Readersforum's Blog

April 23, 2014

10 Books for Twentysomethings

BellBy Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig

In the new book Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, the mother-daughter team of Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig explores the difficulties facing young people in today’s society–including identity exploration, instability, and self-focus. Do yourself a favor and pick up the book, as well as some of these 10 books, selected by the Henigs, which will help get the twentysomething in your life on the right track.

The most uplifting news we’ve read recently about Millennials, the one that counters all the negative stereotypes about them as lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and shallow, is that they love books. In fact, a survey reported last summer noted that Millennials buy more books than Baby Boomers (30% of total sales for Millennials versus 24% for Boomers). The future of civilization is assured.

And in their typically self-obsessed way — one generalization that’s probably true, because it’s developmentally appropriate to spend time thinking about yourself at a stage in life when your main task is figuring yourself out — Millennials are probably buying books about other twentysomethings, the more disaffected the better. If they’re not, they should be, because what better way to get through a period of uncertainty and shifting enthusiasms than to read great literature about characters doing pretty much the same thing? Here are 10 of our favorites.

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April 15, 2014

The 13 Best John Steinbeck Books

A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books

Friday 01.24.2014 , Posted by


A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books

Friday 01.24.2014 , Posted by


A Very Rare Book Opens 6 Different Ways, Reveals 6 Different Books

Friday 01.24.2014 , Posted by


John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

By Susan Shillinglaw.

Susan Shillinglaw’s new book On Reading “The Grapes of Wrath” provides readers with a new appreciation for the American classic and John Steinbeck’s craft, and it’s just in time for the book’s 75th anniversary. Shillinglaw, former director of the SJSU Steinbeck Center and author of Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage, shares with us her favorite Steinbeck books.

Where I live, Monterey County California, Steinbeck also lived, so interest runs high. After twenty eight years traveling long and well with this rumpled, engaging writer, I know first hand that Steinbeck’s appeal extends far beyond his home turf–that his voice roars beyond boundaries of place, time and class. Why this might be so is a question to ask in this 75th anniversary year of The Grapes of Wrath.

Reasons for his popularity abound. His prose is supple–muscular and melodic. Early on, he fixed his gaze on the marginalized and dispossessed, conveying a palpable empathy for ordinary folk who speak a robust and earthy American idiom. Throughout his nearly forty-year writing career, he remained an astute observer of American life—he was “basically, intrinsically and irresistibly a Democrat,” as he said of himself. (He wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson, drafted some for Lyndon Johnson and was asked by Jackie Kennedy to write a biography of her husband.) Friendship was his great, equalizing subject. He noted the ethnic diversity of California: Chinese Lee in East of Eden, for example, at the helm of the Trask family’s listing vessel. He was an environmentalist, knowing from a young age that humans must share landscapes with other species, not blindly dominate them. And his books are both winsome and wise; he was a writer unafraid to experiment with slight and weighty volumes, as well as work in a variety of genres–filmscripts and journalism and dramas and short stories, travel narratives and novels.

I’ve arranged my favorites into sets with Steinbeck as the common ancestor. Any number of people I’ve met read one Steinbeck novel and then gobble them all. A reader seated at the feast might switch metaphors and consider the branching and “comfortable” Steinbeck oak, the sets as limbs:

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March 10, 2014

12 Books That End Mid-Sentence.

Kafka.Castle.1967.big_By Gabe Habash.

Way back before The Sopranos made people angry/confused for cutting to black out of nowhere, books were messing with the heads of readers by daring to not use a period as the last typeset keystroke on the very last page. Here are 12 books that have no need for the standard last punctuation mark.

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January 27, 2014

The 9 Best Books That Don’t Exist

SandBy Gabe Habash

It’s time to make you really sad: here are 9 great books…that don’t actually exist.

But while the world would certainly be a better place if they did exist (except #4 and probably #1), if you haven’t read the books they’re from, change that right away.

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December 28, 2013

10 Books Based on Other Books

2666By Álvaro Enrigue, trans. from the Spanish by Brendan Riley

Álvaro Enrigue’s story collection Hypothermia explores identity and isolation through the eyes of garbage collectors, professors, and outcasts. It’s also loosely based on Dante’s Inferno. Enrigue picked 10 books that took inspiration from books that came before them. In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, Jorge Luis Borges tells the story of a writer who set out to reproduce Don Quixote de la Mancha without consulting the original text written by Cervantes. “He did not wish to compose another Quixote” –says Borges– “but the very Quixote itself. Needless to say he never set himself to the facile task of mechanically transcribing the original; it was not his intention to copy it.” In Borges’ story, Pierre Menard dedicates years to writing thousands of pages on his recollections of the novel and by the end of his life he achieves success: he reproduces two and a half chapters from Cervantes’ book without having copied them. In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” Borges, himself a voracious reader, responds to a question which typically torments writers: Do books emerge from our experience or do they come from other books? The following is a list of great literary works which have set out to modify our reading of other, earlier ones.

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October 8, 2013

The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read

Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter Books, which specializes in great books in translation, as well as the Web Site Three Percent, gives us the benefit of his years of working with world literature–he’s narrowed his best books in translation list to 20.

