Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for...Markus Zusak

Well, we've made it to the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, fellow A-Zers, and that brings us to the letter Z.  Today is all about:  Markus Zusak.

Markus Zusak (1975-)
An Australian writer, Markus Zusak is best known for his young adult fiction.  His two most well-known works are The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger.  I first encountered Zusak's work in 2006 when I moved to Austria.  I picked it up in a small bookstore in Vienna that had an English language section (I needed to read something in English).  I can honestly say that I am so glad I wandered into that bookstore and picked up The Book Thief.  It is a magical book and one that I recommend to everyone who hasn't read it.  In fact, I have lent my copy out to so many people that it is falling apart (this signifies love).  I have yet to see the film version, though I want to despite the reviews.  There are still a few books of Zusak's that I have yet to read, by they are all on my GoodReads list :)

*Recommendation:  The Book Thief

Who are some of your favorite Z authors?

Once again, this year's A-Z Blogging Challenge has been awesome!  I came across some great blogs and truly enjoyed every aspect of the challenge.  I can't wait until next year!!!

My First Foodie Penpals Box!

The delicious treats I received from Brianna!
This was my first foray into the awesome world of Foodie Penpals and it was everything I hoped it would be!!!  Discovered through the A-Z Blogging Challenge, Foodie Penpals is the brainchild of Lindsay over at The Lean Green Bean and it's a wonderful way to sample products from different regions across the US.

I received some lovely, delicious things from the state of Florida courtesy of Brianna at Tea with Bri.  Inside my box were the following:  Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips in Zesty Nacho flavor, a Midnight Oil Molasses from a local company in Florida, Dark Chocolate with Toffee and Freeze Dried Raspberries and Strawberries, and a spice mix from Sara's in Florida that smells divine!  I can't wait to try it out.

If you would like to participate in Foodie Penpals, please go here!  The program runs from month to month, so there is no obligation to participate every month.  This is great if you are a little strapped for cash during a particular month.  In order to join in the festivities, you have to sign up by the 4th of whatever month you wish to participate, so keep that in mind.  Regardless, I will definitely continue to participate in this program!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for...Yann Martel this is kind of cheating on my part since I've been basing the challenge on last name, but I'm sticking with this one.  I bring you:  Yann Martel.

Yann Martel
I remember putting off reading Life of Pi for years.  Not because it didn't sound interesting, it did, but because there was so much hype and I was terrified that it would be a letdown.  Thankfully, I finally let one of my dear friends talk me into reading it and I'm so glad I finally caved!  It's a fantastic book.  Martel, a Canadian writer, has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Man Booker Prize for Pi in 2002.  I have yet to read anything else by Martel, though Beatrice and Virgil sounds interesting.  I have also not watched Ang Lee's film version of Pi, though it is in my Netflix queue. 

*Recommendation:  Life of Pi

Who are some of your favorite Y authors?

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for......

It's Monday...ugh.  And I'll honestly admit that I have nothing for today.  Epic Fail!  Oh well.  Have a lovely day, fellow A-Zers, and I'll be back tomorrow.

Can you think of any X writers???

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for...Elie Wiesel and Jeanette Winterson I have missed you.  I intend to spend today relaxing and reading.  Yay!  But for you, fellow A-Zers, I'm bringing you two W authors:  Elie Wiesel and Jeanette Winterson.

Elie Wiesel (1928-)
I first fell in love with Elie Wiesel as a Sophomore in high school.  Night was required reading at that time and this book has stuck with me something fierce.  I remember being so shocked by the opening scenes (I won't spoil it) and appalled by the atrocities discussed throughout the book.  Since that time, I have been incredibly drawn to WWII and the Holocaust.  So much so that I focused my graduate degree in Holocaust Literature.  I credit Elie Wiesel for the love I have for this genre/point in history.  Wiesel, a Romanian-born Jewish-American is a professor and political activist, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 due to his powerful message of peace and love despite having suffered the atrocities of the Holocaust.  After his hometown of Sighet in Romania was lost to Hungary in 1944, the authorities allowed the German army to deport the entire Jewish community to Auschwitz; this included the Wiesel family.  Separated from his entire family aside from his father, Wiesel witnessed many horrifying things, including a Death March.  His father was killed just prior to liberation by the allies and only two of his three sisters survived.  Wiesel refused to write about or discuss any aspect of the war for ten years after the war because he felt that anything he said would not do justice to his experiences.  The first book he wrote detailing his time as a prisoner was Night.  Though not a bestseller by any means, the book did attract the interest of reviewers and led to television interviews.  Since then, it has gone on to achieve enormous success.  If you have not read anything by Elie Wiesel, I would recommend changing this; you won't be disappointed.

*Recommendation:  Night
Jeanette Winterson (1959-)
British novelist Jeanette Winterson is well-known for her exploration of physicality and imagination, gender polarities, and sexual identities.  Several of her works have been adapted into screenplays and television shows, winning many awards including the BAFTA for Best Drama for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit in 1990.  Winterson is a writer of fiction, children's literature, science fiction, and journalism and is a professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.  She has also been made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to literature.  Her novels are complex and insightful, often blurring the lines between genders and stereotypes.  She's a gem in the literary field.

*Recommendation:  The Passion

Who are some of your favorite W authors?

Friday, April 25, 2014

World Book Night 2014 Was A Success!

I think this year's World Book Night was my favorite and most rewarding.  I have always had a great time participating over the last three years, but for some reason this one was smooth sailing.  I received Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife as my book to give away and was thrilled by this.  The day of the event was a busy one.  Not only did I have a program at work (I work at a small liberal arts university in Oregon), but it was a rainy day.  Definitely puts a little bit of a damper on handing out books.  However, I prevailed!  In the afternoon, my coworker and first time book giver this year, Lori over at Palmer's Page Turners, headed down to the university center to hand out books.  Some people look at you like you're crazy and politely declined, but the vast majority were thrilled to be receiving a completely free, no-strings attached book!  That's the most rewarding part.  In addition to handing books out in the university center, I kept a few back to hand out in the evening at my apartment complex.  I live in a complex where the majority of tenants are non-native English speakers.  Despite the pouring rain, I wrapped the rest of my books in plastic bags and placed them randomly on people's stoops (anonymously, because that makes it exciting).  Unfortunately, I did not have enough to hit every single apartment, but I feel that those who received them were excited.  I am so looking forward to next year's World Book Night!

V is for...Vonnegut

Happy Friday, fellow A-Zers!  I'm glad this week is sure felt like it went on forever. presents us the letter V and I'm bringing you:  Kurt Vonnegut!

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
An American writer, Vonnegut is known for his blend of satire, humor, and science fiction.  Very active in the American Civil Liberties Union and considered a critical pacifist intellectual, he was known for his believe in humanist ideals.  A soldier and POW during World War II, Kurt Vonnegut utilized his experiences to help shape his work.  An advocate for anti-authoritarianism, he incorporates much of himself into his work.  There is a deep cynicism and wild leaps of imagination that run rampant throughout.  He also utilizes the idea of determinism, perhaps best seen in Slaughterhouse Five.  In addition to his writing, Vonnegut became quite a popular artist and a political activist.  He's a wonderful writer, though many have a hard time relating to his work. 

*Recommendation:  Slaughterhouse Five

Who are some of you favorite V writers?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for...Utterly Awesome Authors

 It was very difficult...well, impossible, to come up with an author to represent the letter U.  I guess Umberto Eco could work, but that would go against how I've been categorizing every author in the challenge.  I refuse to do that.  So I'm sneaking in an abnormal way to get around this letter with:  Utterly Awesome Authors.

Marissa Meyer (1984-)
A young adult author, Marissa Meyer is a recent addition to my library.  My friend and fellow blogger, The Sassy Starfish, happens to be a school librarian in a southern state recommended her work.  I'm glad she did!  Meyer published her first book, Cinder, a New York Times bestseller, in 2012, though she had worked in editing and fan fiction prior to this.  Her debut series, The Lunar Chronicles, is based on futuristic re-tellings of various fairy tales.  And she just received a 2-book deal for a new series based on Alice in Wonderland.  If you're looking for quick, entertaining reads, pick up one of Marissa Meyer's books.

*Recommendation:  The Lunar Chronicles series

Nora Roberts (1950-)
I love Nora Roberts (a pseudonym for Eleanor Marie Robertson).  Sometimes you need something that is easy to read, doesn't require a lot of attention, and quick to get through.  For me, Roberts is that guilty pleasure.  Though much of her work is incredibly formulaic (the series are anyway), there is something comforting in that aspect.  You always know what you're going to get with a Roberts novel.  The first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame, Nora Roberts also writes under the pseudonyms of JD Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty.  Another aspect of Roberts that I really enjoy is that she only releases her books in paperback because of the lengthy wait for hardback to paperback releases.  That's admirable.

*Recommendation:  The Chesapeake Bay Saga

Who are some of your favorite U authors?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for...Mildred D. Taylor

 It's a rainy day here in Oregon, but we're moving on to the letter T for the A-Z Challenge.  Today is all about:  Mildred D. Taylor.

Mildred D. Taylor (1943-)
I first came across Mildred D. Taylor's work in middle school.  It was during this time that I became obsessed with the Civil War and Antebellum South (see my M post) and Taylor's work was recommended to me.  Born in Mississippi, Taylor focuses much of her work on exploring the struggles faced by African Americans in the Deep South from slavery through the Depression and contemporary issues.  She utilized stories heard during her youth to help formulate her writing, so there is a strong sense of history woven throughout her books.  Because of her collective contribution to children's literature, she was awarded the Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature in 2003.  Though she is technically considered a children's author, her work should be read regardless.

*Recommendation:  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry...winner of the 1977 Newbery Medal.

**Honorable Mention:  Leo Tolstoy...specifically Anna Karenina

Who are some of your favorite T authors?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for...Sebald, Spiegelman, and Smith

Happy Tuesday, fellow A-Zers.  Today brings us to the letter S and it's all about:  W.G. Sebald, Art Spiegelman, and Alexander McCall Smith.

W.G. Sebald (1944-2001)
German writer W.G. Sebald is pure brilliance.  Prior to his untimely death in 2001, Sebald was heralded as one of the greatest living authors and believed to be a future Nobel Prize winner for Literature.  His father was a member of the Reichswehr in1929 and then transitioned as a member of the Wehrmacht under the Nazis, though he remained a fairly detached figure.  During World War II, Sebald's father was a prisoner of war until 1947.  Because of much of his experience during the Nazi Regime, Sebald focuses the majority of his work on the Holocaust and post-war Germany.  Heavy themes of memory and loss of memory (both personal and collective) and decay run rampant through his work.  In addition, he utilizes elaborate and old-fashioned language in the original German interspersed with black and white photos to highlight the interruption of memory.  This is most apparent in Austerlitz,  a novel written in two paragraphs with pictures breaking up sentences.  In this novel, there is also a nine-page single sentence.  It's a work of art.  Sebald effortlessly blends fact (or apparent fact), recollection, and fiction to compose his writing.  Most of his work is presented in travelogue form and has moments of dry humor.  He has named several established authors as having influenced him, including:  Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, and Vladimir Nabokov.  Seriously, check his work out.

*Recommendation:  Austerlitz
Art Spiegelman (1948-)
American cartoonist, editor, and comic advocate, Art Spiegelman, is perhaps best known for his graphic novel, Maus.  The novel is based on his father's experience as a Holocaust survivor and depicts all of those involved as animals (Nazis are cats, Jews are mice, American are dogs, etc).  It also highlights the challenges that children of Holocaust survivors face.  The novel, which took thirteen years to complete, was conducted through repeated interviews with Spiegelman's father and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.  This brought the format of the comic, or graphic novel, into the scholarly realm.  While I was never a comic book reader growing up, Maus effectively changed my view on the genre.  The book is a very quick read, but it leaves a lasting impression.

*Recommendation:  Maus

Alexander McCall Smith (1948-) this one is kind of a cheat, but I'm sticking to my guns on it!  I first heard of Alexander McCall Smith's work while living in Scotland, but never thought much of it.  Once I returned to the US, I began picking up his books and reminiscing about days gone by.  I soon fell in love with the 44 Scotland Street series and now recommend it to everyone.  Perhaps best know for his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe.  He is an Emeritus professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, my Alma mater, and a prolific novelist.  He is also a frequent contributor for The Scotsman; in fact, it was this platform,the serial, that produced the 44 Scotland Street series.  If you're looking for light, fun reads, look no further than McCall Smith.

*Recommendation:  The 44 Scotland Street series

Who are some of your favorite S writers?

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for...Rowling, Roach, and Rushdie

Happy Monday...and Easter hangover day.  It was a very busy weekend and this week doesn't look too good for a slow down.  Regardless, it's another day in the A-Z Challenge and today is all about the letter R.  I'm bringing you the following R authors:  JK Rowling, Mary Roach, and Salman Rushdie.

JK Rowling (1965-)
This is a given if you know me at all.  I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series (I re-read the entire series almost every summer), have posted multiple times on the series, and continually attempt to convince people who haven't read the books that they are fantastic and they should read them...NOW!  I remember putting off reading the HP series for years, but one weekend of camping effectively cured that notion.  When you're camping and you've finished all the books you brought with you, you have to have something to occupy some of the downtime.  Luckily my mother had the first two books stowed away and thus my love for the boy who lived was born.  I've never looked back.  In fact, while I was working on my graduate degree in Edinburgh, Scotland, I purposely visited several of the sites Rowling utilized while writing the series:  The Elephant House, a second floor nondescript Chinese restaurant, the Balmoral Hotel.  Sad, but true.  Read the Harry Potter series if you haven't.  She also published The Casual Vacancy to mixed reviews.  It's been sitting on my bookshelf unread as of yet.  Recently, Rowling came out with a new book, The Cuckoo's Calling, under the pen-name Robert Galbraith.  It received mixed reviews, but I still plan on reading it.

*Recommendation:  Harry Potter...all of them!

Mary Roach (1959-)
I like weird, macabre things (as my P post highlighted) and Mary Roach feeds right into that trait.  An American writer specializing in popular science, Roach's writing is accessible and, at times, rather funny.  One thing that I really admire Roach for is her hands on approach to research.  She doesn't simply stand on the sidelines collecting data.  Instead, she volunteers for experiments and will do just about anything in the name of science.  That's pretty awesome.  In addition, her writing style is unique in that, though scientifically based, she purposely utilizes language so that her books are reader-friendly and welcoming.  She selects topics that are based upon the human body and that often have some gross or disturbing aspect to them.  Despite this, much of her writing is comical and you will find yourself laughing out loud while reading.  Her books are a real treat.

*Recommendation:  Stiff:  The Curious Life of Human Cadavers

Salman Rushdie (1947-)
Indian-British novelist Salman Rushdie takes a lot of his influence from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magical realism (discussed in my M post).  His writing is dense and rewarding.  One thing to note when reading Rushdie...there are always a ton of characters to remember and a lot that happens in a short amount of time.  Sometimes breaks are necessary in order to process what is happening while you're reading.  Despite this, he's brilliant.  I first read Rushdie in a Lit Theory course.  We read one novel, Midnight's Children, the entire 11 weeks and spent our time working with different theoretical approaches.  It was brilliant.  In 1988, Rushdie published his most controversial novel, The Satanic Verses.  This one book led to heated Muslim protests and death threats toward Rushdie.  In fact, a fatwa was place on Rushdie's head by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, in 1989, forcing the author into hiding.  It was also declared that any bookstore stocking the book would be subject to punishment of various kinds.  This one book sparked violence around the world, including the firebombing of bookstores, book burnings, public rallies, attacking/killing those who published or translated the book, etc.  Also, because of the fatwa, there were several assassination attempts on Rushdie's life.  Since that time, Rushdie has enjoyed great success with his work.  He has also been knighted by the Queen and currently resides in New York City.

*Recommendation:  Midnight's Children...winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1991.

**Honorable Mentions:  Rick Riordan and Nora Roberts

Who are some of your favorite R authors?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for...Daniel Quinn

Hello, Saturday.  We meet again!  Today's post is about the letter Q.  I'll admit it was more difficult to find an author for this letter, but I managed to do it.  This post is going to be about:  Daniel Quinn.

Daniel Quinn (1935-)
I've only read one book by Daniel Quinn, but it was a good one.  Quinn, an American novelist, tends to focus much of his writing on the idea of environmentalism or cultural criticism.  Originally intending to become a monk, Quinn instead went into the publishing field; though he eventually left publishing to become a freelance writer.  It was at this time that he wrote Ishmael, the first in a loose trilogy, to great success.  It won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, a one-time award given to an unpublished work of fiction that offers creative and positive solutions to global problems.  This single novel was inspiration for Pearl Jam's "Do the Evolution" and aspects of the movie Instinct, though Quinn decries any similarity between the book and film.  Quinn travels widely giving lectures and discussing his works.  He has inspired much controversy with many of his claims; the biggest being that populations will increase or decrease depending on the availability of food and the catastrophic implications this causes (discussed most in depth in The Story of B).  It's fairly fascinating stuff.

*Recommendation:  Ishmael

Pearl Jam--"Do the Evolution"

Who are some of your favorite Q writers?

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for...Edgar Allan Poe and Chuck Palahniuk

It's Friday (Friday, Friday...damn you Rebecca Black!) and we're moving on to the letter P for the A-Z Challenge.  Today is all about:  Edgar Allan Poe and Chuck Palahniuk.  So it's all a little bit on the darker side...

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
I have loved everything I've ever read that Poe has written.  His darker, Gothic material has always been among my favorites.  A writer during the American Romantic Movement, Poe is best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre; though is was also a writer of satires, humorous tales, and hoaxes.  He is also one of the earliest writers of short fiction in America, in addition to being considered the inventor of detective fiction; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was heavily influence by Poe.  Though his personal life was mired with controversy (alcoholism, drugs, marriage to his 13-year-old cousin), his work was always well-received and he was one of the most respected literary critics of his time.  His success, while fairly prominent in the US, was even greater in Europe, especially France thanks to the translations of his work by Charles Baudelaire (see my B post).  Since his mysterious death, Poe has been represented in popular culture, often as a mad genius or tormented artist.  Today, you can visit the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore (reopened in 2013) which is home to the Edgard Allan Poe Society.

*Recommendation:  "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "The Cask of Amontillado"

Chuck Palahniuk (1962-)
I love Chuck Palahniuk for several reasons.  1) He's a Northwest author (Washington/Oregon; have to support the locals).  2) His work is crazy and demented.  3)  He's just plain awesome!  The first time I read something of Palahniuk's, I was a freshman in college.  My fiction professor assigned Fight Club.  I had seen the movie before and loved it, but the book is freakin' awesome.  A member of the Portland Cacophony Society, inspiration for Project Mayhem in Fight Club, Palahniuk didn't begin writing fiction until his mid-thirties.  His earlier novels were very similar in style.  Most of the characters were represented by marginalized individuals who acted out with self-destructive aggression.  However, as Palahniuk moved into his later work, his novels were marked by a satirical horror story aspect.  All are very minimalistic in style, mimicking how a person would actually speak.  He has also drawn much of his philosophical and intellectual concepts from the work of Foucault and Camus.  If you are looking for something to turn your stomach a bit, then look no further than Palahniuk's work.

*Recommendation:'s twisted

Who are some of your favorite P writers?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for...George Orwell

Oh boy, we're on to the letter O.  Today is all about:  George Orwell.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
The first thing I ever read written by George Orwell, the pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, was Animal Farm in the 9th grade.  I'll admit that it was rough at the time.  But looking back I can now list this book as one of my favorites.  Especially after learning about the historical aspects that are represented in the book; it's so much more rewarding when you understand the background (this wasn't planned out very well considering we didn't cover this portion of history in Global Studies until after reading the book for English).  Regardless, Orwell is a magnificent writer.  An English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic, Orwell focused much of his writing on social injustice, the support of democratic socialism, and the opposition of totalitarianism.  Because of his work, Orwell is considered one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.  He is credited for introducing several terms into the English language, including Orwellian, Big Brother, Thought Police, Doublethink, and Cold War, among others.  Perhaps the most compelling work of Orwell's is his non-fiction.  His time spent in Burma (today's Republic of the Union of Myanmar) garnered so much attention and produced wonderful essays.  I always found a way to incorporate some of his essays into the syllabi for various writing courses that I taught; they always led to great discussions and reflections from the students.  Sadly, Orwell succumbed to complications caused by tuberculosis at the age of 46.

Recommendation:  "A Hanging," "Shooting an Elephant," and Animal Farm

Who are some of your favorite O writers?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

World Book Night 2014!

My Giver Box and Book!
This is my third year participating in World Book Night, an amazing program designed to promote literacy in the United States (the program began in the UK in 2011).  On the 23rd of April,  tens of thousands of people around the US and the UK hand out hundreds of thousands of free books to spread the love of reading from one person to the next.  This day is significant for several reasons:  1) It's the UNESCO International Day of the Book, 2) It's Shakespeare's birthday, and 3) It's the day that Miguel de Cervantes died (the father of the modern novel:  Don Quixote).  The publishers and authors from a wide variety of genres all waive their royalties and print the books for free; there is a selection of 38 books for this year's giveaway.  In addition, there are over 35,000 people giving books away in the US alone this time around.  That's impressive! 

The first year I participated in the program, I received Nicole Krauss' The History of Love and handed it out to interested students in one of my lower-level writing class at a local community college.  Most of these students were working on degrees in mechanics or the culinary arts and the majority were only taking the class because it was a requirement.  In addition, a vast majority of them admitted to not enjoying reading...or writing for that matter.  My goal was always to have them realize that the more you read, the better you write, so this was the perfect venue to hand out free books and I was surprised by how many students were interested.

Last year I received David Benioff's City of Thieves and, because I was no longer teaching at the community college, I focused my attention on the large population of non-native English speakers in the community in which I live.  I utilized the public library, a place a lot of middle and high school kids utilized during the after school hours because of the free internet, and an after-school program in Salem, our state capital, that helps at-risk youths in the community.  It was another success.

This year I have received Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife as my World Book Night book.  I am very excited for this year's giveaway and can not wait to hand out free books on the 23rd.  As of now, I am still figuring out exactly where I'm going to hand out books...maybe a local park or the front of the student center at the university where I work or a local coffee shop.  I'm not quite sure.  Regardless, it's another great year to be a Book Giver!

If you are a lover of reading, literature, and the like, I highly recommend getting involved in this program.  You won't regret it.  And the look on people's faces when you hand them something for free is priceless and oh so rewarding :)

N is for...Vladimir Nabokov

Moving on to the letter N for today and it's all about Vladimir Nabokov.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)
The first book I ever read by Nabokov was Pale Fire, a parody of detective fiction full of comic suspense, literary idolatry,and political intrigue that begins with a 999-line epic poem followed by the literary line-by-line breakdown of said poem in novel form.  But it's so much more than that.  It's genius.  Pure genius.  Vladimir Nabokov is a Russian-American novelist whose first nine novels were written in Russian.  He gained international notoriety through his English prose work.  His work, both fiction and non-fiction, has garnered him much success; he was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction seven times...but never won.  In addition to writing novels, Nabokov was also a university professor at such prestigious institutions as Wellesley College and Cornell University.  Oftentimes, Nabokov would act as his own translator for English and Russian copies of his work because he felt that others would botch it.  Throughout his work, you will find complex plots, heavy alliteration, linguistic playfulness, and clever wordplay.  He's a must-read, in my humble opinion :)

*Recommendation:  Lolita

Who are some of your favorite N authors? 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for...Mann, Mitchell, and Marquez

Happy Tuesday, fellow A-Zers.  It's a glorious day here in the Pacific Northwest (we've been experiencing abnormally nice weather for this time of year) and we're exactly halfway through with this years challenge...whoa!  Today I'm bringing you the following M writers:  Thomas Mann, Margaret Mitchell, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955)
The first time I read something by Thomas Mann I was hooked.  It was a novella, so a quick read, and disturbing in so many ways.  But this one story has stuck with me so much so that when I was in Italy, where the novella is set, I purposely went to the island of Lido because of it.  A German novelist, short story writer, social critic, essayist, and Nobel Laureate in 1929, Mann's work is highly symbolic and noted for its views on the intellectual and the psychology of the artist.  He was also adept at incorporating ideas from philosophers, such as Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer.  When World War II broke out in Europe, Mann fled to the United States and did not return until 1952.  Every time I go to an antique shop or used bookstore, I always look for old copies of Mann's works; I've been lucky to find a few brilliant printings.  Pure and simple, Thomas Mann is a genius.

*Recommendation:  Death in Venice (a novella; there is also a film version) and Buddenbrooks

Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949)
It was in 8th grade that I first read Gone with the Wind because my Language Arts teacher suggested it after I asked for a recommendation.  This sparked my long obsession with the Civil War and Antebellum South.  I'll admit that, at 13, the 1000+ pages was daunting to say the least.  Fortunately I stuck it out and the book quickly became one of my all-time favorites; still is, actually.  Though it was the only book published during Margaret Mitchell's lifetime, it garnered her the National Book Award for Most Distinguished Novel in 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937.  Several of her childhood and teenage writings have been published since her death.  Mitchell spent much of her childhood listening to stories of the War from various relatives and family friends and this would eventually shape her writing.  In addition, Mitchell was fairly flamboyant and interested in sexual exploration which is reflected in her novel Lost Laysen (published posthumously).  Sadly, she was struck by a drunk driver while crossing the street in Atlanta with her husband.  She was 48.  Today, you can visit the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta where she wrote her famous novel.

*Recommendation:  Gone with the Wind

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014**)
A Colombian novelist, short story writer, journalist, and screenwriter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the best and most representative authors of Magical Realism, a literary style that utilizes magical elements in otherwise ordinary/realistic situations.  He is considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century and was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1972 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.  Oftentimes, Marquez leaves out important details, such as characters names or important events, in an effort to force the reader to take a more participatory role than they would normally take.  Though he often utilizes themes of reality, solitude, and transcendence, Marquez attempts to lighten most of his work through the use of humor.  He also tends to set a majority of his work in the fictional town of Macondo or eliminates a specific location completely in an attempt to show the reader that setting is more a state of mind than an actual location.

*Recommendation:  One Hundred Years of Solitude

Who are some of your favorite M writers?

**Update:  Sadly, Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away today, April 17, 2014.

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for...Lawson, Lee, and Levi

Happy Monday, fellow A-Zers.  I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and that you're all ready to get back in the swing of the challenge this week.  I know I am!  Today we move to the nearly halfway point of the challenge and the letter L.  And I bring you:  Lawson, Lee, and Levi.

Jenny Lawson
If you are looking for a writer who is laugh-out-loud hilarious, look no further than Jenny Lawson.  Her frank, open musings and honest reflections on life are wonderful.  Lawson does not shy away from aspects of herself that might not be "mainstream," instead preferring to air everything in the open in an effort to show people that, whatever their issues, they are not alone.  I remember seeing adverts for her first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and thinking that it sounds good; it had been receiving excellent reviews.  I finally picked it up from the library and looked like a complete lunatic while reading it in public.  It's that funny.  But the book also portrays the monster that is depression, which Lawson deals with openly.  Let's face it, anyone who is obsessed with awkward taxidermy is pretty awesome!  Also, you should check out her blog, The Bloggess, for more hilarious tidbits and musings.

*Recommendation:  Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

Harper Lee (1926-)
Harper Lee is one of my all-time favorite authors.  I remember having to read To Kill a Mockingbird as a Sophomore in high school and loving the book immediately.  I'm pretty sure it's still required reading in the majority of high schools in the US.  Even though Mockingbird was the only novel Lee every wrote, it garnered her the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in1961 and remains one of the best-selling books of all time.  Many aspects of the book are autobiographical:  Scout is a tomboy, much like Lee was; Dill was inspired by Lee's friend and neighbor, Truman Capote; Lee's father was an attorney and represented several black clients.  Despite her success, Lee rarely makes public appearances or speeches.  She has had several short stories and articles published, but has never written a second novel.

*Recommendation:  To Kill a Mockingbird

*Honorable Mention:  Primo Levi:  Italian chemist, writer, and Holocaust survivor----- Recommendation:  Survival in Auschwitz and The Periodic Table

Who are some of your favorite L authors?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for...Kafka, Kostova, and Kaestner

Happy Saturday, fellow A-Zers.  We've made it through week two of the challenge and I'm feeling good!  Today is all about the letter K and I'm bringing you the following authors:  Franz Kafka, Elizabeth Kostova, and Erich Kaestner.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
The first time I read Kafka, I was hooked.  His work is dark, seedy, and brutal.  Often he deals with themes of alienation, physical/psychological trauma, labyrinths, and terrifying quests, so there is a lot to be found in his work.  Born in Prague, Kafka wrote all of his work in his native language of German which contrasted with the mainly Czech-speaking population of the city, thus causing much tension.  Added to this, Kafka's Jewish heritage further alienated him from the masses.  The majority of his work was published posthumously despite his wish that they be destroyed after his death.  The pieces that were published during his lifetime, mainly in literary journals, attracted very little attention.  In fact, Kafka never wrote a full-length novel and destroyed ninety percent of his drafts.  Regardless, his work has influenced many writers, Sartre and Camus most notably, and spawned the term "Kafkaesque," which is used to describe surreal situations.

