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

12/10/2017 · 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.

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



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

12/03/2017 · permalink

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

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



Dangerous Willows: Tolkien and Blackwood

10/24/2017 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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: