A Public Domain Festive Season Gift

It’s that time of year once more. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you readers, followers, and friends for spending time with me and my random collections of (mostly book related) posts in 2018.

Before the New Year, I’ll post one of those Top 10 post lists to discuss the highlights of my 2018 blogging… and the stats, you know I love talking stats.

As a gift for this festive season, I wanted to share some free books with you all. You see, for the first time in over 20 years, on the first of January, books from 1923 will enter the US public domain.

Yes, it has been 75 years already… Wait, quick maths tells me that 1923+75=1998, so shouldn’t these books have already been available in 1999? Why, yes, yes they should have. But apparently, the US Congress decided that for totally justifiable reasons [insert eyeroll] that books from 1923 to 1977 needed an expanded copyright term of 95 years.*

I’ve blogged previously about how copyright has excluded a lot of titles from the public domain. This essentially made any out-of-print titles disappear. And academics like Rebecca Giblin have been researching how copyright needs to change.

But now (some of) the drought is over. Google Books will offer the full text of books from 1923, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. The Internet Archive will add books to its online library, and stores will be able to make these titles available for cheap (studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see herehere, and here.)

A few examples of books that will now be available in the public domain:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Golden Lion
  • Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links
  • Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis
  • e.e. cummings, Tulips and Chimneys
  • Robert Frost, New Hampshire
  • Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
  • Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay
  • D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo
  • Bertrand and Dora Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization
  • Carl Sandberg, Rootabaga Pigeons
  • Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front
  • P.G. Wodehouse, works including The Inimitable Jeeves and Leave it to Psmith (Source)

So have a happy holiday and enjoy whatever festivities you celebrate at this time of year with a free book!

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*See more on copyright from Rebecca Giblin’s Author’s Interest project.

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Who Can You Trust? Unreliable Narrators

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The first rule of this month’s It’s Lit! is that you don’t talk about the narrator.

Unreliable narrators are an interesting topic. To some extent, I regard all narrators as flawed in some way. Unless you have omniscient narration you always have a limited viewpoint, and it could be argued that even with omniscient you still aren’t pulling away from the main narrative so it is limited as well. So I would argue that unreliable narrators are more a case of how unreliable are all narrators.

Who is the most powerful character in fiction? Villains may doom the world, heroes may save it, but no one has more control over the plot than the narrator – expositing the who, what, where, when and how directly into the reader’s mind. But how can you tell that the person telling you the story is telling you the whole story?

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis

Book Review: The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

The Way of ZenThe Way of Zen by Alan W. Watts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you sit, sit. When you browse Twitter, browse Twitter… Maybe there’s a reason social media causes stress.

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts is an introduction to Zen Buddism and its roots in Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. It was one of the first books of its kind and tries to explain “Eastern” concepts to a “Western” audience.

After my forays into various “Western” philosophers and philosophies, I thought it was time to investigate some others that weren’t just footnotes to Plato. Having already read the Dao De Jing and a more modern guide to Zen, I thought reading a bit more on Zen would be interesting. Watts certainly covers some quite different ground to Zen in the Age of Anxiety and puts the Dao in more context.

This was certainly less of a philosophy text and more of an overview or introduction to Zen. One of Watts’ central aims was to make sure the reader understood how the “Western” philosophical tradition has a strict adherence to certain logical structures which the “Eastern” philosophies like Zen do not. This was certainly an important distinction and something that must have helped popularise Zen Buddhism outside of the “East”.

 

I will have to explore this topic further.

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Book to Movie: Mary Poppins – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at one of the movies that you probably only realised was based on a book when they made a film pointing that fact out: Mary Poppins.

Having not read the books, I don’t have much to say about this month’s What’s the Difference? I would like to segue into a topic that the recent Saving Mr Banks raised. I think there are some interesting points to be made about the differences between mediums when it comes to how and what is remembered.

Truly great books will generally be read by fewer people than the number who will watch a middling film adaptation. Make a great film from a great book and you will still reach more people with the film. I’ve previously mentioned how as many people saw the final Harry Potter movie as there were sales of all of the Harry Potter series of novels. So even if we just go on audience size alone, it is fair to say that a movie adaptation will shape people’s memory of an artwork.*

Of course, it is worth noting that the movie Saving Mr Banks is somewhat revisionist. Tad important to know this as large media companies dominate the landscape of society. I mean, next thing you know Americans will use movies to try and tell us they turned the war by capturing an Enigma machine

This video essay by Lindsay Ellis talks about the Revisionist World of Disney:

*Further to this point is should this influence the author’s decision to allow a movie/TV adaptation knowing that their writing will take second place to the more popular medium?

What is the most satisfying genre of book for an author to write?

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I would posit that there are two things that are important to an author when writing with regards to the genre:

  1. That the author enjoys the genre they are writing in;
  2. That the genre suits the story they are writing.

I’d also argue that the first point is far more important than the second. I say this mainly because I want to provide a very superficial argument on the second point.

In a panel discussion entitled Bestsellers and Blockbusters on ABC TV’s Book Club, thriller author Matthew Reilly made mention of some literary authors who had been tempted to try writing thrillers – because money. Always about those big juicy bucks. Those authors didn’t really like the thriller genre and as a result, they didn’t understand how to write them and thus failed to write entertaining thrillers.

I have previously discussed one example of what Matthew raised in the above video. In 2014, the literary award-winning author Isabel Allende decided to dabble in crime fiction with Ripper. No, seriously, that was the title. Allende didn’t enjoy the experience. She was quoted as saying she hates crime fiction because:

It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people.

Allende went further to say that Ripper was a joke and ironic. The response to this was for crime genre fans to condemn her, bookstore Murder by the Book sent their orders back, and Goodreads ratings suggest it is one of her worst received books. Maybe next time she will not make those comments whilst on the promotional tour. Or, you know, not write something she doesn’t enjoy. One of the two.

Authors obviously have to invest a lot of time and energy in creating a novel. If they aren’t enjoying the experience, then that is likely to spill over into the quality of the end creation. So they are likely to invest time and energy in doing something they enjoy so that readers will enjoy it. Or try to grin and bear it as they go after some big juicy bucks.

The second point that authors consider is what genre suits the story they are trying to tell.* Genre can help define and shape the story. So the genre often acts as the stage or setting for the story. Think of science fiction and themes of social protest, or fantasy exploring social constructs, or horror exploring ways to dismember work colleagues. Obviously, some genres will be more suitable for telling certain stories.** As a result, the genre will be an important consideration in the writing process.

In summary, an author is likely to write in a genre they enjoy and utilise the genre that helps tell their story. To my mind, this is how an author thinks about the genre.

*Sometimes the opposite approach is used to give us a space western or sparkly vampires.

**Of course, shifting the usual themes and tropes from one genre to another can be a way to create stories as well. Where would we be without Firefly?

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Fear of Ghost…Writing

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Is ghostwriting cheating? Well, this edition of It’s Lit discusses just that.

I think the most interesting point raised in the video is around the idea of the solitary author. This is the creative genius whose work you love or the dolt whose work you loathe. All praise and ridicule can be easily directed at one person. But outside of some indie authors, a book (or series of books) isn’t the work of one person. A lot goes into bringing a story to life and placing it in front of us readers for our entertainment. From the cover art to the editing, from the writer’s group feedback to the publisher’s request for a sequel, lots of people are involved in influencing, shaping, and ultimately creating a book.

Now, I have been known to take a dig at authors like James Patterson for their co-authoring ways. And I find it a little unseemly that Tom Clancy is still releasing new books despite having been dead for five years – seriously, half as many as his releases while alive. But that is probably as much about the mass-produced book under a name-brand that we used to associate as the domain of pulp titles. To have that become part of the big-name author stable cheapens the experience somewhat.

That cheapened feeling is probably related back to the idea of the solitary author. Or possibly that I’m not a huge fan of Patterson or Clancy. You know, one of those.

You might being asking yourself– Why do ghostwriters even exist? Isn’t that cheating? Isn’t literature supposed to be the result of one person’s agonizing need to create? Aren’t books supposed to be the blood, sweat, and tears of the tortured auteur? Well, the answer is more complicated than you think!

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis.

Book review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have a lot of naked adventures, wouldn’t you move to a more agreeable climate?

Henry “library boy” DeTamble is unstuck in time. He visits moments from the past and future unbidden and with a lack of clothes. Claire is his wife. She has loved him since she met Henry as a little six-year-old girl and he was thirty-six. This is the story of their complicated life together.

I’ve been meaning to read The Time Traveler’s Wife since I saw the movie on our honeymoon. Achievement unlocked before the tenth anniversary! This isn’t the sort of book I’d normally read as it is a relationship focussed story with a heart-rendingly sad conclusion. Yet I really enjoyed it.

There were two things that let the novel down for me. The first is that this book runs long. There isn’t any needless rambling or overuse of exposition, but it felt like the story had a lot of filler. None of that filler was bad, per se, but I couldn’t help but feel this novel was about a third longer than it needed to be.

The second thing was the slightly uncomfortable relationship between Henry and Claire. While I was reading there were only a few moments that felt “wrong” and that those moments were handwaved a bit too much (e.g. teen Claire and adult Henry having the hots for one another). But those moments tie to the larger issues with the relationship being fated to mess with Claire’s whole life, and to a lesser extent Henry’s. If this had been discussed more directly and given more weight I’d have been happier.

Overall, I enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife and would recommend it.

View all my reviews