Ahmet Altan, one of Turkey’s most skillful historical novelists, lives in solitary confinement in a cell four meters long, at Silivri Prison, Europe’s largest penal facility. In I’ll Never See This World Again, his fifteenth book, and the first he wrote from prison, Altan recalled the passing comment of a judge who held the author’s fate in his hands: “If only you had stuck to writing novels and kept your nose out of political affairs.”
The fossil record documents our purely terrestrial linage going back hundreds of millions of years. Humans are merely a recent flourish on the tetrapod body plan and suggestions to the contrary are manifestly nonsensical.
Still, no author in possession of a cool story idea ever hesitated merely because it constituted an egregious contradiction of firmly established science. Here are five examples of stories in which humans came from somewhere beyond the sky.
I love all things dark in literature. I like scary, and deep, and difficult. I am ok with slow reads. I like thinking, watching and trying to understand. That’s why I was sure I’d have a lasting relationship with the complete collection of works by H. P. Lovecraft (it shows $0.59 for the Kindle edition at the moment, by the way, at least for my region). The lasting relationship never happened, even though “cosmic horror” still sounds very intriguing. Truth be told, I haven’t read much of the collection yet. And that is the problem in its core. I can’t! How do you read this? How do you read this boring, preachy, monotonous and-now-my-dear-reader type of writing?!
The first time he fell in love, Fyodor Dostoevsky was in his mid-30s. He had written two famous novels, Poor Folk and The Double, been arrested for treason, suffered a mock-execution, and served four years of hard labour in Siberia. He was now, in 1854, serving as a private in the army and the object of his desire, Maria Isaeva, was the capricious and consumptive wife of a drunkard called Alexander.
When the Isaevas moved to the mining town of Kuznetsk, 700 versts away in southwestern Siberia (a verst is roughly equivalent to a kilometre), Dostoevsky’s love seemed doomed. But then Alexander died, leaving Maria alone and in poverty. Dostoevsky sent her his last roubles and a proposal of marriage, telling the coachman to wait for her answer before making the week-long journey back through the snow. Maria turned his offer down: she could never marry a penniless private. She then fell in love with a man who was just as poor as Dostoevsky, and also a simpleton: “I barely understand how I go on living,” Dostoevsky wrote, aware that this current melodrama was repeating the plot of Poor Folk.
He eventually married Maria, and had his first full epileptic fit on their wedding night. She never recovered from the sight of his writhing, crumpled body: “The black cat has run between us,” as he put it in The Insulted and the Injured. The couple shared not a single day of happiness, but then it is hard to find many days of happiness in his story at all.
In this way, The Great Gatsby achieves hypnotic mystery. Who are any of these people—Wilson the mechanic or his lusty, buxom, doomed wife, Myrtle? Which feelings are real? Which lies are actually true? How does a story that begins with such grandiloquence end this luridly? Is it masterfully shallow or an express train to depth? It’s a melodrama, a romance, a kind of tragedy. But mostly it’s a premonition.
Each time, its fineness announces itself on two fronts. First, as writing. Were you to lay this thing out by the sentence, it’d be as close as an array of words could get to strands of pearls. “The cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses”? That line alone is almost enough to make me quit typing for the rest of my life.
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.
The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.
The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
George Orwell has a gift for the unusual and the memorable that means that even his half-forgotten novels are well worth discovering once again
The Library of Babel contains every possible combination of the alphabet in 1,312,000 characters, including lower case letters, space, comma, and period. Thus, it contains every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be - including every play, every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every constitution, every piece of scripture, and so on.
Any text you find in any location of the library will be in the same place in perpetuity. We do not simply generate and store books as they are requested - in fact, the storage demands would make that impossible. Every possible permutation of letters is accessible at this very moment in one of the library’s books, only awaiting its discovery.
“Let me explain my claims for Bradbury. When I talk about his literary quality, I do not mean that The Illustrated Man is equal to Anna Karenina. What I’m saying is that Bradbury created a new kind of fiction, which required enormous mastery and originality. His novels and short stories opened up huge possibilities for later authors and narrative artists in all genres. This is no small thing. And his books are still widely read. Any author who writes one great novel has beaten overwhelming odds. Most writers never write anything that is read 50 years later, even the winners of literary prizes. Look at a list of Pulitzer Prize winners from 50 years ago. How many of those books have survived?
That is why Bradbury’s later decline doesn’t matter. For 10 years, he was Joe DiMaggio. Every time he went to bat, there was a good chance he would hit the ball, sometimes out of the park. It’s significant that Ray’s great hitting streak came in the 1950s, a period of national optimism. Despite the anxiety, darkness, and anger in his work, Bradbury always wrote in a spirit of hope and reconciliation. He never believed humanity was beyond redemption. Perhaps as America shifted into the late 1960s and beyond, he lost touch with the culture.”
