Author Birthdays: Bunin, Narayan, Barthelme

October 10th marks the birthday of authors Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, R. K. Narayan, and Frederick Barthelme, among others.

Ivan Alekseevich Bunin was a Russian author, and the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote novels, poetry, and short stories, as well as a commentary on Leo Tolstoy, which is somewhat autobiographical. We have a few books of his collected short stories in our collection. One of the more well-known stories is Sukhodol, which was supposedly a biography of his family.

Bunin's real star work is the first full-length novel, which made him famous in Russia. Entitled The Village, it is a realistic portrayal of village life in Russia during the Revolution.

R. K. Narayan was an Indian writer, nominated multiple times for the Nobel Prize, though he never won. Of his works, The Guide is perhaps the most praised. It is a novel that shows the change of an Indian man into a sort of spiritual mentor. Spirituality seems to be a common theme for Narayan, as he also wrote a few Hindu religious retellings, like Gods, Demons, and Others and a modern prose version of The Mahabharata.

Narayan's novels are often based in the fictional town called Malgudi, including his first, Swami and Friends, which got him noticed by fellow author Graham Greene.

Frederick Barthelme is an American author and editor of The Mississippi Review literary magazine. He is the brother of fellow author Donald Barthelme.

Barthelme's latest book is called Waveland. Set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Booklist called it a "...powerfully atmospheric story of loneliness and risk". You can read an interview from last year about it at Fictionaut Blog.

October's Family-Friendly Books to Film

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Based on the remarkable true story in William Nack's Secretariat : the making of a champion, the film chronicles the spectacular journey of the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Housewife and mother Penny Chenery (played by Diane Lane) agrees to take over her ailing father’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables, despite her lack of horse-racing knowledge. Against all odds, Chenery, with the help of veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), manages to navigate the male-dominated business, ultimately fostering the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and what may be the greatest racehorse of all time.

Already in theaters is the animated IMAX 3D Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based on the first 3 books in Kathryn Lasky's ever-popular fantasy series The Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

After Soren, a young owlet, is pushed from his family's nest by his older brother, he's plucked from the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school, the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owl, where Soren suspects there is more to the school than meets the eye. He and his new friend, the clever and scrappy Gylfie, find out that St. Aggie's is actually a training camp where the school's leader can groom young owls to help achieve her goal--to rule the entire owl kingdom. Later they meet with two more orphaned owls, the indomitable Twilight and pensive Digger, and the four form a band as they journey to a refuge that may exist only in legend--the Great Ga'Hoole Tree.

October's Books to Film

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Now a Focus Features film, teen novelist Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story is a "whimsical coming-of-age story".

Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids and soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable. One night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig's suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.

Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness. For a novel about depression, it's definitely a funny story.

Based on the graphic novel** by Posy Simmonds Tamara Drewe (trailer) is loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. It delightfully skewers modern mores and manners with great wit and understanding for the foibles of humanity.

At a bucolic writers' retreat run by Beth and Nicholas Hardiman, where Dr. Glen Larson, an American professor and struggling novelist, is staying. An ambitious young Tamara Drewe, mourning the loss of her mother, has returned to her family home nearby. A bookish girl not so long ago, Tamara is now a gossip columnist at a London paper and undeniably sexy. She quickly has every man in the vicinity falling at her feet. Meanwhile, long-suffering Beth sees to the needs of the writers while managing the farm, the household, and the many affairs of her husband, a best-selling detective novelist.

** = starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Stevens, Greene, Finney

October 2nd marks the birthday of authors Wallace Stevens, Graham Greene, and Jack Finney.

Wallace Stevens was an American poet and lawyer, as well as a two-time winner of the National Book Award and a Pulitzer winner. Both awards went to his 1954 book of Collected Poems. However, he wasn't only famous for his poetry; in the 1930s, Stevens got in a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway.

Stevens was a Modernist. One of his poems, "The Man with the Blue Guitar" was inspired by Pablo Picasso's "The Old Guitarist." This poem in turn influenced artist David Hockney.

Graham Greene was an English writer, known for his books' religious themes. Greene was a Catholic, however the Church didn't always like his writing. Many of his stories were self-proclaimed thrillers, though not all. He liked to note that he wanted his serious works to be the main body used for criticism, not his "entertainments."

Many of Greene's books were made into films, including The End of the Affair, The Honorary Consul (US: Beyond the Limit), Stamboul Train (Orient Express), and The Quiet American. He also wrote both the novella and the screenplay for The Third Man.

Jack Finney was an American writer, probably best known as a Science Fiction novelist. One of his books, The Body Snatchers, was the basis for the sci-fi favorite Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and its many remakes.

Finney also wrote Time and Again, which is a tale of time travel, and includes several illustrations and images, some of which are actually from the 1880s. The story is about a man named Si, who is asked to perform in a secret government project which requires self-hypnosis in order to travel back in time.

Today is also the birthday of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, promoter of civil disobedience and non-violence.

Author Birthdays: Faulkner, Anderson, Silverstein

September 25th marks the birthday of authors William Faulkner, Jessica Anderson, and Shel Silverstein.

William Faulkner was a Nobel-winning American author, who helped fund the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He was also the winner of the Pulitzer Prize twice--once for A Fable, and eight years later for The Reivers--and the National Book Award twice--awarded to A Fable and his Collected Stories.

Faulkner wrote many books, though perhaps the most well-known to many are The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. Among the more interesting concepts are Requiem for a Nun, which is part novel and part play (and the sequel to his commercial book, Sanctuary), and his short story "A Rose for Emily", which is narrated in the first-person plural "we". In 1955, Faulkner spoke about this short story in a book edited by Robert Jelliffe, explaining, "...here was a woman who had had...an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute...to a woman you would hand a rose."

Jessica Anderson was an Australian award-winning author. Two of her winning books won, among other awards, the Miles Franklin Award. One of these is called The Impersonators, though it was retitled in the U.S. to The Only Daughter. The other is Tirra Lirra by the River, which Library Journal called "Subtle, rich, and seductive", and the Washington Post explained as "a wry, romantic story." Sadly, Anderson passed just a few months ago in Sydney.

Shel Silverstein was a sort of American Renaissance man. Best known for his children's poetry, Silverstein also was a cartoonist, musician, singer, and screenwriter. He won a Grammy for "A Boy Named Sue" and was even nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for a song in the movie Postcards from the Edge.

Silverstein has been published in 20 languages. Among those we have here are English, Chinese, French, Hebrew, and Spanish versions of his biggest books. Maybe you have heard of Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree...should I keep going?

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #222

One critic calls it "the smart modern woman's The Da Vinci Code", while I am not quite sure of the comparison, Anne Fortier's Juliet* does offer readers "a sweeping, beautifully written novel of intrigue and identity, of love and legacy, as a young woman discovers that her own fate is irrevocably tied—for better or worse—to literature’s greatest star-crossed lovers".

25-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved Aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that while her twin Janice inherits Aunt Rose's estate, Julie is left with a key to a safety deposit box in Siena, promising her a legendary treasure left to her by her mother, and the knowledge that she's actually a Tolomei, and a direct descendant of Giulietta - the historical Juliet immortalized by Shakespeare.

As Julie tries to unravel the clues to the treasure left in her mother's notebook, she fears others have an interest in her progress and she might indeed be in danger, and that the 600-year-old curse of "A plague on both your houses" might still be at work. She really needs her Romeo. Now, could he be the dark, handsome and prickly policeman Sandro Santini?

Anne Fortier grew up in Denmark and emigrated to the United States in 2002 to work in films. The story of Juliet was inspired by her mother. The rights to this, her debut novel, have been sold to 29 countries.

For fans of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, romantic thrillers steeped in history and gorgeous settings.

* = starred review

Miss Lonelyhearts / The Day of the Locust

From the New Directions Paperback Edition of Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust:

Dear Miss Lonelyhearts:
I am in such pain I dont know what to do sometimes I think I will kill myself my kidneys hurt so much. My husband thinks no woman can be a good catholic and not have children irregardless of the pain...

Miss Lonelyhearts answers letters like this one everyday. What began as a lighthearted newspaper job eventually becomes a living hell for Miss Lonelyhearts, who is actually a young man. With the weight of depression era New York City's lost, lonely and mistreated on his shoulders, he becomes disillusioned and hopeless, feeling trapped in his position. The question is, when, and how, will it end? This black hearted-ly humorous novella is short, around 70 pages, but really packs a punch.

Now we head all the way to the West Coast, to sunny Los Angeles. The Day of the Locust is now considered an American classic, and is quite possibly the definitive novel about early Hollywood. The tale centers around a young Hollywood painter/costume designer named Tod Hackett, who becomes involved with a deplorable yet colorful cast of characters - an aspiring and manipulative young starlet, a cowboy, a Mexican cock-fighter, and a pathetically humorous character named Homer Simpson. Yes, Homer Simpson. (Matt Groening might deny that America's lovable doughnut-scarfing family man's name was taken straight from The Day of the Locust, but I don't believe him.) This one has a stunner of an ending. A film adaptation was made in 1975, although having not yet seen it, I cannot vouch for it.

Author Nathanael West's career ended far too soon in 1940. Tragically - and weirdly - he and his wife were killed in a car accident heading to the funeral services of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who happened to be a great admirer of West's.

Author Birthdays: Williams, O'Connor, Stewart

September 17th marks the birthday of authors William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Connor, and Mary Stewart.

William Carlos Williams was an American poet and pediatrician. He is typically regarded as a Modernist, though sometimes as an Imagist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1963 for his collection Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

Williams also wrote Paterson, a five-book poem, often considered his "epic". The 1992 edition contains clarifying notes on the poem. A Library Journal review noted that "By exploring the local, Williams sought to descry the universal and to find in city and landscape symbolic analogues for the essential issues of human life."

Frank O'Connor was an Irish short-story writer who served in the Irish War of Independence; he was published in The New Yorker. One of his autobiographies, An Only Child, was even quoted by JFK in a speech he gave while president.

In addition to his own, O'Connor also wrote a book on the subject of short stories in general, called The Lonely Voice. The book discusses other authors such as Chekhov, Joyce, and Hemingway.

Mary Stewart is an English writer, probably most well-known for her historical fantasy quintet, The Merlin Chronicles, which begins with the book The Crystal Cave.

Stewart has also written mystery novels, most of which have a touch of romance, such as The Stormy Petrel and My Brother Michael.

Oprah's Book Club Pick

In 2008, Time Magazine wrote: "The all-powerful Oprah Book Club is not so much a club as a ruthlessly influential marketing vehicle, with the power to fundamentally alter best-seller lists, Amazon rankings and royalty payments." After much media speculation, the ruthlessly influential marketing vehicle of Oprah has announced her latest, and final, book club selection: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Visit Oprah's website for more about the book, an excerpt to read, a biography of the author, and much, much more.

September Books to Film, Part 2

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The highly acclaimed novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro has been adapted into film, to be released September 15.

Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) live in a world and a time that feel familiar to us, but are not quite like anything we know. They spend their childhood at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. When they leave the shelter of the school and the terrible truth of their fate is revealed to them, they must also confront the deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that threaten to pull them apart.

Kazuo Ishiguro created a remarkable story of love, loss and hidden truths. In it he posed the fundamental question: What makes us human?

The Town is based on Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves.

Doug MacRay is an unrepentant criminal, leader of a group of ruthless bank robbers who pride themselves in stealing what they want. With no real attachments, Doug never has to fear losing anyone close to him. But that all changed on the gang’s latest job, when they briefly took a hostage --- bank manager Claire Keesey. Then Claire meets an unassuming and rather charming man named Doug, not realizing that he is the same man who only days earlier had terrorized her. The instant attraction between them gradually turns into a passionate romance that threatens to take them both down a dangerous, and potentially deadly, path.

Cast includes: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, and Blake Lively. In select theaters September 17.

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