Friday, November 15, 2013

Best Sellers of the Past: What's Still Worth Reading?

The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini.
A bestseller in 1923.
Who were the towering figures of twentieth century American literature? Well, that depends. If number of copies sold is the measurement then Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner should step aside. Welcome in Gene Stratton Porter, Harold Bell Wright, Lloyd C. Douglas, and a host of other novelists whose names are only vaguely familiar nowadays if recognized at all.

Does anyone read the work of these authors today? Linda Aragoni does. Since 2007, Aragoni has been reviewing long ago bestsellers for her blog Great Penformances. Aragoni addresses only books written after 1900 but none less than fifty years old. She crafts her pithy reviews in terms of how the story would appeal to today's readers.

"In some ways, reading older fiction is like reading history only it's history on the personal level," Aragoni explained to The Committee Room. "Vintage fiction takes us back to another time, gives us not only facts about what happened and how people lived, but what mattered to them and why it mattered."

An editor, writer, and writing instructor based in Upstate New York, Aragoni reviewed older novels for a local weekly newspaper. "I just picked up whatever was handy at the library and that was the book I reviewed," Aragoni told TCR. After starting Great Penformances she began to read more systematically.

Friday, November 1, 2013

"How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare" -- An Interview with Playwright Ken Ludwig

Teach the kids Shakespeare. Put that on the "to do" list just after creating world peace, discovering a cure for cancer, and composing a grand opera. Teach the kids Shakespeare? It's just not gonna happen. Playwright Ken Ludwig disagrees. In his book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, Ludwig explains why giving your kids knowledge of the Bard's work is an important goal and a realistically achievable one.  

Ludwig is a highly successful writer for the theater. His precision-timed farces Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo enjoyed long-runs on Broadway and in London. He wrote the libretto to Crazy for You, a musical built around the songs of George Gershwin, which was also a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Before making his mark in the theater, Ludwig, a man of many interests, practiced law in Washington, DC for several years and still retains an "of counsel" position with the firm of Steptoe and Johnson.

Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible are, in Ludwig's view, the two "bedrocks" of modern civilization in the English-speaking world. "For more than five thousand years Moses, Jesus, and other towering figures of the Old and New Testaments were the archetypes of our consciousness. In modern society Hamlet and Macbeth, Juliet and Ophelia, have been added to their number," Ludwig writes in the early pages of the book, which was recently published by Crown, a division of Random House.