Blog

It's Getting Spooky: New Dark Mode features and app icons in iOS, scary story suggestions for Halloween

09/25/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Dark Mode support and customizable reading themes now available in Serial Reader for iOS

A new update is rolling out today for Serial Reader on iOS devices with support for iOS 13, especially Apple's new Dark Mode feature! Serial Reader will now automatically shift from light to dark themes when your device activates Dark Mode.

Additionally, you can now select different reading themes to use for light and dark modes! By default the reading screen will shift to a black theme automatically when Dark Mode is enabled. However, you can customize which particualr reading theme should be used by tapping the Settings icon in the top right while reading, then selecting the "Theme" option.

Maybe you'd prefer a light reading theme in Dark Mode, or you'd like a parchment-style theme regardless of what mode is enabled - whatever your preference, you can now customize Serial Reader to look just the way you want!

There are also a new selection of alternate app icons to choose from in iOS for Serial Premium folks, including a fun new Halloween option!

Speaking of Halloween, starting today you'll find some spooky story suggestions while browsing for new books in Serial Reader. And come October, don't miss the Halloween collection of scary stories!




New Serial Wednesdays: Shakespearean Comedies, Doppelgangers, Undercover Reporting

07/31/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." How foolish indeed to go so long without such classics as The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It, and The Merchant of Venice available in Serial Reader!

The wrong has been righted this week with the addition of several Shakespearean comedies, joining others already available like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Merchant of Venice
William Shakespeare
16 issues
The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare
14 issues
The Comedy of Errors
William Shakespeare
11 issues
As You Like It
William Shakespeare
14 issues

Jumping forward a few hundred years, we come to an unsettling short story of an eerie doppelgänger from Edgar Allan Poe, which may have been an inspiration for Jordan Peele's horror film "Us"

William Wilson
Edgar Allan Poe
3 issues

From fictional horrors to those all too real: read Nellie Bly's undercover investigation of the brutality and neglect in late 19th century insane asylums with Ten Days in a Mad-House. Her work "pioneered a path for women in newspapers and launched what morphed into serious investigative journalism," writes The Washington Post. Bly's work is being recognized at long last with a monument in her honor in New York.

Ten Days in a Mad-House
Nellie Bly
10 issues

Other new additions this week include a philosophical monument in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, treasured children stories from Beatrix Potter, and a sci-fi short story from Mack Reynolds.

Critique of Pure Reason
Immanuel Kant
63 issues
Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter
19 issues
Adaptation
Mack Reynolds
8 issues

Until next week, happy reading!




New Serial Wednesdays: Disney Favorites and UFOs

07/24/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

This week's collection of new books available in Serial Reader include two favorites: "The Adventures of Pinocchio" and "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp." They join several others that have been transformed into treasured movies by Disney -- find them all in the new Disney Favorites collection of books!

The Adventures of Pinocchio
Carlo Collodi
14 issues
Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
Anonymous
2 issues

Also new this week is a fascinating book called "The Book of the Damned" by Charles Fort. It's an investigation of various scientific anomalies: strange things falling from the sky, strange disappearances, sightings of supposedly mythological animals, and yes - UFOs. (It's worth noting some claim Fort viewed the whole endeavor as a bit of a joke.)

The Book of the Damned
Charles Fort
32 issues

Rounding out the new selections are a collection of short stories by H.G. Wells, a romance from Victoria Cross, and a novel mixing Irish mythology and philosophy from James Stephens:

Thirty Strange Stories
H.G. Wells
35 issues
The Crock of Gold
James Stephens
18 issues
The Night of Temptation
Victoria Cross
25 issues

Until next week, happy reading!




New Serial Wednesdays: Myths, Poems, and Arctic Adventures

07/17/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

As I type this the thermometer outside my window is threatening to cross 90 degrees. The weather report assures me it'll be 100 before the day is out. If you're in a similar predicament, take a moment and consider soaring to the ice cold Arctic pole in a fantastic turn-of-the-century flying machine built by the heroine of Arqtiq, a fascinating feminist utopia sci-fi novel from Anna Adolph.

Liza Daly writes of the 1899 book, in her excellent exploration of Adolph's novel, "it's the writing style that makes the book truly unique. The prose feels modernist—staccato, ungrammatical, weirdly punctuated—but with a hypnotic rhythm that lends the whole work a kind of dreamlike intelligibility... At times it reads like the output of a neural net—it resembles the contours of human prose, but is thoroughly alien."