In honor of Banned Books Week, we’ll be publishing our original reviews of frequently banned books. In 1969, a then relatively unknown Michael Crichton—who would go on to write some of the best-selling science fiction of all time—reviewed Kurt Vonnegut’s latest novel, Slaughterhouse Five. In an ambivalent take, Crichton called it “hideous, ghastly, murderous—and calm.”
“The year 1925 was a golden moment in literary history,” writes the BBC’s Jane Ciabattari. “Ernest Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were all published that year. As were Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, among others.” In that year, adds Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain Jennifer Jenkins, “the stylistic innovations produced by books such as Gatsby, or The Trial, or Mrs. Dalloway marked a change in both the tone and the substance of our literary culture, a broadening of the range of possibilities available to writers.”
In the year 2021, no matter what area of culture we inhabit, we now find our own range of possibilities broadened. Works from 1925 have entered the public domain in the United States, and Duke University’s post rounds up more than a few notable examples. These include, in addition to the aforementioned titles, books like W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil and Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s A Daughter of the Samurai; films like The Freshman and Go West, by silent-comedy masters Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton; and music like Irving Berlin’s “Always” and several compositions by Duke Ellington, including “Jig Walk” and “With You.”
With this text, perfection is impossible. The poem was written in the language we now call Old English, sometime between the mid-seventh and the end of the tenth centuries, and exists in a lone manuscript copy, the Nowell Codex. The version contained therein was written down sometime between AD 975 and 1025, by two scribes, A and B, with different handwriting and different tendencies toward error. Add to this the fact that the manuscript isn’t intact: bits of poem were lost over the centuries—first in the gestation of the written version itself, which was at the mercy of memory and (presumably) mead, and later, in a library fire in 1731, which badly singed the edges of the manuscript. It was rebound in the late nineteenth century, and in the interim, its edges crumbled beyond resurrection. Worms feasted. Least visibly and most significantly, scribal emendations changed the nature of the story in both subtle and unsubtle ways.4 Gaps were plugged with metric maybes, and lacunae inserted into lines that appear whole, to make sense of shifts in tone. All this is to say that Beowulf has been wrangled with, wrung out, and reworked for centuries. It’s been written upon almost as much by translators and librarians as it was by the original poet(s) and scribes.
Modern life can feel too frantic for books. Use these habit-building strategies to carve out time for the joy of reading
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This is Dickens’s own copy of the book — called a prompt copy, he used it in more than 100 public readings (including several here in New York) that he gave to huge, sold-out audiences. These performances date back to the early 1850s, with his final American performance at Steinway Hall in New York City in 1868.
The book contains his own hand-written notes in the margins, including voice instruction for the readings, as well as audience reaction.
“Memoirs of a Kamikaze” is the English translation of a book first published four years ago based on the experiences of a suicide pilot who embarked on seven missions and miraculously survived the war determined to honor his fallen comrades.
Released in September, the book recounts Kazuo Odachi’s desire to “tell the truth about my comrades who died at the time.”
He says his testimony is “my way of consoling their souls.”
In postwar Tokyo, Odachi, 93, worked as a police officer and kendo teacher.
The book is based on accounts he told a former prosecutor, who became his friend through their shared love of kendo martial art, and a retired newspaper reporter. Odachi was 87 years old when he started talking about his war experiences.
The EEBO TCP corpus consists of the works represented in the Early English Books Online collections known as Short Title Catalogues I and II (based on the Pollard & Redgrave and Wing short title catalogs respectively), as well as the Thomason Tracts and the Early English Books Tract Supplement collections. Together these trace the history of English thought from the first book printed in English in 1475 through to 1700. The books in these collections include works of literature, philosophy, politics, religion, geography, history, politics, mathematics, music, the practical arts, natural science, and all other areas of human endeavor. The assembled collection of more than 125,000 volumes is a mainstay for understanding the development of Western culture in general and the Anglo-American world in particular. The STC collections have perhaps been most widely used by scholars of English, theology, linguistics, and history, but these resources also include core texts in art, women’s studies, history of science and medicine, law, and music.
The following are but a small sampling of the authors whose works are included: Erasmus, Shakespeare, King James I, Marlowe, Galileo, Caxton, Chaucer, Malory, Boyle, Newton, Locke, More, Milton, Spenser, Bacon, Donne, Hobbes, Purcell, Behn, and Defoe.