Tag Archives: books

Literary Silver Linings, Announcements, and “Anna Karenina”

22 Jun

Obviously, I have not been as good about posting as I had hoped to be. But never fear! I’m already planning in the fall for a revamp with theme months! In September you can all look forward to a Young Adult month, complete with all of your favorite reads from adolescence (and maybe some new gems!).

If you’re looking to contribute to a YA fiction month, or have ideas for other months, feel free to check out the “Want to Contribute?” page.

In the meantime, I leave you all with the new “Anna Karenina” trailer. I think it looks promising, if not totally over-the-top. What do you all think?


RIP Ray Bradbury

6 Jun

Awarding-winning and groundbreaking science fiction writer Ray Bradbury has died today at age 91. It is a sad, sad day for the literary and science fiction world. Even if you’re not a science fiction fan, he was an extremely influential writer whose work influenced much of the genre today. You will always be remembered here at Better Know a Book.

Updated: The New Yorker has released his short piece “Inspiration for ‘The Fire Balloons'” that was in this week’s Sci Fi issue. It’s a beautiful piece and more than worth a read. Here is why science fiction is no less of a realistic genre than any other.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

3 May

I’m happy to present another post by Sam Glass, on a book that, though I may never have heard of it, it has since won a spot on my ever growing summer reading list.

A few weeks ago, I realized that all of my favorite writers were men. This was pretty embarrassing. After soliciting recommendations via Facebook status update, I’m equipped with a comprehensive and rather intimidating list of female authors to explore. It’s important for everyone, but particularly heterosexual men in their early 20’s (yours truly), to be cognizant of how gender is privileged in the literary canon. To that end, I’ve begun an eight-week regimen in which my reading will be limited to books and short stories authored by women. The Dud Avocado was first.


The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Quick Read: Yes.

Difficulty: Not difficult, very funny!

Synopsis: Sally Jay Gorce, fresh out of Sweet Briar College, is living in Paris with the intent to see new things, meet new people, and have new experiences—“hell-bent on living” is her phrase. The first chapter introduces her with pink hair, an evening dress (her other clothing is at the cleaners), a luxurious Italian lover, and a sharp, intelligent voice. Living on money from a wealthy Uncle who’s decided to give her two years of no-strings-attached adventure, Sally Jay careens about France like some sassy knight-errant—there’s little rhyme or reason to her actions beyond the aforementioned desire to “live.” She makes some sensible decisions but many foolish ones, and her native intelligence and charm is often put at odds against the typical foibles of the young: naiveté, credulousness, irritability, and ennui. Sally’s story dips and crescendos with a rotating cast of characters, and eventually culminates in rather beautiful realization from which the novel derives its title. It is a very good story.

What makes this book awesome? 

The voice. Seriously. Sally Jay’s narration is the lynchpin of the novel, and it transmutes the interesting-but-not-incredible events of the story in pure gold. Wry observations are peppered throughout but the tone is never strained; Elaine Dundy’s command is pretty impressive for a first-time novelist. Comparisons to Salinger and Mary McCarthy spring to mind. There’s the same assuredness in her prose, and the same delightful abnegation of post-modern conventions in favor of telling a damn good story—reading The Dud Avocado feels like spending an afternoon in the presence of a particularly magnetic stranger. This isn’t to say The Dud Avocado never delves into deeper territory: amid the jokes, many considerations of what it means to be a young girl in a strange land evolve against the events that play out in the story. One of my favorite lines is spoken by Sally Jay after she realizes her Italian lover is only after her family’s money. Laughing, she says, “Oh thank you, Teddy. Thank you for restoring my cynicism. I was far too young to lose it!” The Dud Avocado is a good book in any case, but it’s especially pertinent to the young, smart, and unwise.

Elaine Dundy, seen here looking as though maybe she's got a good joke for Groucho Marx.

Some neat-o facts:

  • Groucho Marx loved the book so much he wrote Elaine Dundy a letter: “I had to tell someone (and it might as well be you since you’re the author) how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream, and guffaw (which, incidentally, is a great name for a law firm).”
  • The Dud Avocado is semi-autobiographical. Dundy once said of Sally Jay: “”all the impulsive, outrageous things my heroine does, I did. All the sensible things she did, I made up.
  • The rest of Dundy’s life was pretty crazy as well. She married a British dramatist and began to hang out with Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Laurence Olivier. She also wrote a biography of Elvis Presley that Kirkus Reviews called “the most fine-grained Elvis bio ever.”

If you like this, try: The Group, Mary McCarthy; Bonjour Tristise, Francoise Sagan; Daisy Miller, Henry James


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

28 Apr

I’d like to believe I’m not the only one who gets restless around this time of year. It’s time for something new. Time to go on some sort of vacation, some small adventure. So far, that adventure for me has been to places like the greek yogurt aisle at the supermarket, but with graduation in sight, I (hope to) dream big. This being said, summer reading deserves to be a little adventurous, and it deserves to be fun. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain isn’t all fun and games by any means, but it’s not a boring read by any means. So don’t finalize your summer reading list just yet.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Published: 1884

Quick Read?: Eh. Kind of.

Difficulty: A bit more difficult until you get the hang of Twain’s use of South colloquial language. The book is known for it’s difficult language at times, but don’t despair. It’s got a certain rhythm to it.

Synopsis: Huckleberry Finn isn’t just any rough and tumble Mississippi boy. He’s a young man who prefers adventure to being “civilized,” which is what his guardian, the Widow Douglas, wants him to be. Huck has a considerable amount of money thanks to his adventures with Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (the prequel to this volume, though this can totally be read on its own), but a quiet life is not the life for him. After sneaking out of the Widow’s house, Tom Sawyer and Huck meet up with real life “robbers” who inspire them for a life of even more adventure. But this new fun life is cut short when Huck’s mean, drunk father reappears in his life trying to steal his money. An elaborate plot to fake Huck’s own death is established, and after he escapes down the Mississippi River. He comes across a floating house along the river, and the Widow Douglas’s runaway slave Jim, who was accused of murdered the not-so-dead Huck. Together, the two band together for adventure after adventure, including Huck’s cross-dressing, freeing slaves, family feuds, and the “Royal Nonesuch.” It’s an American story of adventures in the Deep, Deep South.

What makes this book so cool?: It probably sounds cliche to say this book is “classic Americana,” but it really is. After all, it was published just after the Civil War, and it encapsulates a time of both Southern pride and shame as America teetered (just as Huck teeters) between being “civilized” and adventurous, quiet and wild, somber and adventurous as they moved westward and attempted to be a “whole” nation with regional pride. And that’s just how this book is. It’s on the cusp of youth and adulthood, responsibility and freedom, ethical rights and wrongs. Don’t believe me? It’s still a controversial book to teach, especially in the South due to its use of the “n” word, with one publishing company going so far as to use the word “slave” instead. It’s not a time period we Americans are always proud of, but even today, no matter what your opinion, it’s a time period worth reflecting on.

And as I said earlier, don’t we all want some adventure right about now? This book is full of adventures both small and big, comedic and violent, enthralling and sometimes a little bit tragic. Even if you’ve read it before, sometimes an exciting ride can do us a lot of good.

Some neat-o facts:

Mark Twain: beloved writer, steamboat captain, cigar lover, connected to the cosmos and causing all kinds of trouble.

  • The book was controversial from the time it was first published. What is most controversial today about the book is it’s use of the “n” word as mentioned above. One publishing company recently went so far as to replace every instance of the word with the word “slave.” What do you think?
  • Both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer take place in Hannibal Missouri, Twain’s hometown. I’d say that’s pretty convenient when you don’t feel like creating a whole new town.
  • Twain was born during the passing of Halley’s Comet, and died during the next passing of said comet. Talk about about arriving and leaving with some flair.

If you like this, try: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Twain; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Aspern Papers by Henry James; A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Calling all Better Know a Book readers! Let’s talk themes.

22 Apr

So I’ve been thinking about how to plan the next few months (and, of course, the rest of the future), and thought it might be interesting to do a couple of theme months. I’d thought of doing a Young Adult fiction month that featured famous, classic Young Adult books (no, not Twilight, don’t even ask about Twilight), but what about a Mystery month? A sci-fi month? A theater month? An existential month?

The point of this post being I’d love your feedback as to what you, my wonderful readers, would want to see. And hey, I’d love your help with any “theme” month, in both general ideas and blog posts themselves. So please. Do leave comments.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

29 Mar

I’m pleased to announce Better Know a Book’s second guest post by Izzy Long! I’m excited to welcome another voice to this blog, and hope you all enjoy her post below!

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, what better novel to recommend than Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert? This is a romping good read, which will leave you alternately wanting to shout at the silly Emma Bovary, and identifying with her sighing romanticism. It’s a cautionary tale, but full of twists and turns as we watch Madame Bovary approaching her inevitable downfall.

Published in? 1857

Quick Read? Yes, this is a quick read, and the story really gallops along. Bookworms will read it in a day and a half.

Difficulty? Easy! It’s a great introduction to French literature for this very reason.


The book opens with a description of Charles Bovary, the man Emma will marry. It shows him at school, a weak and ineffectual man who is distinctly average. He manages to pass his medical exams, and becomes a mediocre country doctor. His mother marries him off to what she thinks is a fortune – a local widow. She dies, but instead of investing in shares she has squandered her money, leaving very little money to Charles.

He soon falls in love with Emma Bovary, a pretty country girl, and after a romantic and lavish wedding they settle down to married life. Emma soon becomes bored now that the romance of the wedding is over. She dreams obsessively of a more glamorous life, and eventually becomes depressed when she cannot obtain her dream. She becomes pregnant, and Charles moves them to a new town in an attempt to stir Emma out of her depression. Here Emma meets Leon, a law clerk, who reads romantic fiction.

The baby is born and so is a romance between Leon and Emma, who is not distracted by her new baby, but rather bored with it. She does feel guilty however, and put Leon off, and he soon gives up and moves to Paris to study law. Soon afterwards a wealthy man called Rodolphe declares that he loves Emma and they too begin an affair. Emma is rather careless, and the neighbors in the little French town begin to gossip about her. Charles doesn’t have a clue what is happening, so appears rather stupid.

He messes up an operation on someone’s clubfoot, which has to be amputated, and Emma hates him for being stupid and incompetent. He continues to love her, whilst she focuses entirely on her love for Rodolphe, running up huge bills with local shopkeepers and Lheureux, the moneylender, as she buys presents and new dresses to delight her lover. Charles’s practice is struggling after the botched operation and he struggles to pay her debts.

Rodolphe begins to tire of the demanding Emma and…

I am not going to spoil the ending of the book for you, because hopefully by now you will want to read it for yourself. Let’s just say that things do not end particularly well for anyone in the book, but the twists and turns before you reach the end (this synopsis takes you about half way) will keep you in suspense.

What Makes this book awesome? This book is awesome because it is so readable, and the story is told at a great pace, so you never get bored. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the classics and want an easy way in to French literature, then Madame Bovary is a great place to start. It doesn’t hurt at all! You can recognize lots of things in Emma which you identify with as you read, and hence you can sympathize with her as well as finding her behavior outrageous. She is the first example of someone using retail therapy in literature I have ever come across, and all of her emotions are channeled in the wrong ways. One can sympathize with Charles too, but not much, as he is so incredibly dim and blindly devoted to Emma. He used the book to criticize the bourgeoisie – the merchants and capitalists who had risen to power after the French Revolution. They were the ‘middle-classes’ whose manners and obsession with money was considered vulgar by many, including Flaubert. Emma’s dissatisfaction with her bourgeois lifestyle is a reflection of the author’s attitude. The book also brings up issues about women’s lives, and about language’s inability to express what it is we are really feeling.

Some neat-o facts

  • The book was written at a time when sexual matters were not discussed in novels, so it caused a scandal when it was published. Flaubert was very upset by this, as it is not the point of the book at all. He was put on trial in 1857, for obscenity, but acquitted. The resulting publicity did no harm to sales!
  • Flaubert’s style was considered very new at the time, as the language he used matched the action in the book. When Emma was depressed, the prose matched her mood, when she was happy, Flaubert’s writing reflected that in style. While this may seem normal to us these days, it was quite new and innovative in the 19th Century. One of the reasons it is so easy to read by a modern audience is down to Flaubert’s ‘modern’ style of writing. It is considered one of the most influential novels ever written for this reason. One critic wrote, “Flaubert established for good or ill, what most readers think of as modern realist narration, and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible”.

BetterKnowABook is now on Twitter!

19 Mar

A little bird told me it’s about time to get on twitter. So please! Follow this blog @BetterKnowABook for more news, links, and posts from Better Know a Book! You can use the widget on the bottom right sidebar for easy following.

I may love older books, but that doesn’t mean I can’t embrace new technology!