Arqtiq
Anna Adolph
10 issues

Also new in Serial Reader this week are two new collection of poetry from William Blake and -- returning to the cold weather theme -- Robert W. Service with his "ballads of the Yukon."

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
William Blake
4 issues
Songs of a Sourdough
Robert W. Service
11 issues

And finally take a dive into myths, sagas, and legends with Bulfinch's Mythology and James Stephens' Irish Fairy Tales. The former is one of the most popular collections of classical mythology, while the latter was described as "a work of true genius" by The Millions' Austin Ratner.

Bulfinch's Mythology
Thomas Bulfinch
99 issues
Irish Fairy Tales
James Stephens
22 issues

If you'd like to keep up with new book additions, check out the RSS feed and email newsletter. Until next week, happy reading!




New Serial Wednesdays: Sagas Old and New

06/19/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

This week's collection of new books includes coming of age stories, sagas passed down through the ages, and at least one mystery to untangle.

Starting in the far past, Albert T. Clay's 1920 translation of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" is now available. Fast forward two thousand years or so and join Julius Caesar as he strives against the peoples in Gaul, the Rhine, and Britain in "Commentaries on the Gallic War" from 58 BC.

The Epic of Gilgamesh
Various
5 issues
Commentaries on the Gallic War
Julius Caesar
23 issues

Speaking of Britain, the other three new titles come from lauded authors of the British isles. Virginia Woolf's "Night and Day" and Catherine Carswell's "Open the Door!" both follow the romances, struggles, and lessons of women in early 20th century Britain. Finally, J.S. Fletcher's "Scarhaven Keep" travels to mysterious Scarhaven on the coast of England to untangle an actor's disappearance.

Open the Door!
Catherine Carswell
51 issues
Night and Day
Virginia Woolf
49 issues
Scarhaven Keep
J.S. Fletcher
29 issues

Until next week, happy reading!




New Serial Wednesdays: Hawaii Edition

06/05/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Houses of Kalanimoku, Prime Minister of the King, 1819

When adding new books to Serial Reader I often follow a theme that grabs my attention and this time it's Hawaii! I have family who live on the islands so I'm a little surprised at myself that it's taken this long to add some Hawaiian books.

These three titles are just the start - I have several more Hawaiian books I'm working through adding at the moment!

The Legends and Myths of Hawai'i
David Kalakaua
58 issues
The House of Pride
Jack London
11 issues
Hawaiian Folk Tales
Various
23 issues

Rounding out the rest of the new additions are some often-requested titles I'm happy to finally offer in Serial Reader:

Journal of the Plague Year
Daniel Defoe
27 issues
Bhagavad Gita
Anonymous
11 issues
The Conquest of Bread
Peter Kropotkin
23 issues

Until next week, happy reading!




New Serials: A cornucopia of updates from Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Dante, Virginia Woolf, Jules Verne and more

02/10/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

I've been adding oodles and oodles of new books to Serial Reader over the past week or two and really need to take a break to highlight them all, before this becomes a blog post with like three dozen books! (Just checked and we're only at two dozen - whew.)

There's a few much-requested books I've finally added (sorry sorry sorry), including Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" and the remaining installments in Dante's Divine Comedy:

Monday or Tuesday
Virginia Woolf
7 issues
Much Ado About Nothing
William Shakespeare
16 issues
Purgatorio
Dante
16 issues
Paradiso
Dante
15 issues

The poetry collection in Serial Reader has always been a little lacking so I've been on the hunt for great titles to add. Two new ones to report here, including works from William Blake and Gertrude Stein:

Songs of Innocence and of Experience
William Blake
7 issues
Tender Buttons
Gertrude Stein
8 issues

Some more perilous choices now available include the next installment in Tarzan's adventures, sci-fi exploits from Jules Verne and Carey Rockwell, and thrilling reads from the early days of America:

The Pathfinder
James Fenimore Cooper
59 issues
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Edgar Rice Burroughs
22 issues
Five Weeks in a Balloon
Jules Verne
29 issues
Stand for Mars
Carey Rockwell
21 issues
A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
Mary Rowlandson
7 issues

And finally, there's a handful of new philosophical and religious books to choose from including works by Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Laozi:

Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle
29 issues
The Created Legend
Fyodor Sologub
23 issues
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Friedrich Nietzsche
29 issues
Tao Te Ching
Laozi
7 issues

Serial Reader now features more than 600 titles! If there's any books you'd like me to add, don't hesitate to reach out and let me know. Thanks for your support!




