Archives for posts with tag: classic novels

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 ”Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” MARCEL PROUST, author of Remembrance of Things Past

Illustration: Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh by E.H. Shepard

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In 1949, Kurt Vonnegut sent three writing samples to Atlantic Monthly — hoping for publication or a writing assignment. Instead, he received the following letter:

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.

Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere.

Faithfully yours,
Edward Weeks

From one of the rejected writing samples (‘account of the bombing in Dresden”), Vonnegut developed his masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Toiling away at a variety of jobs (newspaper bureau, General Electric public relations department, Saab dealership) to support his large (and extended) family (six children), 20 years transpired between the Atlantic Monthly rejection and the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five (Delacorte, 1969). Modern Library has ranked the book as the18th greatest novel of the 20th century.

Photo: A first edition of Slaughterhouse-Five issued in 1969, when Vonnegut was still using “Jr.” Signed first editions of the novel currently sell for around $8,000. See this link.

Image BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (Excerpt from Novella)
by Truman Capote

I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and fat chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train. The walls were stucco, and a color rather like tobacco spit. Everywhere, in the bathroom too, there were prints of Roman ruins freckled brown with age. The single window looked out on a fire escape. Even so, my spirits heightened whenever I felt in my pocket the key to this apartment; with all its gloom, it still was a place of my own, the first, and my books were there, and jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to become the writer I wanted to be. 

Truman Capote is the most perfect writer of my generation. He writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm.”

NORMAN MAILER

ImageIn the photo above, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) reads BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S by Truman Capote in episode 12 (“War of the Coprophages”) of the third season of THE X-FILES (original air date: January 5, 1996). Scully/Anderson’s choice of reading material was an in-joke that referenced an appearance by David Duchovny (Agent Fox Mulder) on CELEBRITY JEOPARDY in 1995, when he made a huge wager during Final Jeopardy, missed a question related to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — and lost to Stephen King. (For the record, the Final Jeopardy question was: “What was the store that on March 24, 1994 held a breakfast to announce the new Truman Capote literary trust?”)

Agent Scully reads an edition of Capote’s novella released by Vintage International in 1993.  (I love this cover — gorgeous and perfect for the book, one of my all-time favorites.) Find a copy of this edition on ebay.

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Caption: “I’m sorry, sir, but Dostoyevsky is not considered summer reading. I’ll have to ask you to come with me.”

CREDIT: New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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THE CASTLE (Novel Excerpt)
by Franz Kafka

Translated from the German
by Anthea Bell

Chapter 1, Arrival

It was late evening when K. arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of Castle Mount, for mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void.

Then he went in search of somewhere to stay the night. People were still awake at the inn. The landlord had no room available, but although greatly surprised and confused by the arrival of a guest so late at night, he was willing to let K. sleep on a straw mattress in the saloon bar. K. agreed to that. Several of the local rustics were still sitting over their beer, but he didn’t feel like talking to anyone. He fetched the straw mattress down from the attic himself, and lay down near the stove. It was warm, the locals were silent, his weary eyes gave them a cursory inspection, and then he fell asleep.

But soon afterwards he was woken again. A young man in town clothes, with a face like an actor’s — narrowed eyes, strongly marked eyebrows — was standing beside him with the landlord. The rustics were still there too, and some of them had turned their chairs round so that they could see and hear better. The young man apologized very civilly for having woken K., introduced himself as the son of the castle warden, and added: “This village belongs to the castle, so anyone who stays or spends the night here is, so to speak, staying or spending the night at the castle. And no one’s allowed to do that without a permit from the count. However, you don’t have such a permit…” 

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In the photo above, actor James Franco holds an edition of Kafka‘s THE CASTLE released by Schocken Publishing in 1998. (Find the book at Amazon.com.)

Franz Kafka died from tuberculosis at age 40 in 1924 before finishing THE CASTLE, considered one of his greatest works. Only a few of Kafka’s stories were published during his lifetime, and his literary executor ignored his request to burn the remaining manuscripts after his death.

A lawyer by profession, Kafka spent much of his life in the insurance business investigating claims — and worked on his writing before or after his day job. Today, Kafka is considered one of the most influential authors of the past hundred years. Poet W.H. Auden called him “The Dante of the 20th century.” Kafka’s other well-known works include THE TRIAL and METAMORPHOSIS, books that are available for free in a variety of formats (including Kindle) at Gutenberg.org.

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 “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” MARCEL PROUST, author of Remembrance of Things Past

Illustration: Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh by E.H. Shepard

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In 1949, Kurt Vonnegut sent three writing samples to Atlantic Monthly — hoping for publication or a writing assignment. Instead, he received the following letter:

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.

Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere.

Faithfully yours,
Edward Weeks

From one of the rejected writing samples (‘account of the bombing in Dresden”), Vonnegut developed his masterwork Slaughterhouse-Five. Toiling away at a variety of jobs (newspaper bureau, General Electric public relations department, Saab dealership) to support his large (and extended) family (six children), 20 years transpired between the Atlantic Monthly rejection and the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five (Delacorte, 1969). Modern Library has ranked the book as the 18th greatest novel of the 20th century.

Trivia Tidbit: In 1970, Slaughterhouse-Five was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards — losing out in both competitions to Ursula K. Le Guin‘s The Left Hand of Darkness.

Photo: A first edition of Slaughterhouse-Five issued in 1969, when Vonnegut was still using “Jr.” Signed first editions of the novel currently sell for around $8,000. See this link.