Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Is Queen Victoria Missing From Literature?

The opening of the film "The Young Victoria" this week comes as a reminder that books in which the queen plays a leading role are few and far between.

This is all the more surprising when you consider that virtually every other British queen or princess has been celebrated in multiple historical novels and narrative histories. My neighborhood Barnes & Noble has an entire display table permanently devoted to such titles. The Tudors are, hands down, the great favorites of the genre; Phillipa Gregory has produced a string of bestselling novels about the wives, daughters and other assorted noblewomen surrounding Henry VIII, most notably the twice-filmed "The Other Boleyn Girl." Historians like Alison Weir have moved successfully between fiction and nonfiction in writing about female royals ranging from the ever-popular Ann Boleyn to the relatively obscure Isabella of France, who was married to the 13th-century King Edward II. And let's not even get started on Princess Di.

But Victoria? She can't get arrested in this section of the bookstore. Lady Jane Grey -- who wore the English crown for a mere nine days before her enemies ordered the head underneath it chopped off -- has had more novels based on her life than the woman who gave the Victorian era its name.

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Speed-Reading and Literature Just Don't Mix

Speed-reading might be useful for commercial documents, but when it comes to serious writing, it blurs out all the really interesting parts.

The celebrated academic Harold Bloom is a lightning fast reader; blink and he's probably turned the page – twice. In his prime he could churn through 1,000 pages an hour, which means he could have digested Jane Eyre during his lunch break and still had time to chew through half of Ulysses before returning to classes. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel like a slow, slack-jawed simian struggling in the frontal-lobe department.

The average reader snails through prose at a rate of about 250-300 words per minute, which roughly equates to about one page per minute. Bloom is surely cut from a rare cloth of reading comprehension because he whips through more than 16 pages per minute and still remembers almost everything he reads. For the rest of us, it's not so easy. In the World Championship Speed Reading Competition the top contestants typically read around 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute, but only manage about 50% comprehension.
That's just not good enough for literature.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

American Exceptionalism in Literature:
A Genre Of Its Own?

What exactly is American exceptionalism?

American exceptionalism is the idea that American literature has a voice separate from that of other Anglophone and European literature, literature professor Ezra Tawil explained. Tawil, with help from his colleagues Andrew Delbanco, the director of Columbia’s American studies department, and Ross Posnock, a fellow English professor, delivered an engaging and intriguing discussion and explanation of the topic at hand. American literature is, as Tawil said, “not merely different, but unique.” It has a different tone, a different set of rules to follow, and a different goal.

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J.K Rowling Working on "Political Fairy Tale" For Children

J.K. Rowling is penning a new book — but this time it's not about wizards.

The author of the "Harry Potter" franchise says that she's writing "a political fairy tale" for "slightly younger children," reports the Kansas City Star, based on extras in the newly released DVD of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." She added that she's in no hurry to finish up quickly, and is learning to enjoy life without the crunch of deadlines.

Meanwhile, work is underway for a $200 million Harry Potter theme park. "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" will include two roller coasters, a Hogwarts Castle, and even shops that are straight from Diagon Alley, like Olivander's wand shop, Honeydukes sweet shop and Zonko's Joke Shop.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

What really killed Jane Austen?

London, England (CNN) -- It is a truth universally acknowledged -- or nearly so -- that Jane Austen, the author of "Pride and Prejudice," died of a rare illness called Addison's disease, which robs the body of the ability to make critical hormones.

Katherine White doesn't believe it.

White, herself a sufferer of Addison's disease, has studied Austen's own letters and those of her family and friends, and concluded that key symptoms just don't match what's known about the illness.

...Patients also tend to have difficulty remembering words, and suffer from slurred speech, sleepiness and confusion.

Austen, by contrast, dictated a 24-line comic poem to her sister less than 48 hours before she died.

White is not the first to dispute the theory that Addison's disease killed Austen. British biographer Claire Tomalin suggested in a 1997 book that lymphoma was the culprit.

White finds that, too, unlikely.

She suspects the answer is much simpler: tuberculosis.

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