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Exploring the Strange World of Lewis Carroll

January 26, 2015

Book cover for Alice in WonderlandLewis Carroll introduced the world to Alice, a young girl who stumbles out of her dull reality into Wonderland, an absurd world of talking cats, mad hatters and a croquet-playing queen. Carroll was also an accomplished poet, turning the art of poetry on its head (check out his “Jabberwocky,” a personal favorite of mine that manages to make sense out of gibberish — “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”). His sense of humor and tales of the absurd have engaged readers of all ages for over a century.

Lewis Carroll, born Charles L. Dodgson on January 27, 1832, was the third of 11 children born to a country parson. As an adult, he taught and published material on math and logic in Oxford. His vivid imagination was visible even in his teaching. “Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life” explores Carroll’s body of mathematical publications, with a special focus on the fascinating (and fun!) puzzles, riddles and ciphers he created to use in his teaching.

Photo of Alice Liddell

Carroll spent his time outside of the classroom engaged in photography, and he was particularly interested in portrait photography. This hobby introduced him to Alice Liddell, the girl many believe inspired his most famous character (although he denied that Alice was based on any one person). “The Alice Behind Wonderland” explains the technology and techniques involved in Carroll’s photography and offers a glimpse at the life of the “true” Alice.

Book cover for The Mystery of Lewis CarrollDue to his private nature, Carroll remains a bit of a mystery. Many of his private diaries have been lost. Fortunately, he was a prolific writer of letters to friends and family and much of that correspondence remains. Both “Very Truly Yours, Charles L. Dodgson, Alias Lewis Carroll: A Biography” and “The Letters of Lewis Carroll” draw on Carroll’s letters, photos and writings to construct engaging and insightful biographies. Carroll was considered a bit odd and that certainly inspires many questions about him that cannot be answered due to lack of access to his private writings. “The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created ‘Alice in Wonderland’” draws on Carroll’s personal bank records and correspondence from his family and the Liddell family in an attempt to explain just who he was and whether he was as odd as he seemed.

At his death in 1898, Carroll was a beloved, best-selling children’s author. His stories remain popular to this day. People are still drawn to him and his work because they are fun stories, but also because of the questions they raise. For example, “Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser” looks at Carroll’s stories from a philosophical point of view and ponders the deeper meanings behind them, relating them back to different philosophical ideas. Lewis Carroll was a fascinating man, both in his writing and in his life. Understanding him is certainly not an easy task, but there are many wonderful books in the library that offer insight into who he was and how he created those imaginative tales.

Source of Carroll’s photo of Alice Liddell: serenity_now via photopin cc

The post Exploring the Strange World of Lewis Carroll appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Ask the Author: An Interview With Trudy Lewis

January 21, 2015

Book cover for The Empire Rolls by Trudy LewisTrudy Lewis is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Missouri and author of two full-length novels (“The Empire Rolls” and “Private Correspondences“), along with many acclaimed short stories. Her latest novel, “The Empire Rolls,” is about roller derby and captures the changing social and financial climate of the Midwest surrounding the economic crash in 2008.

DBRL: Can you tell us about some of your inspirations for “The Empire Rolls”?

TL: “The Empire Rolls” was inspired by several factors: the Missouri landscape, the recession of 2008, a friend’s encounter with industrial polluters at a local creek and the changing status of public space and private interests in our national imagination. I began writing “The Empire Rolls” when I returned to Columbia after a stint as the Viebranz Visiting Writer at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. I’d been writing a historical novel, but when I came back to Missouri and saw the changes that had occurred in a single year, I realized that I needed to capture the shifting scenes and values of our own times. One of the changes was the new roller derby team in town, the CoMo Derby Dames. Roller derby had all the elements that appealed to me: women’s empowerment, Midwestern populism, spectacle and ambiguous sexuality. Of course, the book is about more than the roller derby. It is about the changes that overtook our culture at this precise moment—the fall of 2007 leading into the great recession of 2008.  It was around this date that roller derby, first developed in the depression, began to see another dramatic rise in popularity. At the same time, the war in the Middle East was coming home to Middle America, as veterans returned from military duty. In my novel, there are a number of returning veterans, and the skaters take on warlike identities such as “Raven Pillage” and “Gigi Haddist.” My protagonist, Sally LaChance, moonlights as the emcee at the roller derby. But by day, she works as a park ranger in Karst Park. In this capacity, she carries a gun and engages in a questionable use of force to defend her territory against polluters. Sally’s story mirrors both the violence of the war in Iraq and the comic mock aggression of the roller derby.