Stories of the First World War

01/20/2019 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

With the introduction of Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front to the public domain, it seemed a good opportunity to highlight the many World War I works available through Serial Reader.

They range from autobiographical - like E.E. Cummings' The Enormous Room and Henri Barbusse's Under Fire - to adventurous - such as in John Buchan's Richard Hannay series - to how the shockwave of war impacts those called to fight and their families as Rebecca West, Willa Cather, and Edith Wharton explore.

One of Ours
Willa Cather
53 issues
A Son at the Front
Edith Wharton
34 issues
The Thirty-Nine Steps
John Buchan
16 issues
The Return of the Soldier
Rebecca West
10 issues
The Enormous Room
E.E. Cummings
34 issues
Under Fire
Henri Barbusse
36 issues

Further reading:




Stories of Chicago

11/15/2018 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Map of Chicago, 1938

Journey through Chicago's history - and a bit into a sci-fi future! - with this collection of Windy City books in Serial Reader!

They include the unforgettable descriptions of the stockyards from muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair and, from another journalist, a collection of treasured columns emblematic of the city. The big city threatens to overwhelm Caroline Meeber in Sister Carrie, some of the very same pressures Jane Addams sought to save people from through her social programs centered around the Hull House. Finally, Paul W. Fairman uses Chicago as the backdrop to a chilling '50s sci-fi adventure.

The Jungle
Upton Sinclair
66 issues
Sister Carrie
Theodore Dreiser
61 issues
Deadly City
Paul W. Fairman
6 issues
The Pit
Frank Norris
42 issues
Twenty Years at Hull House
Jane Addams
35 issues
1001 Afternoons in Chicago
Ben Hecht
29 issues



New Serials: Adventures Around the World & Living the Good Life

11/10/2018 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Quite the selection of new books now available in Serial Reader! Travel through Africa in search of Livingstone, or with Mary Kingsley looking for scientific specimens (and smashing down Victorian norms for women). Or head further back in time with Tacitus’ histories. There’s a new play from Henrik Ibsen (author of “A Doll’s House”), novels from the Philippines and the old west, plus the handbook on living the Christian good life “The Imitation of Christ.”

How I Found Livingstone
Henry Morton Stanley
48 issues
The Agricola and The Germania
Tacitus
9 issues
The Imitation of Christ
Thomas à Kempis
28 issues
Noli Me Tángere
José Rizal
48 issues
The Beautiful Eyes of Ysidria
Charles A. Gunnison
5 issues
An Enemy of the People
Henrik Ibsen
13 issues
Travels in West Africa
Mary Kingsley
60 issues

Find them all in the Serial Reader app! And don’t forget to request books you’d like to see added soon!




New Serials: The Adventures of Arsène Lupin

05/06/2018 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

A collection of the adventures of France’s beloved gentleman thief and master of disguise Arsène Lupin are now available in Serial Reader!

Follow Lupin’s exploits as he robs the rich, evaded justice, seeks hidden treasure, and even takes on Sherlock Holmes, er, “Herlock Sholmes” (ah, copyright).

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar
Maurice Leblanc
18 issues
Arsène Lupin vs. Herlock Sholmes
Maurice Leblanc
17 issues
The Hollow Needle
Maurice Leblanc
22 issues



Mary Shelley's Slow Apocalypse

02/28/2018 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Plague in Phrygia. Engraving by M. Raimondi after Raphael af Wellcome.

Writing in The Millions, Will Wlizlo discusses Mary Shelley's apocalyptic sci-fi novel The Last Man, in which a plague threatens to wipe out humankind. A slow-paced plague, that is. "The obliterating pandemic takes a dreadful seven years to finish us off. Can we imagine a slow apocalypse now?"

I found Shelley’s take on human extinction oddly refreshing. In The Last Man, the plague that throttles us—characterized as an "invincible monster"—exercises a wicked patience in its malice, and by extension we readers are given what feels like a rare opportunity to mourn our genuine achievements as a species before they are snatched away one by one... we are given the time and space to mourn the emotions that make us human.

Read Wlizlo's full article at The Millions.

Further reading:




New Serials: Father Brown, Gods of Mars, Southern Horrors and more

02/10/2018 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

I've been adding quite a few new serials lately, in part to support a fun new feature coming soon in the Serial Reader app. Here are eight recently added titles worth highlighting including English mysteries, American atrocities, adventures on Mars and more. Be sure to also check out the Black History Month collection of stories!

The House of the Dead
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
45 issues
Rilla of Ingleside
Lucy Maud Montgomery
40 issues
The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
Arthur Conan Doyle
5 issues
The Innocence of Father Brown
G.K. Chesterton
25 issues
Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases
Ida B. Wells
4 issues
The Gods of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
31 issues
Prester John
John Buchan
27 issues
Clotel; or, The President's Daughter
William Wells Brown
20 issues



New Serials: Julius Caesar, The Crux, Alice Adams and more

12/10/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Six new serials added this week! A play by Shakespeare that should have been added long ago, a quick Christmas tale, revolutionary thoughts on religion by a founding father and more.

Alice Adams
Booth Tarkington
29 issues
Gitanjali
Rabindranath Tagore
7 issues
Julius Caesar
William Shakespeare
9 issues
The Crux
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
20 issues
A Kidnapped Santa Claus
L. Frank Baum
2 issues
The Age of Reason
Thomas Paine
23 issues



New Serials: Tom Jones, Egil's Saga, Up from Slavery, and more

12/03/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Nine new serials to announce today! Some captivating biographies, challenging essays, genre-defining science fiction, and more.

Tom Jones
Henry Fielding
113 issues
Egil's Saga
Snorri Sturluson
25 issues
Up from Slavery
Booker T. Washington
26 issues
Mizora: A Prophecy
Mary E. Bradley Lane
18 issues
Anarchism and Other Essays
Emma Goldman
22 issues
Armageddon 2419 AD
Philip Francis Nowlan
10 issues
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano
25 issues
The Rose and the Ring
William Makepeace Thackeray
10 issues
A Christmas Mystery
William John Locke
2 issues



Dangerous Willows: Tolkien and Blackwood

10/24/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

The eeriness of this lonely island, set among a million willows, swept by a hurricane, and surrounded by hurrying deep waters, touched us both, I fancy. Untrodden by man, almost unknown to man, it lay there beneath the moon, remote from human influence, on the frontier of another world, an alien world, a world tenanted by willows only and the souls of willows...

This passage is from Algernon Blackwood's classic weird tale 'The Willows,' in which two travelers are beset upon (possibly) by a hostile nature -- either of this world or from the nebulous Elsewhere.

Blackwood's writings would inspire and influence countless authors -- H.P. Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, Henry Miller, and Clark Ashton Smith to name a few -- including one fellow Englishman who was a 15-year-old student when "The Willows" was published: J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien would later cite Blackwood as the source for his iconic phrase "the Crack of Doom." More than that though, Blackwood's themes of a malevolent nature -- "the treachery of natural things in an animate world" as Jared Lobdell writes in The World of the Rings -- are found throughout Tolkien's writings. There's the murderous Old Man Willow and his "cunning mazes" in the Old Forest, Mount Caradhras, Mirkwood, Fangorn and the Ents... the list goes on.

"Blackwood's evocation of landscape, as with Tolkien's, is unusually convincing," writes Michael D. C. Drout in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Compare Blackwood's passage above with this from The Fellowship of the Ring:

A dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves...

Beyond homicidal trees, there's Blackwood's Wendigo. A horror from the deep untouched woods, it's "the Call of the Wild personified," as one character describes it, which calls to travelers with a voice that "resembles all the minor sounds of the Bush--wind, falling water, cries of the animals."

Drout points out that the Wendigo, "with its dreadful aerial entity and wailing cries from above that cause panic in hearers" may have "contributed to one of the most important sources of terror to be found in Lord of the Rings: the airborne Nazgûl."

Here's Blackwood, describing a character having heard the Wendigo's (or its victim's) terrible cry:

Scarcely knowing what he did, presently found himself running wildly to and fro, searching, calling, tripping over roots and boulders, and flinging himself in a frenzy of undirected pursuit after the Caller. Behind the screen of memory and emotion with which experience veils events, he plunged, distracted and half-deranged, picking up false lights like a ship at sea, terror in his eyes and heart and soul. For the Panic of the Wilderness had called to him in that far voice.

And then Tolkien's Nazgûl:

The Nazgûl came again... their deadly voices rent the air. More unbearable they became, not less, at each new cry. At length even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death.

And as the Wendigo captures, corrupts, and mimics its victims to the horror of their companions, so too do the Nazgûl ensnare others and turn them into wraiths like themselves.

Tom Shippey writes one of Tolkien's achievements was opening "a new continent of imaginative space for many millions of readers, and hundreds of writers – though he himself would have said that it was an old continent which he was merely rediscovering." It's delightful to discover that a fellow English writer, Algernon Blackwood, may have had a small part in building Tolkien's rediscovered continent.

Further reading:




Creepy Non-Horror for Halloween

10/18/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

If you're not a fan of horror, but still wants something spooky to read this Halloween season, LitHub has you covered with a great book list. Included is Franz Kafka's The Trial.

This one you don't really understand in high school, but once you’ve lived for a while as an adult, it gets a lot scarier. All of a sudden you begin to identify with K, pursued, prosecuted, condemned by a nameless, faceless, remorseless authority, the rules constantly changing and never explained to begin with...

I'll throw out my own recommendation from my collection of Halloween reads in Serial Reader: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood.

More psychological thriller and weird fiction than horror, The Willows is the story of two friends on a canoe trip down the Danube. They find themselves stranded on a shrinking sandbank surrounded by ominous willows blowing in unceasing wind. It's a short story (8 issues on Serial Reader) packed with creepy atmosphere but lacking any straight-up horror or gore.

The eeriness of this lonely island, set among a million willows, swept by a hurricane, and surrounded by hurrying deep waters, touched us both, I fancy. Untrodden by man, almost unknown to man, it lay there beneath the moon, remote from human influence, on the frontier of another world, an alien world, a world tenanted by willows only and the souls of willows. And we, in our rashness, had dared to invade it, even to make use of it!

You can read both The Trial and The Willows in Serial Reader.

Further reading:




New Serials: The Blue Lagoon, The Celtic Twilight, and The Good Soldier

10/07/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Three new serials to announce today! A dose of romance, adventure, passion, intrigue, and mysterious folklore.

The Blue Lagoon
Henry De Vere Stacpoole
22 issues
The Celtic Twilight
W.B. Yeats
14 issues
The Good Soldier
Ford Madox Ford
26 issues



Serial Reader 3.0 Update: Goodreads Sync, Rewind, and More

08/28/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Today Serial Reader version 3.0 arrives for iOS and Android devices with some exciting new features: Goodreads syncing, issue rewinding, and more. Read on to learn what's new!

Goodreads sync

A new option in Settings allows you to link your Goodreads account to Serial Reader! Once you do, Serial Reader will automatically sync your reading data to Goodreads.

When you start a new book, it'll be added to your currently reading shelf. When you finish a new issue, your progress will be updated. And when you finish, the book will be added to your read shelf.


Serial rewind

Whenever you get more than 2 issues behind in a book, an option will now appear in your Unread Issues list offering to rewind the serial to your first unread issue.

I found when I fell a few issues behind in a serial, it was incredibly difficult to motivate myself to catch up. In beta testing I've used this feature more than I'd care to admit. It's kept me committed to reading books I likely would have just abandoned. I hope you enjoy it!


Dark theme for iOS

I've added a new dark theme for iOS users. Switch it on in Settings. It's great for night-time reading!


Custom delivery times in iOS

Premium users in the iOS app can now specify different delivery times for serials. Now you can get a new issue of "Pride & Prejudice" in the morning and a new issue of "Crime & Punishment" at night! You can set up your new delivery dates in the Settings section of each serial (where you can also pause and delete serials).

Android users: fret not! I'm working on adding this feature to the Android version as quickly as I can.


New Books

If you haven't browsed the titles available in Serial Reader for a while, there are dozens of new books waiting for you! I've added new works by Dickens, Hugo, Sinclair, Austen, Twain, Fitzgerald, and more. Find the full list by browsing the "Added Recently" section in the app, or the full list online here.


Thank You!

It's been nearly 2 years since I released Serial Reader. Back then it was merely an experiment to try to break my own bad reading habits. I never would have guessed then how many people would enjoy using this app.