True deceiverAs the director of Open Letter Books and Three Percent—and former Associate Director of Dalkey Archive Press—I’ve spent most of my adult life reading literature in translation. Why? In part because I find it fascinating to learn about other parts of the world, but mostly because there are so many incredibly good works in translation available to English readers.

On the surface, this seems to run counter to the commonly cited statistic that only 3% (or less) of the books published in the United States are originally written in another language. Quantity doesn’t necessarily relate to quality though. Even though there are just over 400 original translations of fiction and poetry being published in the States every year, the vast majority of these are top notch books—titles that are critically acclaimed in their own country, and often are written with a style and structure that can expand your ideas of what’s possible in fiction.

When Stephen Sparks of Green Apple Books and I started talking about putting together a 20-book list of translations, we immediately wanted to get away from some of the more obvious authors that populate lists of this sort—Garcia, Cortázar, Proust, Kafka, Tolstoy, etc. Not that these books aren’t amazing—they definitely are—but those are authors that most engaged readers have already heard of, oftentimes in a college class, or from one’s reading buddies.

So instead, we chose 20 of our favorite translations from around the world. Obviously, this could be expanded and expanded, but hopefully you’ll find at least a few new works of international literature to check out.

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July 30, 2013

Big week for UK prizes

The-Folio-Prize By Clare Swanson

The Man Booker Prize announced their longlist today and, after taking some heat for its populist ways, the award’s judges have deemed the list most diverse it has ever been.

The Guardian reported that Robert Macfarlane, this year’s Man Booker chair of judges, said: “This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject. These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000, and from Shanghai to Hendon.”

The reveal arrives one week after the Folio Prize named the panel of judges for their inaugural prize given in 2014, which includes Pulitzer Prize-winning author (and husband to sometimes controversial essayist Ayelet Waldman) Michael Chabon. The award, created by the Literature Prize Foundation, was perceived by some to be the highbrow answer to the Man Booker Prize when first announced in 2011.

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June 26, 2013

American Classic: Philipp Meyer

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 8:35 am

amerBy Ruby Cutolo

Philipp Meyer is not answering his doorbell. Standing in front of his apartment building, balancing the cup of coffee I said I’d bring him, a cell phone (oddly not working), and the rest of the interview detritus, I panic. Do I have the wrong day? The wrong time? Is he gone? He had said he was leaving town soon and that there was an excellent chance I wouldn’t be able to interview him about The Son, his epic American multigenerational second novel, out this June from Ecco. I’m leaning against the counter of the bodega next door when Meyer arrives. His buzzer, he explains, is broken. He’s clean-cut, handsome, and completely calm.

The confidence of his writing replicates his confidence in person. Meyer is focused, serious, completely aware, present, but also he laughs easily and smiles often. His personal history is compelling. “I have an extremely high risk tolerance,” he tells me. This is evident from his back story; Meyer is living proof that taking risks can indeed pay off.

If luck is a factor in success, Meyer’s luck seems to have come from effort, extreme discipline, and a total belief in himself and his work. “Now that I’ve rewritten it [The Son], it’s perfect,” he says. He also describes his first book, American Rust (Spiegel & Grau, 2009), as “perfect,” but he’s humble and gracious when he clarifies this statement: “I would never write in that style again, so it was perfect in the sense that it was within the aesthetic that I was working in according to my abilities at that moment—that was the best thing I could create.”

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May 23, 2013

So You Think You Want to Be a Librarian?

By Brian Kenney

Most people’s knowledge of librarianship is a mash-up of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Desk Set, some warm and fuzzy memories from an elementary school class visit, Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, even fuzzier memories of all-nighters in their college libraries, and maybe a high-minded article or two about the Digital Public Library of America.

If this sounds familiar, don’t be embarrassed. Librarianship is a notoriously opaque profession, and most Americans have about as much understanding of what we do as they have of cloistered nuns, or actuaries.

Here’s the first shocker: most professional-level library positions require a masters in library or information science, most commonly known as “the M.L.S.” Since the M.L.S. involves a serious commitment of time and money, then you better be doubly sure that this is the right decision, at least for the next decade or two.

Fortunately, librarians are the original oversharers, and they’ve produced a body of literature—from blogs posts to articles to books—to help you with your decision. This is especially useful since librarians come in different stripes—public, academic, school, special—with some significant differences among them. Librarians also conduct a lot of their professional lives online, so blogs, Twitter, and e-mail lists are all great places to soak up information.

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May 20, 2013

10 Biggest Book Adaptation Flops

By Gabe Habash

For this list, we didn’t just want book adaptations that were a critical/audience failure or a box office failure–we wanted both. That’s why the films you see below might not be the biggest money losers or the most panned; instead, they’re a combination of the most hated and most wasteful uses of celluloid out there. If none of these movies were made, over $913,000,000 would have been saved and approximately 4 billion viewing hours would have been saved.

(The following films were either critical or money failures, but not both, so they couldn’t make the list: The Great Gatsby [the Redford one], Lolita [1997], Treasure Planet, Beloved, The House of the Spirits, many more)

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