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Monday Book Review: The Robber Bridegroom November 30, 2009

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews.
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Recently, we posted about the National Book Awards, and I was surprised at how few of the 77 past fiction winners I had read. So, I picked a few titles to find at my local library. I had once read a book where the main character was named Eudora, after the famous American writer, and have since been curious about her – so Eudora Welty was my first choice from the National Book Awards list.

My library did not have in stock the actual award winner, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, so I browsed and chose the presently reviewed novella.

The Robber Bridegroom, published in 1942, is a fairy tale, similar in style and theme to many a Brothers Grimm tale. The beautiful daughter of a rich plantation owner is lured away from her home by a bandit, and the two fall in love and encounter a number of unpleasant characters and obstacles, from the girl’s mean and ugly stepmother to the tattletale numbskull neighborboy, Goat, to the psychotic cave-dweller, Little Harp, who is told what to do by his brother’s head, which is kept on a spike in a trunk nearby. The story is both enchanting and confusing, as a few of the characters are apparently legendary in Southern folklore, and perhaps a little prior knowledge of their mythos would have been helpful. Despite this, it was a lovely story, and the writing was as beautiful as it was sprightly and refined.

Eudora Welty

In my curiosity about the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, I found that after her death in 2001, her home in Jackson, Mississippi, was restored and preserved by The Eudora Welty Foundation in a tribute to her, her writing and photography, and as she wished, also to arts and literature in general. The goals of the foundation are to promote and encourage reading and the efforts of young writers, as well as maintain the writer’s home for visitation, education and inspiration. Eudora Welty was also an avid gardener, and the gardens around her home have been restored and preserved. The home and gardens are open for tours in person by reservation. However, if you aren’t planning a trip to Mississippi any time soon, the home is open 24 hours, 7 days a week for a virtual tour on the website. It’s worth checking out.


What the National Book Awards tell us about the publishing industry November 19, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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I can’t say the winners of the National Book Awards even made it to my TBR. Perhaps this is because, as the Times states,

This year’s nominees had some in the publishing industry wondering about the relevance of the National Book Awards, in part because most of the titles had sold so little and few people had heard of them. The biggest selling finalist was Mr. McCann, with “Let the Great World Spin” selling 19,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales.

19,000 copies sure pales in comparison to Twilight’s 85 million copies sold worldwide (even quartered for the sake of considering only hardcover this still far surpasses Let the Great World Spin), or Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which sold over one million copies (presumably hardcover) in the first day. What does this mean? Has the National Book Award become arcane and meaningless; is it an award solely for erudite academicians?

This train of thought led me to research the criteria for the National Book Award and here is what I found on their website: “Juries develop their own criteria for awarding the National Book Award and discussions are held independent of the Foundation.” Granted, the panel is composed of authors of that genre but the selection of the judges itself sounds political and elitist as well: “Judges are nominated by past National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges and then selected and recruited by the Foundation’s Executive Director in consultation with the Board of Directors.” Should the finalists really be choosing the judges?

Obscure choices aside, talk at the National Book Awards was reported by a few sources to revolve around the kindle and the growing popularity of ebooks, in defamatory tones. Looks like the writers finally understand what the musicians have gone through for a while. And like the musicians, the writers need to understand, like Cory Doctorow does (and like all librarians do), the need to evolve in order to stay relevant.

On a side note and to follow-up on our previous post about the public voting on the “Best of National Book Awards Fiction”: (another lackluster choice, in my opinion), the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog reports,

Flannery O’Connor won the “Best of the National Book Awards” prize. Ten thousand people voted on the National Book Foundation’s Web site to nominate the best award-winning work of fiction in the last 60 years. The six finalists were Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” “Collected Stories of William Faulkner,” “The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty” and “Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories.