Reflections: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Note: Because I am just a little ol' Bookworm, I've decided I am not one to try to "review" classics. However, since one of my goals for 2011 is to read more classics, I do want to reflect on the experience of reading each one. Hence this post's title: "Reflections: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins." As always, I appreciate feedback and would love to hear thoughts on this approach.

The Moonstone is one of those darling Penguin classics that has sat on my shelf for ages and yet gone unread for just as long. It is also one of those books I read while thinking, "Why did I wait so long to read this?"

I suppose I was put off by Wilkie Collins in part because of his association with Dickens; while I love Dickens, and works from this time period, the serialization of novels often results in lengthy, wordy tomes with an interesting but over-drawn-out storyline. Or so I thought:

The Moonstone, though definitely wordy, and definitely drawn-out, in no way feels bulky or cumbersome. Collins' well-known novel is the story of an infamous Indian diamond, known in legends as "the moonstone." The gem, stolen from the Hindoo [sic*] temple of the Moon God, is rumored to bring a curse on anyone who possesses it. When it is given to the young Rachel Verinder as a birthday gift, it draws the attention of family members and neighbors and three mysterious Hindoos - and then it disappears.

Rather than a straight narrative, the plot is cobbled together by what we are told are accurate accounts by those who actually participated in events, drawn together by a member of the family to preserve the true story for years to come. This presents the reader with an interesting cast of characters - from the senior house-steward to the Verinder family, who proves a humorous, slightly pompous, and ridiculously absurd narrator, to a Christian zealot, a lady who litters households with pamphlets on ladylike behavior and verges on hysteria. I often questioned these not-so-trustworthy narrators, but never begrudged them their inevitable biases.

Remarkably (to me, at least), I often found myself laughing out loud at the sheer absurdity of some of their claims, written by their own hands as the most normal thoughts in the world. I suppose this was intentional, so might not seem remarkable, but the fact that these pokes at fun have survived the 150 years since their writing and still prove entertaining says a lot about the quality of Collins' humor. After all, satire is a timely business.

The Moonstone is generally noted to be the first detective novel of its kind, paving the way for the Holmes and eventually Miss Marples that lurk in literature to come. Savidge Reads, however, recently laid that title at the feet of Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue. A quick search of the ever-reliable and never-citable Wikipedia brings up evidence to support both claims, so let's just call it a tie, shall we?

Bottom line: Whether it was the first of its kind or not, The Moonstone is a triumphant effort in the realm of the modern whodunit. It is sad to see that the genre has descended into Alex Cross and the like, but even the most anti-mystery reader should turn an eye back to Collins, whose combination of historical detail, family intrigue, finely-wrought analysis and ever-timely humor presents a detective novel that may be lengthy, and a bit wordy at times, and a bit trying with the cliffhanger chapter endings, but proves to be well worth the hours invested in it. And now, I'm off to find some Sherlock Holmes.


* Throughout the text, Hindus are consistently referred to as "Hindoos," which I assume is not a mistake but instead was the term commonly used at the time of writing.


Thoughts from other bookworms (most of whom liked it, but thought Woman in White was better, which gets my gears turning...)

Nathalie Foy, Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
S. Krishna's Books, The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
BiblioAddict, The Moonstone: A Review
Novel Insights, The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins


More from Wilkie Collins:

The Woman in White (Penguin Classics Clothbound Hardcover)
Man and Wife (Oxford Universtity Press)
No Name (Penguin Classics)

Tickets to Faraway Places (Quote of the Day)

“Books are the tickets to faraway places.The best part is that you can travel the world without even leaving your chair.” -Jill Wolf

Congratulations on Being a Year Closer to Forgetting Snooki Ever Had a Bestseller - Congratulations on being a year closer to the blissful senility of not remembering Snooki having a New York Times Best Seller

A timely birthday e-card, if I do say so myself.

Book Review: My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

After a few thoughtful books on books in recent weeks, it was time for some pure distraction reading: Chelsea Handler. Seem a strange choice for this bookworm? It is, but it came recommended from a very good (and very smart) friend (who also writes music reviews).

My Horizontal Life is exactly what the subtitle promises it will be: a collection of essays detailing Handler's series of one-night stands. Though I'm not familiar with Handler's stand up, it is clear from her writing that she is a downright funny gal; the kind of party animal that is simultaneously thrilling and exhausting. Her memoir is, in that respect, a perfect reflection of its author.

Handler spares her readers no detail, accounting for the un-endowed and too-endowed conquests of her nightly rampages; the midget and the strange black man; the stranger and the friend. She drags in her family, her family relationships; her friends, her friendships; her thoughts on monogamy and settling, her resistance to growing up. This much material threatens to fall apart at the seams, bouncing from one subject to the next, but Handler's honesty and quick sense of humor holds it together.

Bottom line: Handler is straightforward in everything: in her accounts of her past, her feelings about her experiences, and what to expect in her essays. She does not disappoint in her promise of honesty, which leaves readers laughing out loud one moment (she has an extremely entertaining inner monologue) and pondering the consequences of growing up the next. Raw, honest, and emotional, My Horizontal Life might not be perfect, but it is certainly a fun dip into something a bit different for an avid reader. Kind of like a one-night stand itself: maybe not your real taste, but a quick read, then time to move on to something else. Not to say you won't appreciate that one night, of course.


Thoughts from other bookworms:

What Red Read: I Prefer to Do My Walks of Shame in the Evening, When It's Not So Bright
Novel Whore: My Horizontal Life


More from Chelsea Handler:

Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang (March 2010)
Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (February 2010)
Lies that Chelsea Handler Told Me (May 2011)

On Breaking My Rules for Among Others

This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.

This dedication is the perfect example of why I don't set strict reading rules for myself. If my guidelines were hard and fast rules, I would have forbidden myself the spontaneity of seeing a book reviewed and immediately clicking "order" (complete with overnight shipping). Two days after first hearing of Among Others, a book released by Tor last week, I am one hundred pages in. And loving it.

I was first turned on to the title when my wonderful husband sent me a link to the io9 review. Part ode to the company of books, part fantasy adventure, this totally my kind of book.

"There are some awful things in the world, it's true, but there are also some great books. When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn't all that warm and they could sit reading and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head."
Man, am I glad I threw the guidelines out the window on this one. Jo Walton is an author I'd never heard of before this, but I'm looking forward to discovering more of her work.

Yet more explanation of why I can't stand To-Read lists.

2011 Tournament of Books Titles Announced

I was going to write a great post about the 2011 Tournament of Books, whose finalists were announced last week, but The Reading Ape did it better than I could have hoped to. I highly recommend hopping over there to check out his rundown and the pros and cons of the list, the judges, the tournament.

For myself, I have read exactly 0 of these titles. I own 2 of them (Bad Marie and Super Sad True Love Story). I've had my eye on a few more (Room, Freedom, Skippy Dies). Still, a sad showing for me all around.

Have you read any of these titles? Do you plan to? Will you follow the Tournament?

Note that all titles below are 30% of at in honor of the event (titles below are linked to their Powell's page for easy ordering).

Also note that Field Notes is sponsoring the tournament this year. Purchase any one of their nifty little products and receive a FREE 2011 Tournament of Books memo book with coupon code ROOSTER.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender
Nox, by Anne Carson
Bad Marie, by Marcy Dermansky
Room, by Emma Donoghue
A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon
Bloodroot, by Amy Greene
Next, by James Hynes
The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray
Model Home, by Eric Puchner
So Much for That, by Lionel Shriver
Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
Kapitoil, by Teddy Wayne
Savages, by Don Winslow


I should note that I am in no way affiliated with Powell's or Field Notes, and earn not a cent for pushing this promotion. I just think the Tournament is a great idea, and hope to see people picking up these books. I know I'm aiming to.

Fiction Reveals Truths (Quote of the Day)

“Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” - Jessamyn West

Great Idea Friday: How to Make Your Own Book Purse

Some of you may have seen this on GalleyCat earlier this week, but in case you missed it, I couldn't resist sharing. After all the photos of book purses lurking around the great wide interwebs, someone is finally explaining how to make one yourself. Ready, set, get crafty:

Book Review: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

I've been on a bit of a kick lately with books about books, it seems. First Shadow of the Wind, then The Thirteenth Tale, now The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. To be fair, though, all three books were gifts; clearly my friends and family know me well, because I've enjoyed every one.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is, as the subtitle suggests, part memoir, part history. Author Lewis Buzbee has spent his entire career in various corners of the bookselling industry: store clerk, publisher's rep, author. He draws just as heavily on anecdotal evidence as historic fact in his presentation of the course of the bookshop throughout our history.

Beyond memoir and history, though, Buzbee's book is a collection of trivia about the bookshop. Did you know, for example, that before the printing press, it is estimated that there were only 50,000 books in all of Europe? That's books, not titles. 50,000 in comparison to the 20 million estimated a mere 50 years after the first Gutenberg Bible was produced. Or how about the names of various pieces of those precious books that line your shelves? The right page is the verso, the left the recto. The groups of pages found in a hardcover are called signatures; when paperback pages are cut flush and glued to the spine, this is called perfect-binding.

Gives you a new appreciation for all that publishing lingo, don't it?

It seems to me that that is part of Buzbee's plan, here. He notes that the novel has died, books have died, and now, at the dawn of the e-reading era, there are those that make the case that reading itself is dying. Bookselling is certainly on the decline; one indie is closing down after the next. But amidst all the bad news, Buzbee finds the silver lining: there are new bookshops opening. There are avid readers who will never give up the paper pages they hold in their hands. There are people like you and me that get absolutely giddy at the prospect of a book about books; we keep authors like him and publishers like his going.

In the face of over 150,000 new titles published per year (that's 411 per day, for those not willing to do the math), we sift through our options to find something that will engage us. For the record, Buzbee points out that that is 50,000 more titles per year than the entire collection held at the library at Alexandria. Per year, readers. But do not despair, for that is why we have our trusty booksellers to guide us, selecting titles for feature tables, face-outs, hand-selling.

And on the question of the internet and its threat to these very booksellers?
" and other sits like it are not without benefit. If only because the growth of e-commerce hurt so many independent bookstores, the fate of the independent became newsworthy, and as a culture we began to value what we had taken for granted for so long." (p. 206)

"The Internet bookstore is here to stay, no doubt... But the Internet bookstore places barriers between the reader and the book that leach much of the pleasure the brick-and-mortar store has always offered. Until the odor-replicator program is invented, how will we know if a book smells right?" (p. 207)
Ha! I knew I wasn't alone in my love of the smell of books. Now I have proof in the comments of others on my blog AND in Lewis Buzbee's commitment of this sentiment to paper.

Bottom line: While certainly not destined to become a classic, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is, if nothing else, a reminder that we are not alone in our love of books; there are others like us. That is what makes the bookstore so important, just as we are what keeps the bookstore alive. Expect this one to be a book that will persist in appearing in our bookloving lives. From ancient Rome and China to the publication of Shakespeare to the dawn of corporate chains and internet discount stores, this is a complete, engaging look at the history of bookselling. Count on it to be the perfect gift for your book-loving friends; a balanced education about an influential institution; and full of quotable extracts for yourself:
"Books connect us with others, but that connection is created in solitude, one reader in one chair hearing one writer, what John Irving refers to as one genius speaking to another." (p. 6)

Note: All page counts refer to the paperback edition.

The Agony of Waiting for Sequels

Ok, friends. My statistics clearly reveal that we are all dying for Justin Cronin to just hurry up and finish the sequel to the Passage already. The post I wrote about this as-yet-unreleased book has been the MOST visited post on this blog for the last six months. Go figure. Clearly I should stop reviewing books and just start rambling about The Passage, then, right?

No. Steph's* recent post about embracing herself as a Black Sheep Blog(ger), has got me thinking about marching to the beat of my own drum in this little corner of book blogger land, followers and clicks be damned. So I'm not here to ramble about the sequel to The Passage (although I bet just saying "sequel to The Passage" this many times in one post will lead many unsuspecting searchers here only to disappoint them). Instead, this relatively mundane fact on my Google Analytics got me thinking about sequels and the urgent waiting game us readers play.

Even if you haven't read Justin Cronin's incredible hunk o' book (and you should, really, you should), there must be some book you've waiting eagerly for.** The next Harry Potter book to release, maybe? The third book in Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy? The new volume in Robert Jordan's legendary Wheel of Time series? I'm currently re-reading all 12 existing books in preparation for the release of number 13 here. Or how about the fifth book in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series? Fans have been waiting for over five years for a new installation there, and are now being teased with an HBO series... but no fifth book.

I'm not just talking about eagerly anticipating an author's newest work. I'm talking about the kinds of books that end unresolved and leave us dangling, waiting for more story.

I know some readers won't start a series (or trilogy, or prequel) until the entire set is completed to avoid just this agony. After all, finishing a book whose successor is not yet publishing is like running to where the sidewalk ends and not really focusing on the fact that the sidewalk does, in fact, end.

Based on just my list of books above, I do not wait until the set is complete. Which means I waited for all six of the additional Harry Potter books after reading the first one the year it was published. And I waited for all of Robert Jordan's additional volumes in the Wheel of Time series; I'm still waiting even now that he has passed away and Brandon Sanderson has picked up the series. I'm dying for Martin to just hurry up and write the damn fifth book already, and if Cronin could just churn out his sequel, that would be great too.

Clearly, though, I'm not alone in breaking this rule. Just take a look at the number of hits on my post about The Passage's sequel. (Note also that my actual review of The Passage has received not 10% of the hits as the post on the sequel.) Readers here are not looking for information about the book that has been published, but news about the books yet to be published.

So what about you? Do you wait for the whole set to be published before diving in, guaranteeing yourself the satisfaction of a polished ending? Or do you start piecemeal, anticipating sequels and new series volumes as they are lined up for publication? Do you then (like me) curse yourself for the haste in starting, knowing the inevitable agony waiting for you at the end?


Updated 1/18/11: The Bookpage interviewed Justin Cronin in June, and talked about the release of the sequel, which is currently slated for 2012. You can also read the full interview with Cronin here, if you like.


* At Bella's Bookshelves, a blog I highly encourage you to visit. Right now. Because you've finished reading my new content, right?

** Ooph, ended a sentence with a preposition here. Must be in a fluster this morning, no?

Choice and Treatment of Books (Quote of the Day)

"What better place to kill time than a library? And for me, what better way to get to know someone than through her choice and treatment of books?" -Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

On Fiction and Bestsellers

The novel is dead! The novel is dying! Fiction is dead!

Criers have lamented the decline of the novel for decades. Me? I don't buy it. Never have. Maybe I'm biased by the fact that 90% of my reading choices are fiction. Who knows. Regardless: the novel? Very much alive.

Now we have cold, hard evidence to support my as-yet unfounded hypotheses. According to today's issue of Shelf Awareness, USA Today has reported that fiction is on the rise. The Top 100 Books of 2010 list was 77% fiction - up from 76% last year, and the highest percentage seen since the first list, released in 1993. Not too shabby, fiction writers. Seems the recession is working in your favor, as readers look for escape and distraction in their reading choices.

The list is dominated by Stieg Larsson, whose Millenium trilogy took gold, silver AND bronze on this list. Other notable fiction titles include The Help, a healthy portion of Nicholas Sparks' novels, and lots of Rick Riordan.

Worth noting, however, is the fact that bestseller lists in general are necessarily not an accurate depiction of the balance of readers' choices overall. I, for one, purchase dozens of books a year, and read day-in and day-out, and yet the majority of the titles I purchased and/or read in 2010 are not on this list. In general, I don't read bestsellers. Not because I have anything against them as bestsellers per se (I did read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, just to see what all the hype was about), but because I tend to avoid books by Nicholas Sparks, George Bush, and James Patterson. Call me a snob if you wish, but it's true. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the same is probably true of the majority of bloggers I follow (which is also why I follow them).

This community of avid non-bestseller readers is not a small one, but because of our diversity - that very trait we so pride ourselves on and which continually provides us with new book recommendations - our choices don't make the nation's bestseller lists.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I, for one, am thrilled to be part of a group of booklovers that go beyond these selections to discover unheard-of titles. I am simultaneously thankful to see books being published that get people excited about reading. And I'm looking forward to finding time to pick up The Girl Who Played With Fire sometime soon.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Ok, booklovers. Step away from your computers. Walk - do not run - to your nearest bookstore. Purchase The Thirteenth Tale. Read immediately. No, really. If you haven't read this, you're missing out. If you haven't heard of it, you are missing out and you really don't even know what you're missing.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, is one of those books that has lingered on the edge of my reading mind for what feels like forever; when a good friend (and brilliant music reviewer) sent me a copy for Christmas, I moved it to the top of my reading pile.

Man, am I glad I did. Author Diane Setterfield is a master storyteller; her talents are mirrored in that of her main character, bestselling author Vida Winter. And this is a novel of stories and storytelling:
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.
So it goes. Despite having given dozens of interviews, Vida Winter is on her deathbed before she decides to tell the world her story - her true story. She contracts expert antiquarian bookseller amateur biographer Margaret Lea for the job. The story quickly becomes two stories - that of the telling, and the story told - which move in parallel, but always from beginning to end. There is no jumping about in Vida Winter's world:
"'Beginnings, middles and endings, all in the correct order. No cheating. No looking ahead. No questions.'"
Setterfield's - or Winter's, or perhaps Lea's - story is fascinating, amounting to a series of mysteries and confusions that read like a detective novel, in which reader must parse together one clue after the next to determine the truth of events. And, also like a masterful detective novel, the final revelation of facts left me desperately wanting to start over and re-read the entire 400+ page novel under the new light cast upon events.

The Thirteenth Tale
dregs up the long-buried story of a woman, an author, a sister, a friend. Vida Winter's story and Margaret Lea's account of her acquisition of it touch on raw human emotions that many authors might shy away from. But like the facts that Vida Winter recounts, these are fleeting glimpses into the impact of these emotions:
"'Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.'" (p. 58)

"There are times when the human face and body can express the yearning of the heart so accurately that you can, as they say, read them like a book. I read Aurelius. Do not abandon me." (p. 228)
Even more than intriguing plot and excellent writing - and storytelling - The Thirteenth Tale, (much like Shadow of the Wind) is as much love letter to the world of books as it is a part of that world itself. Books factor heavily in nearly every aspect of the novel, nearly every character's lives. Margaret Lea is a bookseller who seeks comfort in the world of books, particularly 19th-century fiction with carefully wrapped-up storylines. Vida Winter finds solace in the pages of that beloved classic, Jane Eyre. Aurelius Love recalls the memories and love of his mother through the cookbook she left behind. And Setterfield herself is constantly calling to mind the role that books play in our everyday lives:
"People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath... Yet for some reason there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead... that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic." (p. 17)
The Thirteenth Tale is no exception to this rule. While Diane Setterfield may not be dead (and readers like myself are itching for another dose of her writing), the miracle of her ink on paper is itself a kind of magic, at once a story that sucks you in and a delicate piece of writing that rests on you like a finely spun spider's web whose bits and pieces refuse to fall away completely. But perhaps that is not such a bad thing. Margaret Lea says it herself when she asks her readers,
"Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes-characters even-caught in the fiber of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you." (p.289-90)
Bottom line: The Thirteenth Tale is a novel like that. It is a novel that at once follows all of its own rules - a novel of stories; a novel with beginnings, middles and endings; a novel that keeps its subjects alive by the miracle of ink on paper - while simultaneously exalting its own presence on your shelves. I repeat: if you haven't already read this one, make it a point to do so. Soon. I predict that you will appreciate the sticky bits of well-written web that linger in the corner of your mind as you approach the next title on your list.


If you can't make it to a bookstore soon, I'll make a deal with you: I wound up with two copies of the book, so I'll be giving one away. I'm keeping the inscribed copy, so the hardcover from the bargain bin is up for grabs. Simply leave a comment to enter. +1 for followers (RSS, Google Friend Connect, Facebook or Twitter). Contest closes next Wednesday, Jan 19th. Open to US and Canada only (sorry to all the international readers out there, but this bookworm's broke).


Note: All page references above refer to the paperback edition.

Book to Movie: One Day Adaptation Slated for July 8th Release

Fans of David Nicholl's One Day, rejoice! The film adaptation of the novel, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, is slated for a July 8th release date. Yes, of this year. IndieWire calls it a "highly anticipated" follow-up on Lone Scherfig's successful release of An Education, starring Carey Mulligan.

Based on images from both movies, the director seems to have a thing for actresses with short hair. Both Carey Mulligan and Anne Hathaway are sporting new, short hairstyles. As is yours truly. I chopped off all of my locks post-wedding into a 'do that closely mimics Carey Mulligan's short style.

But I digress. Why am I talking about hairstyles when I could be rambling about how much I loved David Nicholls' book, and how I can't wait to see the movie? This from the girl who doesn't watch a lot of movies. As with any book-to-film adaptation, I'm worried that the movie won't do the novel justice, but on this one, the casting and direction look sound enough that it seems worth the chance.

If you haven't already been persuaded to read the book, go back and take a peek at my review of One Day. And I'm not alone in my gushing:
Have you read the book? If you answered no, stop reading immediately and go do so. Any thoughts on the casting? Will you see the movie?

Because Sometimes, There's Really Nothing to Say About a Book...

Hug a Book (Quote of the Day)

"You can't hug an iPad." -Nancy Pearl, when asked at a book signing at Wide World of Books & Maps if she used an e-reader.

Via Shelf Awareness, Monday, Dec 20th.

Things I'd Like to Own: Book Lover's Chocolate

Gourmet chocolate and books in one place? The world has truly conspired to achieve my economic downfall on this one: book-themed chocolate from Bridgebands Chocolate. Yum. $1.50 for a bar; $5.99 for a box; $18.95 for a gift set. Enjoy.

Huckleberry Finn, Censor-style: Removing the N-word from Huck Finn

The following post could also be retitled "In Which I Hop on the Bandwagon and Defend the Original Huck Finn." But I can't help voicing my opinion, which is why I have my own blog, in which I play writer, editor and publisher.

In case you all have completely missed it, after years and years of fighting on and off the banned books list, an editor has actually succeeded in publishing a version of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn with the n-word replaced with "slave" throughout the text. A bit shockingly, the editor of the text is a professor and Mark Twain scholar - two groups notoriously against censorship in literature. In the introduction to the new edition, published by New South Books, Dr. Alan Gribben defends his decision:
"We may applaud Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era, but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers."
He goes on to assume that Mark Twain "presumably would have been quick to adapt his language if he could have foreseen how today’s audiences recoil at racial slurs in a culturally altered country." The only solid "evidence" he has that this version is, in fact, better than the original is an anecdote about teaching a class in which both he and his students were uncomfortable when discussing the word.

Quite honestly, I don't even know where to begin. Ultimately, the new "edition" of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn seems to amount to little more than censorship. If censorship is defined as the "suppression or deletion of anything considered to be objectionable," and Dr. Gribben has removed the n-word because it is repulsive to modern-day readers, I fail to see how this is not censorship. If the word was objectionable during the time of writing - which historians as well as Dr. Gribben argue - and the word is still objectionable now, I fail to see how we can assume that Mark Twain would now choose to write a different, less-offensive version.

I have not read any of Twain's work since high school - though I hope to remedy that soon - but the main takeaway that I recall from his work was precisely that in a very pro-slavery time, in a pro-slavery area, Twain himself was remarkably anti-slavery - and not afraid to discuss it. His incorporation of the derisive word falls in with his use of a whole host of inappropriate or objectionable slang (both then and now), and this, we are taught, was precisely the point. To feel the need to remove the objectionable bits is to fail to understand the text. That, and as readers, it is never our place to assume what the now-dead author would prefer now. That is overstepping our boundaries.

Or so my high-school English teacher would say. What about you? Is this censorship, or a reasonable way to make a dated text more acceptable to a modern audience? Is this a one-off incident, or the starting slide down a slippery slope?

For more information (and some solid entertainment), check out the following:

Audiobook Review: Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

Karen Essex is, as far as I can tell, an author noted for the incredibly well-recreated periods of her historical fiction novels. After reading (ahem, listening to) Dracula in Love, I'm surprised the historical fiction aspect of these novels has been impressed on anyone's minds, as the rather explicit sex scenes pretty much dominate one's imagination - and memory - of the book.

I suppose it's unfair to judge an author's previous works based on only the one, so from here on out I will keep my comments limited to just the one.

Essex' latest novel, Dracula in Love, retells the "true" story of Dracula from the perspective of Ms. Mina Murray, orphan, schoolteacher, proper British lady, sleepwalker, and Dracula's love interest. Essex cleverly works in several appearances of a "red-headed gentleman," whom we can only assume must be Bram Stoker, who is perverting the facts and the story to create the tale we still read today. But Mina's story - one of love and loss, misunderstanding and madness, otherwordly powers and the very human Count Dracula - is, we are told, the accurate version of events, transcribed by Mina herself to set the record straight for her children, if not for the greater reading public.

By carefully twisting the plot elements presented by Stoker, Essex has, in fact, successfully recreated the story of Dracula. While the early pages of the book closely mirror that of Stoker's original story, the plots quickly diverge, yet never far enough apart that one fails to see Essex' inspiration in her telling. And, as other readers before me have noted, Essex is a master at historical (romantic) fiction; she captures the details of Victorian England near perfectly; relates the culture and speech of the time as accurately as one who had been there; and even details the fashions and dress of the time as one who is well-studied in the era might.

Despite all of this - a gripping plot, a masterful reworking of given storylines, and a well-researched account of a time period - the end result fills like little more than a romance novel. Why, you ask? Well, I am no prude - I love a good steamy scene as much as the next reader - but the sheer mass of erotic content in Dracula in Love sadly overshadows the otherwise well-done novel.

Bottom line: Perhaps I might not have been so disturbed by the erotic nature of Essex' work if the book had not been recommended to me by my 15-year-old sister, but as it stands, the novel was ultimately discomforting. Still, Dracula in Love is a well-told, engaging retelling of the popular Dracula story, perhaps most appreciated by those already familiar with Stoker's work, but still promising to be enjoyed by lovers of historical fiction, supernatural and yes, pure romance novels.

A note on the audio: Read by Bianca Amato, the audiobook of Dracula in Love is, like the novel, well-done, as well as well-read. Amato's voice is clear and easy to understand, and for a long novel - nearly 13 hours - rarely, if ever, unintelligible.

Book Review: Gone, Baby, Gone and Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

I might be one of the last people in the US, if not the world, to finally pick up a Dennis Lehane novel, though they do appear to be everywhere when you start looking for them. Gone, Baby, Gone - like Mystic River and Shutter Island - is yet another popular novel-made-movie from Lehane, and Moonlight Mile is the recently released sequel to it.

Set firmly in New England, Gone, Baby, Gone is a quirky, funny, riveting mystery set around the disappearance of a local girl. Her mother is an alcoholic, a drug addict, generally neglectful and hateful woman; her aunt and uncle lead the search for the missing girl. With virtually no clues, the child seems to have literally vanished into thin air. Against their better judgment, detective team Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro take on the case, ultimately risking their lives, their reputations, and their relationship to locate a missing child whom not too many seem keen to find.

Moonlight Mile does not leave the precious Boston landscape that so marks Lehane as an author; the second novel continues the story of Patrick and Angie, and yes, the missing girl, too. This time the detectives are drawn into a hectic world of teenagers and the Russian mob, gun dealers and drug dealers, while facing their own difficulties with raising a daughter, making ends meet, and struggling to identify what kind of life they want to lead.

Both novels, narrated by Patrick Kenzie, carry a strong, wry, cynical and often witty voice. Consistent throughout, Kenzie is still a surprising character, with a strong backstory that leaks through into his motivations and actions and interpretations of events. This consistency never bores, however; Lehane keeps the novels moving at a fast, if not clipped, pace, and alternates between often humorous dialog and observations and stark, brutally honest commentaries on human nature and the constant pain we inflict upon one another.

As I mentioned earlier, Lehane's sense of place seeps through in every page of both novels - and, from brief research, in most of his writing. He is a New England author through-and-through, alluding to the nuances and delicacies of Boston life as only someone who knows them himself could do. This setting, like each character's well-developed backstory, is a key factor in motivations and interpretations of every bit of plot development.

Bottom line: Lehane is a criminally-minded genius of sorts, pulling together the best aspects of crime writing and fiction and dialog to create powerful, thoughtful pageturners as no one else I've witnessed can. Those who appreciate a good mystery novel will definitely want to explore Lehane's collection - both these titles and others - and those who generally steer away from the genre (like yours truly) will still find themselves captivated by the wit, insight and purely good writing found in these pages. Sometimes it's good to go beyond our boundaries, after all - especially when Dennis Lehane is lying on the other side waiting to whisk us into an ever-moving story.


Note: Thanks to Kimberly Chocolaad at William Morrow, of HarperCollins, for the review copy of Moonlight Mile. Gone, Baby, Gone I purchased for myself at the airport when I ran out of reading material.

Measured in Books (Quote of the Day)

"There are many ways to measure a year, but the reader is likely to measure it in books." - Blogger C. Max Magee, of The Millions, from his post on the year's reading.

Happy New Year! As we look down the length of 2010, what did you read last year? How many did you complete? Do you count the books you read in a year's time? What were your favorites?

And what are your goals for 2011?