Tuesday, November 14, 2006
They Matter for A Writer As Well as A Reader
by Edward Mendelson
Pantheon Books, New York 200
On page 116 of his book, Mendelson includes the following footnote: “Virginia Woolf promulgated the legend that the scholarly London Library kept George Eliot’s novels on the shelves when everyone else’s novels were banished as frivolous, but the legend reflects a genuine nineteenth-century sense that George Eliot was different from writers of mere fiction.”
Mendelson’s footnote provides the key to the issue of what constitutes literature (as far as it applies to works of fiction) as opposed to “mere fiction,” and in The Things That Matter Mendelson provides the reader with tools for discerning the literary merits of what he or she reads. But this is true not only for a reader but for a writer as well; at least one who sets lofty goals for himself when he sits down at his keyboard and tries, vainly perhaps, to craft something that transcends “mere fiction.” The Things that Matter, do matter for a writer (at least this one) as well as for a reader.
The structure of Mendelson’s book takes seven classic novels and explains in clear and accessible prose what each of these novels has to say about the stages of human life. The novels and the life stages they address are: Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (birth), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (childhood), Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (growth), George Eliot’s (Maryian Evan’s) Middlemarch (marriage), Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (love), To the Lighthouse (parenthood), and Between the Acts (the future). One of the dust jacket blurbs says of Mendelson’s book: “Mendelson . . one of the finest literary scholars of our time shows us how seven novels can help us with the stages through which we all must pass. Another blurb tells us that The Things That Matter shows “the connection between literature and life.”
These statements are true and one could add many more without being accused of hyperbole: Mendelson’s book is one that any serious reader or writer will be the richer for reading. Having said all this, it is perhaps permissible (if perhaps also temerity) to suggest that the book is not exhaustive in exploring the subject. These are not criticisms in the sense that the things that matter to Mendelson do not matter, but that the things he writes about are not necessarily all the things that matter. I doubt he would make the claim that his book is all-inclusive in this sense.
For one thing, all the novels he discusses are written by women and three of his choices are all written by the same woman, Virginia Woolf. They are all British women, and they all wrote well before divorce became available and (relatively) accepted. The point of view of male writers on each of the stages of life would undoubtedly show that things that matter to men are sometimes different, especially in love, marriage, parenting and the future. In looking at only the feminine point of view, if one can only look at the point of view of one sex, Mendelson chose the right one if only because women, at least Mendelson’s choices, lived in a paternalistic society and were able to view the stages in life from both the feminine side (their personal experience) and the masculine side (the world in which they lived) much as a writer from a racial minority can write with insights into the dominant culture as well as the minority culture, whereas a member of the dominant culture would have more difficulty doing so from his point of view.
But a man’s point of view would be worthwhile. For example, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin seafaring stories show a masculine point of view about all seven stages of life, including a radically different view of love and marriage, that is quite different from the novels Mendelson explores. Certainly O’Brian’s novels are “men’s books” and are very much adventure stories, but they are still literature and address the same seven stages of life with just as much seriousness and insight as the books Mendelson cites in spite of the fact that the “wham-bam, blood and guts” of O’Brian’s books appeal more to men than to women. Men's lives also include issues at each of the stages that are not always as important or are considered very differently by a man than a woman, e.g., duty, honor, loyalty, obedience, success, and physical courage.
In a world in which divorce is more accessible and has less social stigma–as well as a world in which single motherhood in all its manifestations (including "bastardy") is more common and acceptable–books written since the mid-twentieth century provide contemporary insights into these seven stages of life. Books from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century are not always helpful to a reader at the beginning of the 21st century in sorting out and (for a writer) resolving the conflicts in relationships and marriages. Contemporary novels address these issues from an entirely different point of view than did the books Mendelson uses as examples.
One could also say that American, Canadian, and Australian writers–not to mention the many and diverse nationalities who have English as a first or second language, or who don’t write in English at all–might have entirely different takes on the stages of life than British writers, and their voices would also add something to understanding life.
The same comment can be made in suggesting that a homosexual viewpoint on the issues, especially growth, love, marriage, parenting, and the future would be worthwhile because their experience, and the context in which they live with these issues, are also part of the human experience. Addressing Gay and Lesbian points of view is as important in the modern world as addressing the classic issues of male/female relationships and those of racial or ethnic minorities. Michael Cunningham’s work would provide an example, especially because his The Hours is an interesting retelling of sorts of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.
But, to return to all that is good in Edward Mendelson’s book, nothing he writes should be overlooked or devalued because he did not write a 200-volume study covering the things that matter in the entire universe of worthwhile and significant classic and contemporary novels. He’s done an excellent job on the subject and provides excellent tools for looking at the books we read (and the ones we write.)
Order the book directly from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
$100.00 Cash Award best POD/Self-Published Book reviewed here
I prefer to review POD and Conventional Self-Published fiction, but it is difficult amidst the numerous blogs, review sites, etc., to get much attention for this site and I don't get as many submissions as I would like. In order to generate more interest in my reviews, I am offering a prize of $100.00 for the best book published in 2006 submitted for review at my site.
Although I have no special credentials as a reviewer, I am a self-published author myself. I have written two novels, and I assume that the prize money will provide an incentive for submission; in other words, an author will have nothing to lose by making a submission other than one copy of his/her book.
My motives for this competition, other than to generate interest in my book reviews, are to see what my fellow, self-published writers are doing, and to draw attention to POD/self-published works of fiction and works of fiction published by small (10 titles or fewer) publishers.
Although I may make criticisms of the books I review, I will review only those titles I think have merit and are worth buying and reading. I will make no negative, humiliating or "slash and burn" reviews.
The following are the criteria for entries in the competition:
1. The book must be submitted for review in accordance with the following rules.
2. The book must be an original work of fiction of any genre except children’s books, and books intended for young-adult readers. Erotica is acceptable, but it must have some revelance other than mere purience. Books of poetry must have fewer than 100 pages.
3. The book must be written in the English language.
4. The book must be submitted for review by March 31, 2007.
5. The submission must be in book form: no e-books or digital manuscripts.
6. The book must have its own International Standard Book Number (ISBN).
7. The book must be published and first appear in print during the 2006 calendar year, although it may have a 2007 copyright date.
8. The book must be published using either Print on Demand (POD) technology or conventional self-publishing.
9. The book must be self-published by the author or by a press with 10 or fewer titles.
10. The book must be available for purchase at Amazon.com or a comparable Internet source that can be linked for purchase from this blog.
11. No books written by anyone that would represent a conflict of interest will be eligible for the award although such books may be reviewed at this blog. Conflict of interest will include, but not necessarily be limited to, any books written by myself, any members of my family, books published by my publisher, Aydy Press, or my own imprint, Anchor Chain Books.
12. Submissions must be sent through the U.S. Postal service to Glynn's Book Reviews, P.O. Box 802, San Augustine, Texas 75972 and must be accompanied by a one-page cover letter that includes the author or publisher's return address and a short biography of the author if one is not included on the cover of the book. Novels should also include a one-page synopsis of the story. Books of poetry should have a brief themactic description of the work. Receipt of the submission will be sent either by email or by mail if a SASE accompanies the submission.
Books will be judged on the writing style and quality, character development, pace, realism (believability), plot and social relevance. Front cover, back cover description of the book, and interior design, as well as care in editing will also be considered. Not all submissions will be reviewed, although all those that are reviewed (with the exceptions noted above) will be acknolwedged as finalists. I will make the final choice for awarding the prize myself, although others may participate in the selection process.
The winner of the $100.00 prize will be announced here and at the Absolute Write Self-Publishing forum in August of 2007 at which time the winner will be sent a cashier’s check for $100.00.