DBRL: Do you play roller derby?

Trudy Lewis - by Jon K via Photopin httpswww.flickr.comphotosjonu2353448078151TL: No, I don’t play. But I have two friends, Whiskey ShinDig (Felicia Leach) and Stonecold Janeausten (Devoney Looser) who are former members of the CoMo Derby Dames. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time at the roller rink, waiting for a longtime crush to look up from the pinball machine and skate with me. So I’m sure that’s another factor in my attraction to roller derby.

DBRL: The novel is set in the Boonslick area of Missouri. From what I understand that was a deliberate choice for the book. Would you like to discuss why you chose that location?

TL: Boonslick is a cultural region that includes Columbia, along with a number of nearby counties. By using the name, I set up a regional reference point without actually claiming to write about Columbia (although, if you are looking for verisimilitude, you will recognize mirror images of many Columbia institutions). I’m also trying to evoke the underlying Missouri culture. Many people think of Columbia as a place that is made livable by its cultural connections to urban areas elsewhere. I’ve found, on the contrary, that I’m energized by Columbia’s Missouri connections: the physical landscape, the small towns and rural areas, the music and folklore. My husband Mike Barrett teaches at Moberly Area Community College and I’ve been inspired by his students, who are often deeply embedded in the local culture and who don’t feel the need to disavow their roots in order to pursue some other goal, whether it is travel or art or career. So the invented town of Boonslick allows me to write about these issues and to work in the vein of realism without establishing a one-to-one correspondence between my fictional city and the Columbia readers may recognize. I’ve published a number of short stories set in Boonslick in addition to “The Empire Rolls.”

DBRL: Have you read any good books recently that you would recommend?

TL: I’ve been teaching and recommending “Fools” by Joan Silber, a book of linked stories about anarchists, lovers and other quixotic idealists. Silber will be reading in MU’s Visiting Writers Series in the spring (April 23). Another favorite is “A Tale for the Time Being,” Ruth Ozeki’s cross-cultural, cross-generational Buddhist novel. I’m also a big fan of the British writer Edward St. Aubyn; his most recent book “Lost for Words is a hilarious sendup of the literary awards system, including brilliant parodies of familiar writerly types. I’d like to take the opportunity to recommend some excellent books by local writers: Deb Brenegan’s “Shame the Devil,” a lively fictional take on the life of Fanny Fern, and Phong Nguyen’s “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History,” a provocative collection of short stories examining history’s missed chances and close calls. Finally, anyone interested in Missouri fiction should look up “The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton, originally published in 1962 but reissued in 2009. This book vies with “Stoner” (John Williams) as the best Missouri novel of the 20th century.

For more information about Trudy Lewis and her work, please visit her website. Be sure to check out “The Empire Rolls” at the library, or buy it from The University of Arkansas Press or locally at Yellow Dog Bookshop. Don’t miss her presentation here at the Columbia Public Library on February 10th at 7 p.m. in the Friends Room!

photo credit: JonU235 via photopin cc

The post Ask the Author: An Interview With Trudy Lewis appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Daniel Kehlmann

January 19, 2015

Book cover for F by Daniel KehlmannDuring a typical evening of discussing literature, violins and politeness in my conversation parlor, a colleague said to me, “Gentleman, it seems you love everything you read.” I stopped reading a cake recipe and smacking my lips and rubbing my stomach to consider. Considering all it takes is a savvy recommendation and/or a glance at the first few sentences to gather enough clues to know if a book will be to my taste, I am plenty fond of nearly every book I read. But while it’s true there are more great books than anybody could read in a lifetime, perhaps a gentleman’s effusions lose their weight when they’re spewed forth with identical giddiness and on a schedule one could set their tailor’s visits to. So take heed, I want to effuse really hard right now: “F” by Daniel Kehlmann makes the short list of my favorite books of all time.

It’s all the things I so often say about books I love: hilarious, heartbreaking, beautifully written. Rather than offer cogency and worthwhile words to demonstrate this, I encourage you to peruse the links I’ve provided above so that I can proceed in my typical slapdash fashion. “F” begins with Arthur taking his three sons to see a hypnotist’s show. His emphatic claims that he cannot be hypnotized are maintained even as he’s on stage and interspersing them with the words and actions of the thoroughly hypnotized, among them some things a parent shouldn’t say in front of his child. He’s hypnotized into being a vehicle for his ambition, which once unfettered by obligations like parenthood and not stealing his spouse’s money, is massive and fruitful. Arthur empties the family bank account and disappears to be a reclusive genius author. (One of his books so convincingly argues that existence isn’t real that it inspires a spate of suicides.) “F” then jumps years to delve into the adulthood of Arthur’s children.

Each child gets an awesome chapter. One, a faithless obese priest and Rubik’s Cube expert (though not championship caliber), eats candy in the confessional and reasons that his lack of faith can’t stop him from being an adequate priest. Another forges art under the name of his much older lover, a man he met while interviewing him for his thesis on artistic mediocrity. The forger’s twin is a finance guy, struggling to maintain his sanity while trying to prolong his clients’ ignorance concerning the millions of their dollars he’s lost. The offspring’s chapters sometimes intersect: one delightful instance is the priest’s lunch with the finance brother. When we see it from the priest’s side, we see his brother’s behavior as absurd and unexplainable. When he see it from the money brother’s side, the unexplainable behavior is gloriously explained, which isn’t to say that he’s not in need of a balanced regimen of medication. Also, there’s an apparition imparting crucial messages to the twins, but unfortunately it can’t tell them apart.

I’m wary of translated works because I worry something often gets, to coin a phrase, lost in translation. Since I can’t read German (I’m barely even comfortable in lederhosen), I don’t know if anything was lost, but I am sure this book looks great in English, as does “Fame,” the other Kehlmann novel carried by DBRL. Kudos to Carol Brown Janeway for the translation.

Daniel Kehlmann is a literary superstar in Germany (meaning he sells lots of books and probably gets all the writing implements and sausages his minions can carry), but he should be one everywhere.

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Categories: Book Buzz

It Came From the Bottom Shelf! Books Not to Overlook in the 900s

January 12, 2015

History! History! History!…and a little travel too!  The 900s in nonfiction are a must for the history buff and the travel enthusiast. Did I mention history? In this section there is a wide variety of books including dictionaries, encyclopedias, ancient civilization, baby names, genealogy, geography, travel guides, world history, biographies and even local history! While browsing the aisles I found these curious titles tucked away on the bottom shelves.

  • Book cover for Hey American Your Roots Are ShowingHey, America, Your Roots Are Showing!” by Megan Smolenyak
    Ms. Smolenyak has been call the “Indiana Jones” of genealogy. She is best know for revealing connections between famous people such as Al Sharpton and Strom Thurmond, using DNA to solve crimes for the real NCIS and FBI and to locate family members of fallen soldiers as far back as the Civil War!  This book is not a how-to book, but a novice genealogist could learn some pointers from this super sleuth.
  •  Everything You Ever Wanted to KnowLondon: Everything You Wanted to Know” (part of the Not for Parents series) by Klay Lamprell.
    This is not a travel guide, rather it is an insider’s guide to the native’s life. The book is a collage of colorful, funky photos and drawings similar to those in the “Guinness World Records” books, with facts, true tales and trivia interspersed. You will see photos of weird cuisine (eels on a plate!) and punk style dress with mohawks. You’ll read about murdered kings, famous and infamous people such as Jack the Ripper, the Royals’ ancestral tree, creepy underground catacombs, a famous graffiti artist, how the streets in London were named and much, much more!

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Categories: Book Buzz

2015: A Banner Year for Books

January 9, 2015

Book cover for God Help the Child by Toni MorrisonBook cover for The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroBest books of the year lists are one of my favorite things about winter. Adding titles I’ve overlooked to my to-be-read list is a great pleasure, and I enjoy looking back at the year in publishing. However, time for reminiscing is short, because suddenly blogs and magazines are all atwitter over those books they can’t wait to read in the New Year. The buzz seems warranted, with forthcoming titles from heavy hitters like Toni Morrison (“God Help the Child,” April 2015) and Jonathan Franzen (“Purity,” September 2015), as well as a boatload of promising debuts. Neil Gaiman, Kazuo IshiguroNick Hornby and many other big names also have books hitting the shelves in the next several months. I’m going to have to get a bigger night stand for all of these novels and learn to do with less sleep.

Here’s a sampling of recommended books. There is some overlap among the lists, but each has at least a handful of gems the others omit.

What book are you most looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments!

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Categories: Book Buzz
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