“When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges in his classic of philosophical fiction, “The Library of Babel.” One of the most revered stories-as-thought-experiments ever committed to print, Borges’ fiction posits the Universe as a library (“composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”) that contains every possible text. This intellectual vision, at once playful and poised, has stirred authors (like Umberto Eco and Terry Pratchett) and philosophers (W.V.O. Quine and Daniel Dennett) alike for more than 75 years.
For a reader, there’s something magical about picking up a first novel — that promise of discovery, the possibility of finding a new writer whose work you can love for years to come, the likelihood of semi-autobiography for you to mull over. The debut is even more important for the writer — after all, you only get one first impression. Luckily, there are a lot of fantastic first impressions to be had. Click through for some of the greatest first novels written since 1950 — some that sparked great careers, some that are still the writers’ best work, and some that remain free-standing.… Read More
In these weeks of midwinter, there’s nothing more satisfying than curling up by the fire with a good novel — and in particular a good mystery novel, because they somehow seem to keep you the warmest. Plus, what with a new season of Sherlock starting this week, your appetite for more murders, clues, and suspicious persons might just be piqued. Click through to check out 50 essential mystery novels that will bring color to your cheeks and set your brain… Read More
When it’s cold outside, book nerds tend to hibernate with their novels. But what about a bookish activity that’s also social (and indoors)? This week, the Paris Review pointed us towards Pride and Prejudice: The Board Game, which seems like just the ticket — if you’re a Jane Austen fan. However, what to do if you’re more of a Twainish persuasion? Never fear — we’ve collected a whole selection of board games based on novels, from fantasy to the classics, for your… Read More
It’s the first of the month, and you know what that means: a brand new spate of new literary releases to delve into. Not that we mind — the weather’s getting brisker (not to mention those snowstorms, NYC), and we really can’t think of anything better to do than to curl up with a cup of hot cider and a great novel (or memoir, or book of essays, or short story collection). Don’t be put off by the number of big names on our list this month — we like a struggling first novel as much as the next blog, but November is the month for publishers to pull out their big guns, and boy have they ever. Click through to see our list of ten must-reads coming out this month, and let us know which books you’re most psyched to dig into in the comments.
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The indispensable text for beard owners and lovers alike, Poets Ranked by Beard Weight, was published earlier this month, elucidating the various weights of poet beard (and thus, of course, poet) through an arcane system of magic and analysis. Though in our many studies we’ve found that on the whole, poets’ beards are heavier than their novelist equivalents, we felt that limiting the field to masters of verse was tantamount to cruelty, and so have applied Underwood’s theories to a handful of prose writers and a playwright or two, so that they might feel included. Click through to see our list of authors ranked by beard weight, all using UPI. That is: “Underwood’s Pogonometric Index, plotted by means of numerical values designating “poetic gravity” and relative “beard weights,” yields readings ranging from zero to a positive value of sixty. The normal range for the average individual is ten to twenty-four. For exceptional individuals, it can run to a value of forty and above.” Yes, it’s a very precise system.
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We are nearing the end of Banned Books Week and realized that there have been so many titles in the past few years that have ruffled the feathers of elected officials, holy men, and her highness, Oprah. Some have been great, some have been horrible, and some just downright racist. We’re always curious about books that are deemed so dangerous that the public shouldn’t be able to read them. Although we would be taken aback if we saw a friend openly displaying Mein Kampf on her bookshelf, we think that with enough critical distance people can learn a lot from books that uncover the wicked underbelly of society. So read on, dear readers, and tell us what “dangerous books” you’ve read and enjoyed.
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If you are in any way witchy, or follow the equinoxes, then you will know that the 23rd marks the first official day of fall this year. We decided to jump the gun and present our fall books preview a day early, just because we can’t wait, and because we are in no way astrologically-inclined. The following pages feature seven works of fiction, one encyclopedia, one photo/interview book, a memoir, and (an invisible, but deeply felt) partridge in a pear tree. The best way to cope with the changing of the seasons is to confront them head on, you know, so put on a sweater, brew a hot beverage, and curl up with some of these books.
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A while back, we surveyed a selection of cinema’s most notoriously “difficult” classics. This week, we got to thinking about literary equivalents, mainly because of the news that to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, 169 artists are creating their own versions of the mysterious illustration that adorns p. 169 of the book’s third volume. We’ve come up with a selection of other novels that have been acclaimed as classics and that we find largely incomprehensible — none of them have been bewildering readers for quite as long as Tristram Shandy has, but they’re doing their best to make up for lost time. We’re big fans of some of these novels, by the way (although not all of them) — but love them or hate them, they’re all confusing as hell.
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