*Recommendation:  The Complete Stories:  specifically "The Metamorphosis" and "In the Penal Colony"

Elizabeth Kostova (1964-)
American novelist Elizabeth Kostova has written two novels so far:  The Historian and The Swan Thieves.  When The Historian was published, after a huge bidding war, it immediately shot to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list due to its heavy promotion, the first debut novel to ever accomplish this feat.  Along with this, it was the fastest-selling hardback novel of 2005 in US history.  Combining the story of Dracula with elements from varying genres, including Gothic, adventure, detective, travel, thriller, and the postmodern, the novel is more an eerie tale of discovery rather than a horror and it effortlessly blends the legends of Vlad the Impaler and history.  I have yet to read The Swan Thieves, but it is on my bookshelf :)

*Recommendation:  The Historian

Erich Kaestner (1899-1974)
A German poet, author, screenwriter, and satirist whose stories are known for their humor and social astuteness, Kaestner is probably most well known for his children's literature, especially the Emil stories which popularized the sub-genre of the child detective.  What sets his children's literature apart from others is the fact that he sets them in a contemporary setting (mostly Berlin) and does not include any fairy tale aspects.  In addition, he does not outline a moral in any of his stories.  Instead, he lets the actions and deeds of the characters speak for themselves.  His choice to write for children stemmed from his belief that the youth had regenerating powers to better society and because of this the Nazi regime burnt many of Kaestner's works.  He also wrote the children's book Das doppelte Lottchen (Lottie and Lisa) which was adapted into the film The Parent Trap in 1961 and again in 1998.

*Recommendation:  Emil und die Detektive (Emil and the Detectives)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blog Hop! Write On!


I was recently asked to participate in a writing-themed blog hop by my coworker and fellow blogger, Lori, over at Palmer's Page Turners (show her some love, she's fairly new to the blogging world), and felt it was a great opportunity to link up with some other great bloggers. 

What am I working on?
 I'm always working on something, or at least I have grand ideas of what I would like to be working on.  I've participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years, but have never been able to accomplish the 50,000 words that are the goal.  I make a valiant effort though.  As of now, I'm working on my last NaNo project and hoping to complete it eventually.  Essentially, it's a compilation of personal travel stories gone awry...all true.  For this project, I actually have a general outline/episode for each chapter (totaling thirteen-ish) and have slowly been chiseling holes into its unyielding surface.  I'll finish it one day!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The genre of fictional short stories is quite varied, so I can't exactly pinpoint what makes mine different from others written in the same vein.  I almost always set the piece in a location that I am familiar with which lends it an air of authenticity.  Because of this, I guess you could say that my fictional pieces are almost always slightly biographical because of some of the aspects that crop up in the stories.  Write what you know, right? 

Why do I write what I do?
I normally write fictional pieces, short stories mainly.   I do, however, have two works-in-progress that will eventually be full novels...hopefully.  As of now I'm working on a non-fictional compilation of travel stories, as mentioned above, so this is new territory for me.  I've never written something "true" before this.  I find that fictional writing gives me the opportunity to explore worlds that I don't or am unable to inhabit on a daily basis or in the "real" world.  I like the uncertainty that can come about in the fictional world.  I also like that, oftentimes, your characters can guide you in a direction that previously wasn't in the realm of possibilities.  The uncertainty is thrilling.

How does my writing process work?
Verbal vomit on paper.  Seriously.  I don't like to do outlines for the most part.  If I do draft up an outline, it is extremely minimal with headings and maybe a few keywords about what should go in that particular section.  But in general outlines are not part of my repertoire.  I also prefer to hand write whatever project I'm working on prior to typing it up because I feel like it's more personal that way.  Unless it's for academic purpose, then I type and correct as I go (I can't stand to see underlined errors on the page).

Nominate:  Mandy over at The Sassy Starfish

J is for...Pam Jenoff

I must admit that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres; especially when the time period is surrounding World War II.  Because of this, my J author is:  Pam Jenoff.

Pam Jenoff 
An American author, Pam Jenoff has spent much of her career working for the government in various support positions.  From being the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army to working in the Foreign Service with the State Department where she was placed in Poland assisting on an Auschwitz restitution project, Jenoff has gained the background knowledge and experience necessary to make her novels believable for the time period in which they are set.  This ability has garnered her much recognition and best-seller status.  Her writing pulls you in and the novels are quick to read.  Check them out.

*Recommendation:  The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife

Who are some of your favorite J authors?