Friday, October 26, 2012

Jacques Barzun, 1907–2012


From Dawn to Decadence By Jacques BarzunToday is a sad day in the publishing world, marking the death of renowned cultural historian, educator, and best-selling author Jacques Barzun. He is the author of Simple & Direct (2001), A Jacques Barzun Reader (2003), and, most famously, From Dawn to Decadence (2000). Having moved the United States from France some 89 years ago, Barzun passed away at his San Antonio, TX home at 104 years old.

In From Dawn to Decadence, Barzun traces the periods of rise and fall in the last 500 years of Western history, highlighting great, recurring themes, and intertwining war and government narratives with those of art, science, and literature. He predicts another imminent fall, triggered by uncapped decadence and a widespread entitlement, but he cushions the blow within the context of the many earlier declines and subsequent ascensions.

The book, at a whopping 912 pages, received widespread critical acclaim and remained on best-sellers lists for months. This was a mighty feat for such an immense, chiefly scholarly book, but it serves as a testament to Barzun’s abilities as a remarkably engaging and lucid writereven Keith Richards admitted to reading it! His writing is filled with wit and energy, and his voice, though conservative in some areas, is certainly progressive in others (the work, published when he was 92, firmly establishes the booming 16th century as shaped by women).

From Dawn to Decadence is still widely read in college classrooms today. Just this spring, professors from Stonehill College, Rice University, Oakland University (among others) adopted it into their curriculum. He will be missed.

You can read his NYTimes obituary here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Louise Erdrich Featured in Poets and Writers Magazine

We just received a copy of the November/December issue of Poets and Writers Magazine, and were thrilled to see one of our favorite authors, Louise Erdrich, chosen for an in-depth story written by Kevin Nance. A truly prolific author (she's published fourteen novels, seven children's books, three poetry volumes, three non-fiction books, and one story collection), Erdrich has no intention of slowing down, which is music to our ears.

Interestingly, the article suggests that her age (though she's only 58) and her personal health history (including a breast cancer scare) have influenced the direction of her plot development, which, in her last two books, has taken an almost unrecognizably linear path. Erdrich confesses that she has too much to say about the Native American community – she’s almost overflowing with new book ideas – and feels that the shift to linear stories may have aided her in addressing these ideas more quickly. Though the direct development of her latest narratives may be novel, however, Erdrich’s undeniable literary brilliance remains, and will surely recapture the admiration of her longstanding fans.
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Erdrich’s newest book, The Round House, released by Harper in October, is more politically charged than most of her previous novels, focusing on an issue in Native American communities that she feels must be addressed: rape on reservations. Particularly, the story focuses on the difficulties of prosecuting a Non-native perpetrator for crimes committed on reservation land, and the lasting effects of this judicial stagnation on those affected. Influenced by real life incidents and interviews, Erdrich’s newest novel is a must-read, and an irrefutable contribution to the Native American literary canon to which she has already contributed so much.

See her interview below with Prairie Public Broadcasting while promoting The Round House:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thornton Wilder and the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention

Having seen two really wonderful productions of both of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning plays, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943), I already considered myself quite the fan. But Wilder is not only a deservedly celebrated playwright; his repertoire of novels may even rival his plays in critical esteem. I just started his Pulitzer Prize winning (really, how many can one guy have?) novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), and have been hooked since the first, much lauded sentence. "On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below," Wilder succinctly begins. A precursor to contemporary disaster epics, the story follows a witness's subsequent efforts to connect the victims in hindsight, in his vain attempt to prove divine intervention's hand rather than chance's.
Reading his best-loved novel has made me even more excited for the Thornton Wilder Society event we're hosting at National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. HarperCollins will provide the opportunity for conference-goers to meet experts from the Thornton Wilder Society including Tappan Wilder (Thornton's nephew and literary executor), Jackson R. Bryer (Society president), and Lincoln Konkle (Society executive director). We're even giving away free copies of Our Town to the first 100 people in preparation of its 75th anniversary in 2013. If you'll be there on November 17, you can come to Booth 521 to meet the experts between 10am and 12pm, or come to the Premiere Ballroom to hear the experts' panel, Teaching Thornton Wilder to 21st Century Students, from 2:45pm to 4pm.