Archive for July, 2007

Invisible Man

Friday, July 13, 2007

1169277315.gifby Ralph Ellison

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Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952.  A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century.  The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.  The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

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Go Tell it on the Mountain

Friday, July 13, 2007

1169277314.gifby James Baldwin

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Mountain,” Baldwin said, “is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.”

Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

To the Lighthouse

Friday, July 13, 2007

1169277313.gifby Virginia Woolf

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Though its fame as an icon of twentieth-century literature rests primarily on the brilliance of its narrative technique and the impressionistic beauty of its prose, ‘To The Lighthouse’ is above all the story of a quest, and as such it possesses a brave and magical universality. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

Brideshead Revisited

Friday, July 13, 2007

1169277312.gifby Evelyn Waugh

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Evelyn Waugh’s most celebrated novel is a memory drama about the intense entanglement of the narrator, Charles Ryder, with a great Anglo-Catholic family. Written during World War II, the novel mourns the passing of the aristocratic world Waugh knew in his youth and vividly recalls the sensuous plea­sures denied him by wartime austerities; in so doing it also provides a profound study of the conflict between the demands of religion and the desires of the flesh. At once romantic, sensuous, comic, and somber, Brideshead Revisited transcends Waugh’s familiar satiric exploration of his cast of lords and ladies, Catholics and eccentrics, artists and misfits, revealing him to be an elegiac, lyrical novelist of the utmost feeling and lucidity.

The edition reprinted here contains Waugh’s revisions, made in 1959, and his preface to the revised edition. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

Lolita

Friday, July 13, 2007

1169277311.gifby Vladimir Nabokov

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Nabokov’s Lolita was originally published in 1955 and immediately became embroiled in its own censorship battles. The story is admittedly, purposefully, a shocking one: Humbert Humbert, an emigré academic, has a thing for young girls. Nymphets, he calls them, prepubescent girls who betray some precocious awareness of their own sensuality. Upon accepting a position at a new college, Humbert rents a room in town and falls madly, passionately, horrifyingly in love with his landlady’s 12-year-old daughter, Dolores Haze, the Lolita of the novel’s title. He marries Dolores’s mother in order to maintain proximity to Dolores herself, and his relationship with her very quickly exceeds the bounds of stepfatherly affection.

There are several upsetting things about this story, not the least of which is that, it appears, Lolita herself is the seducer, and Humbert the seducee. Hence the ubiquitous comparisons of any precociously sexual, slightly dangerous girl to this character (for example, the “Long Island Lolita”). These comparisons — and the moral censorship to which the novel has been subject — are, however, based on a most superficial reading of the book, one that overlooks a basic literary concept: the unreliable narrator.

Humbert Humbert is the one who tells us the story. From an insane asylum. He’s a child molester and, ultimately, a murderer. Why on earth should we take his word for how it happened?

This, in fact, is the real story of Lolita. The novel is about the ways in which a reader can be manipulated to feel sympathy for — even to identify with — the most horrifying person imaginable. That early readers of the novel were so shocked by Dolores’s behavior — so shocked, in fact, that governments moved to ban the book — is precisely Nabokov’s point: Rather than acknowledge the ultimate evil that lies under the otherwise charming persona, we as a culture are more inclined to turn him into a tragic hero, a victim.  (barnesandnoble.com)

The Satanic Verses

Friday, July 13, 2007

1169277310.gifby Salman Rushdie

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Just before dawn one winter’s morning, a hijacked jetliner explodes above the English Channel. Through the falling debris, two men-Gibreel Farishta, the biggest movie star in India, and Saladin Chamcha, an expatriate returning from his first visit to Bombay in fifteen years-plummet from the sky. Washing up on the snow-covered sands of an English beach, they proceed through a series of metamorphoses, dreams and revelations.

The Satanic Verses is a wonderfully erudite study of the evil and good entwined within the hearts of women and men, an epic journey of tears and laughter, served up by a writer at the height of his powers. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publishers)

The Fountainhead

Friday, July 13, 2007

116927739.gifby Ayn Rand

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This centennial edition of The Fountainhead, celebrating the controversial and enduring legacy of its author, features an afterword by Rand’s literary executor, Leonard Peikoff, offering some of Ayn Rand’s personal notes on the development of her masterwork, and a Reader’s Guide to her writings and philosophy. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

On the Road

Friday, July 13, 2007

116927738.gifby Jack Kerouac

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On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance. Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “Beat” and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than forty years ago. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

A Separate Peace

Friday, July 13, 2007

116927737.gifby John Knowles

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Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world. A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles’s crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic. (barnesandnoble.com, from the publisher)

Midnight’s Children

Friday, July 13, 2007

116927736.gifby Salman Rushdie

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The author of The Satanic Verses creates a fascinating family saga about the birth and maturity of a land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the human comedy. “Rushdie has achieved a magnificent and unique work of fiction.”–The Philadelphia Inquirer. (barnesandnoble.com)