenge is both to master his abilities and to define himself apart from them. He begins with innate intelligence and moral compass but meets various ‘teachers’ who sculpt his character and point his way. The end of this education and the beginning of his adulthood are represented by the last part of the book, in which he rejects the advice of everyone around him and goes to work in the mines.

This is the first step he takes without direction or help from any of his teacher figures.

Peekay’s fight with the Judge is his final step to reclaiming his selfhood. Peekay was marked by mistreatment from the Judge in childhood and has carried an abused child’s shame and self-doubt throughout his youth, despite his talents. Peekay’s childhood self emerges in the fight when he cries, “you killed Grandpa Chook!” (his pet chicken). He carves his mark, PK, into the skin of the man who had marked him emotionally and feels cleansed for the first time in years.

Check it: Types of Allegorical Novels: Spiritual Journey, Human Experience, Political and Social Satire