At launch, Serial Reader had two or three dozen titles. Now it has nearly 450. And those books have been read - as in, from start to finish, 100% done - more than 150,000 times. Readers have earned more than 50,000 badges, finished more than 725,000 issues and blazed through nearly 2 billion words.

Thank you. Thank you so much for using and enjoying Serial Reader, for supporting its development, for suggesting books and new features, for your kind words (even when reporting annoying bugs!) and for sharing it with your fellow readers. Making Serial Reader has been an incredibly rewarding experience because of you. I can't wait to see what the next 2 years will bring!

💙 -Michael




New Serials: The Old Curiosity Shop, Love & Friendship, Main Street, and more

08/26/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Nine new serials to announce today! They include adventure, romance, science fiction, social commentary, and of course - pirates.

The Old Curiosity Shop
Charles Dickens
75 issues
Love and Friendship and Other Early Works
Jane Austen
13 issues
Main Street
Sinclair Lewis
63 issues
The Man Who Laughs
Victor Hugo
72 issues
Captain Blood
Rafael Sabatini
43 issues
The Girl from Montana
Grace Livingston Hill
22 issues
King Coal
Upton Sinclair
41 issues
This Crowded Earth
Robert Bloch
14 issues
The Pursuit of God
A.W. Tozer
10 issues



Dealing with tragedy with King Lear

08/17/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

"Lear in the Storm" by George Romney

Nadine Dunseith writes in Folger's Teaching Shakespeare blog about teaching King Lear in times of grief. In this case, after the tragic deaths of two students.

Our study of King Lear that term proved to be the most emotional study of a play I’ve taught. If I’ve learned anything at all, it is the power of Shakespeare to tap into the human in all of us. Every term since, I have started with Shakespeare and the human condition. It becomes an exercise in exploring the nature of human beings – our vices and follies, our kindness and compassion, our ways of dealing with fear, grief, loss, and revenge, and our ability to understand ourselves.

Further reading:




Jane Eyre's classic twist

08/16/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Sophie Hannah lists the top 10 twists in fiction, including Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Not all superb twists need to come at the end. There's a twist in the middle of this classic novel that takes it to another level of passion, intrigue and excitement. There are hints before the big reveal, but not even the most imaginative reader would dare to imagine the truth. Twists in the middles of stories rather than at their ends tend to say: 'And what do we all think now?' rather than, 'So THIS is what we’re supposed to think!' – and this one does that brilliantly.

Further reading:




Edith Wharton: Interior Designer

08/15/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Five years before publishing her first novel and eight years before The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton -- along with architect Ogden Codman -- published an interior design guide called "The Decoration of Houses."

Within the book, Wharton attacked the excesses so common in Gilded Age design, calling overdecorated rooms "tiresome" and flashy patterns "unbearable." It's an attitude that would show up later in her fiction where she would attack what she called "an irresponsible, grasping and morally corrupt upper class."

"It is one of the misfortunes of the present time that the most preposterously bad things often posses the powerful allurement of being expensive... design, not substance, is needed to make the one superior to the other."

The work was "an immediate success, and encouraged the emergence of professional decorators in the new style." Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson has described it as "the most influential book ever published by an American on interior decoration and design."

"There are but two ways of dealing with a room which is fundamentally ugly: one is to accept it, and the other is courageously to correct its ugliness."

Lapham's Quarterly has more quotes from the manual.

Further reading:




F. Scott Fitzgerald's Unfinished Hollywood Novel

08/13/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Anne Margaret Daniel writes about F. Scott Fitzgerald's final unfinished novel in the Huffington Post. Between his arrival in Hollywood in 1937 and his death towards the end of 1940, Fitzgerald had an incomplete first draft of "The Last Tycoon."

[It's] a story of celluloid and cyphers — a Gatsbyesque man who had renamed himself and risen to unsupported, unsupportable heights on an industry based upon flickering images in the dark — a man whose dreams were full of ghosts in the face of hard bright everyday realities...

It is set in a Los Angeles now gone with the wind, where Malibu is composed of "gaudy shacks and fishing barges" and Santa Monica has just begun to be settled, with "the stately homes of a dozen picture stars, penned in the middle of a crawling Coney Island." The movie business is difficult, and love far more so.

Further reading:




New Serials: Tales of the Jazz Age, Roughing It, Winesburg

08/12/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Three new books are now available from Serial Reader!

Together they span iconic eras in American history: from Mark Twain's wild west of the 1860s to the preindustrial quiet town of Winesburg, Ohio, to the big city lights of the Jazz Age.

Roughing It
Mark Twain
57 issues
Winesburg, Ohio
Sherwood Anderson
25 issues
Tales of the Jazz Age
F. Scott Fitzgerald
32 issues

Roughing It by Mark Twain:

"This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history or a philosophical dissertation. It is a record of several years of variegated vagabondizing, and it's object is rather to help the resting reader while away an idle hour than afflict him with metaphysics, or goad him with science."

Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

It was a dark afternoon, threatening rain and the end of the world, and done in that particularly gloomy gray in which only New York afternoons indulge. A breeze was crying down the streets, whisking along battered newspapers and pieces of things, and little lights were pricking out all the windows- it was so desolate that one was sorry for the tops of sky-scrapers lost up there in the dark green and gray heaven.

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson:

'Love is like a wind stirring the grass beneath trees on a black night,' he had said. 'You must not try to make love definite. It is the divine accident of life. If you try to be definite and sure about it and to live beneath the trees, where soft night winds blow, the long hot day of disappointment comes swiftly and the gritty dust from passing wagons gathers upon lips inflamed and made tender by kisses.'

Further reading:




Thoreau's Impossible Wilderness

08/11/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Robert Pogue Harrison reviews several new works on Thoreau in The New York Review of Books. While the author of Walden is forever associated with the American wilderness, Thoreau couldn't escape the reaches of modern life.

Thoreau was fully cognizant of what today we call the 'anthropocene,' or the era when most of the planet has been touched or altered by human beings. When Thoreau embarked on an excursion to Mount Katahdin in Maine, for example, he imagined he would be venturing into pristine territory, only to find that humans had left their mark in even the state’s most remote regions.

"It is vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves," Thoreau wrote. "There is none such."

Laura Dassow Walls writes in her new biography of Thoreau:

Even where the road ended, the houses did not, and even after the last house, there were logging camps and blacksmith forges, dams and log booms, trails rutted with use, even a billboard. The untouched forest had been logged, each tree cut and branded, its destiny not to reach for the heavens but to drop downstream through the falls to the sawmills.

Instead, Thoreau sought and marveled at the wilderness tucked in amongst modern life. "One can’t help but marvel at the rapture that the sight of things like huckleberries, turtles, or wildflowers would inspire in him."

Further reading:




Aphra Behn: Author, Playwright, Spy

08/10/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Literary Hub published an adaptation of Janet Todd's introduction from Aphra Behn: A Secret Life.

"Beyond her successes on the stage and in fiction, Aphra Behn was a Royalist spy in the Netherlands and probably South America. She also served as a political propagandist for the courts of Charles II and his unpopular brother James II... She is not so much a woman to be unmasked as an unending combination of masks."

Behn's role in the Netherlands was to turn the son of a regicide there into a double-agent so he could "report on the doings of the English exiles who were plotting against the King." The pen name she would later use - Astrea - was likely her codename.

Further reading:




Agatha Christie: "Proto-Feminist"

08/09/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

Joan Acocella profiles Agatha Christie in The New Yorker:

"If we consider Christie within the context of her time and social class, she was a proto-feminist. Miss Marple is far from the only plucky female investigator in her novels... 'I always had brains, even as a girl,' one of her old ladies says. 'But they wouldn’t let me do anything.' ... Another woman, accused of being a gold-digger, answers, 'The world is very cruel to women. They must do what they can for themselves—while they are young. When they are old and ugly no one will help them.'"

Further reading:




Lev and Sonya Tolstoy

08/09/2017 · Michael Schmitt · permalink

The New Statesman profiles Andrew Donskov's book Tolstoy and Tolstaya.

"The evidence for [Sonya's] contribution to Tolstoy’s greatest literary works is clear... This selection from both sides of their correspondence confirms, if confirmation were needed, her energy and capacity, practical and intellectual... She describes philosophical lectures she has heard in Moscow, delivers a damning verdict on a Wagner concert ('annoying, self-absorbed Germans singing off-key'), pesters the Tsar and the ecclesiastical authorities to prevent hostile censorship of her husband’s work, and offers astringent comments on her husband’s drafts"

Further reading: