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The coming of Christmas also means the coming of Scrooge. Charles Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol can be seen in its myriad forms on television every Christmas, with each year bringing new adaptations. But despite the popular love for this story, do we really embrace the moral it presents?

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In a past article I briefly touched on the fact that many of the great modernist writers found inspiration in Dante’s work, especially The Divine Comedy. In this article I’d like to look a little deeper into how and why this seven hundred year old Christian allegory influenced a generation of writers.

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Studying Shakespeare

Categories: Crit & Lit

Reading William Shakespeare in high school is a memory most of us share and one that some of us may not want to remember. Public school systems teach Shakespeare because one, for many people he exemplifies the very essence of creative writing, and for two, some knowledge of Shakespeare, no matter how superficial, is an expected asset of any educated person. But many people’s exposure to Shakespeare ends during high school, or perhaps college, depending on one’s courses. However, Shakespeare can be expertly studied on one’s own, given the right resources. New editions of Shakespeare's plays seem to be published every day; finding the right one(s) can be tiresome, especially for someone just looking to break into the bard’s antiquated world.  Here we’ll look at my favorite editions and ancillary texts that can give a casual reader a deep understanding of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

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A Face in the Crowd

Categories: Crit & Lit

In 1950 David Riesman with co-authors Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney published a sociological text known as The Lonely Crowd. Hailed as a landmark study of society in post-war America, The Lonely Crowd served as a front runner to such works as Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, and other critiques of American capitalism and consumerist culture. But a lot has changed since 1950 and one might think that a text such as The Lonely Crowd would age poorly, not accounting for the vast changes in technology, communications, and culture that occurred over a sixty year span. But at the end of 2010, Riesman’s book offers just as much insight into the American character as it did at the time of its release, perhaps more so due to the uncanny prescience with which Riesman speculated on the future.

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Samuel Beckett’s best-known and best-loved plays such as Waiting for Godot and Endgame sometimes overshadow his other dramatic work. Krapp's Last Tape stands as one of the strongest dramatic pieces of the twentieth century. Krapp serves as a distilled vision of regret, repression, and mortality, told through an ingenious premise of an old man sitting alone in a room listening to tapes of himself speaking.

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November 9th would have been Carl Sagan's 76th birthday. His television mini-series Cosmos, and its accompanying book, sparked the interest of people around the world in science, its practical applications, and most importantly its ethics. His compassion, humanism, and ardent ethical stance served a greater purpose than making science people-friendly. They were a key part of his worldview and teaching and the reason why he is remembered as a great man and not just a great scientist.

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Should a reader incorporate the life and intent of an author into his or her works, or should each literary text speak for itself, be all inclusive? Whichever point of view a reader adheres to, reading a well-written literary biography can be a rewarding experience. The best author biographies do more than try to pin an author’s work on his or her real life circumstances; they tell their own stories, which can be just as dramatic and engaging as any fictional work. Here we’ll look at three of my favorite biographies: Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, and Anthony Cronin’s Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist.

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Carl Jung’s schism with Sigmund Freud centered on Jung’s rejection of Freud’s assertion that the unconscious is entirely sexual. Jung dedicated much of his later work to his attempts to find what energy, other than sexual, fueled the unconscious and its manifestations. Jung eventually turned to mankind’s greatest stories and mysteries, the myths and religions of the world. Joseph Campbell, a self-described disciple of Jung, took up that same torch where Jung left off. Exploring myths and religions offered Jung and Campbell a doorway into the human psyche; finding the similarities between disparate ethnicities and societies left them with a baseline by which to formulate a constant set of images and conflicts that fundamentally shaped our modern minds.

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The foundation of western literature, indeed western education, has been those Greek and Latin texts, written by the masters, that even today influence writers and critics alike. Homer, Virgil, and Ovid represent the best of the best of literature from the classical era. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses are among the most well known and well liked epic poems. But today, translation can be a major stumbling block for those looking to read these works in English. Fortunately, many excellent editions and translations exist to cater to various types of readers.

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Before tackling his masterpiece, Ulysses, or even his coming-of-age novel/aesthetic study Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce wrote a collection of short stories known collectively as Dubliners. However, these are not short stories penned arbitrarily and compiled into a single volume for publication, but rather a series of thematically connected vignettes adhering to a simple, yet elegant schema. In this progression of stories, Joyce is primarily concerned with two ideas: paralysis; the stagnant, seemingly inescapable cul-de-sac of Irish life; and epiphany, those moments when an unspeakable realization shakes one from their paralysis.

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About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.

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