Write me at glynn at glynnsbooks dot com if you have questions
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Self-Publishing and POD Awards and Contests
Bejamin Franklin Awards
Sponsor: PMA,the Independent Book Publishers Association
Web site: www.pma-online.org
The IPPY Awards
Sponsor: Independent Publisher
Web site: www.independentpublisher.com
Aydy Press the publisher of my first novel A Perfect Peace was a finalist in the IPPY competition last year for Brian S. Matthews's sci-fi novel New Wilderness.
ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards
Sponsor: ForeWord magazine
Web site: www.forewordmagazine.com
Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards
Sponsor: Writer's Digest magazine
Web site: www.writersdigest.com
And, for a larger list of competitions (including ones for conventionally published books)
I also received the following email inviting me to enter the Nautilus Books Awards 2007. This is a new one for me, so I am including the entire text of the email. Note that the Nautilus Awards are associted with Jenkins Group Inc. which has been mentioned before in this forum.
The Nautilus Book Awards 2007 – Call for Entries "Recognizing Books that Promote Spiritual Growth, Conscious Living, and Positive Social Change" Orcas Island, WA -- The sixth annual Nautilus Book Awards are now accepting entries in 20 subject categories, honoring books that contribute to our society’s awareness and well-being, and that embrace spiritual and ecological values such as compassion, sustainability, simplicity, and global peace. Any book copyrighted or released in 2005 or2006, in English, is eligible. Final deadline for entering is January 15, 2007. A downloadable, four-page PDF with complete guidelines and entry form, and online, secure entry are both available at www.independentpublisher.com/nautilus. Why Nautilus? Since ancient times, storytellers and scribes worldwide have gathered and shared the culture’s words and ideas in ways that encourage its people to think, feel, and improve the lives of upcoming generations. For centuries, the world’s great philosophers and leaders have used books to inspire the masses and affect their attitudes and emotions – not always for the better. Today, with mass global communication, political unrest, and religious and secular fanaticism all growing at an alarming rate, the need for books that promote “green living” and positive social change is great, and the phrase, “Changing the World One Book at a Time” is more meaningful than ever before. Authors and publishers and their books CAN and ARE making a difference. The Nautilus Book Awards were conceived to recognize and reward these world-changing books, and celebrate how they contribute to positive social change, spiritual growth, high-level wellness, and responsible leadership. 20 categories in all, including three children’s book categories and both adult and juvenile Visionary Fiction, will showcase the most creative, inspirational, and life-changing books available today. Award winners will be announced during a Nautilus Book Awards presentation at BookExpo America on Saturday, June 2, 2007, at the Jacob Javits Center in New York. A winner, runner-up, and 3-4 finalists will be named for each category, a special award will be given to the top small press or self-published title, and two overall Grand Prize winners (one adult and one children’s) will be presented with the Nautilus Book of the Year Awards. Winning titles will be featured in a Nautilus Book Awards exhibit booth at BookExpo America, and will be promoted on the Nautilus website for one year. Visit the Nautilus Book Awards website at www.marilynmcguire.com for background information, or contact Awards Producer Marilyn McGuire at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. A downloadable, four-page PDF with complete guidelines and entry form, and online, secure entry are both available at www.independentpublisher.com/nautilus. The Nautilus Book Awards 2007 are presented by Marilyn McGuire & Associates, Inc. of Eastsound, WA and co-sponsored and administered by Independent Publisher Online of Traverse City, MI.
> Marilyn McGuire & Associates, Inc. have assisted and supported the creation, publication, marketing and sales of books, music and other products that make a distinguished contribution to the world in the areas of holistic health, self-help & psychology, responsible leadership, spiritual growth, positive social change, and the principle of sustainability in all human enterprise for twenty years. www.marilynmcguire.com Independent Publisher Online is an electronic magazine containing news and features about the world of independent publishing. It is owned and operated by Jenkins Group Inc., a provider of marketing and custom book publishing services for independent publishers. www.bookpublishing.com .