Guest Literature Post by Donald Trump!

This blog will be different today, because Donald Trump demanded to write a guest piece. I told him he doesn’t read literature or know much about it, but he insisted. Anyway, things will go back to normal next week, but until then…herrrrrre’s the illegitimate president:

The Donald (me) doesn’t read novels, but I do read the backs of cereal boxes. Lots of back story, ya know?

Actually, I know a yuge amount about fiction. Not the literary kind — the “alternative facts” kind.

I can’t deal with The Wings of the Dove. Why didn’t Henry James write The Wings of the War Hawk? Sad.

The Red Badge of Courage? Stephen Crane — what a loser. Believe me, I showed more courage getting Vietnam War deferments for alleged bone spurs in my heels, even though I played a ton of sports at the time with no problem. They called me The Natural, and Bernard Malamud wasn’t referring to my hair. Colored my hair while flat on my back: As I Lay, Dying.

Also, I bigly love Theodore Dreiser. Sister Carrie? I’d like to grab her by the [deleted]. Make An American Tragedy Great Again? I’m on it!

You see, I have great respect for women. But was George Eliot transblender or something? George is a guy’s name, but that 19th-century scribbler looks female in photos. Lock her up!

“Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” Chris “Agatha” Christie (And Then There Were None: cabinet positions for him). Was Toni Morrison the lead singer of The Doors? Why did Harper Lee surrender to Ulysses Grant? Were the Brontë sisters at the Women’s March on Washington? How did Richard Wright co-invent the airplane five years before he was born? I have a Tan, but it’s not Amy.

Another George: Orwell. Love, love, love the oppressors in 1984. I even tried doublethink, but I can’t think once most of the time. Ask Herman Melania, my wife’s ancestor, who wrote about a big white male — that’s me! Captain Ahab sounds kind of Muslim, doesn’t he?

Speaking of people with that religious belief, I as the 45th president don’t want refugees and immigrants coming to America from Muslim countries (unless they’re Muslim countries I do business with). Some will die from the horrors they’re trying to flee? That’s The Art of Me Saying “Big Deal.” Call me cruel, call me vicious, call me sadistic, call me anything, but don’t call me Slaughterhouse-Forty-Five. Is that a book?

And The Blacks, The Blacks. Why isn’t novelist Benjamin Black called Benjamin White? Why doesn’t E.B. White use the name E.B. Very White? White Fang rocks. I heard about Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God — how were those eyes watching me nine years before I was born?

Flowers for Algernon — thrilling! I mentally mocked the disabled for pages and pages. Can you beat that? Well, maybe when I bring back torture. The Weight of Water author Anita Shreve needs to write a sequel called The Weight of Waterboarding.

And Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will never cross our southern border while I’m racist-in-chief, um, sexual-predator-in-chief, um, commander-in-chief. It helps that those Hispanics are dead. Not much border-crossing mobility there…

Mark my words, I’m going to build a wall — paid for by Mexico (aka American taxpayers). We’ll build that big, beautiful fence at The Border — a novel by Cormac McCarthy, whose last name reminds me of my hero Joe McCarthy. Jim Casy of The Grapes of Wrath was a commie, wasn’t he? Not the good kind like Putin. I love Russian literature: War and WarCrime and No Punishment for Me… But Anna Karenina? Overrated! Blood coming out of her whatever (after she was hit by a train). And Alexander Solzhenitsyn? I like authors who don’t get jailed.

Did I mention I drained the swamp? Just so I could have a dry place to burn books by liberal, pinko writers. Ever read Fahrenheit 451? The same number as my IQ. It’s so high! But I didn’t really drain the swamp — I made it swampier. My administration is like a dystopian novel come to life. I have no idea what dystopian means, but Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon mentioned it one day. I think of them as The Sound and the Fury. Me? Pride and Prejudice.

It Can’t Happen Here
? It already has.

Well, that was Trump’s post. Any quips or comments about him and his tenuous connection to literature?

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Perceiving the Personal in the Pages We Peruse

There are many reasons to love literature, and one of them is seeing things familiar to a reader’s specific life.

Of course, that can mean spotting recognizable emotions, character types, etc., but for the purposes of this blog post I’m mostly talking about other content — as you’ll see. I should add that when authors are accurate or not accurate in mentioning things we’ve experienced firsthand, we obviously know it!

Anyway, I’ll give some examples that are personal to me, and then ask for some that are personal to you.

For instance, I read Sue Grafton’s B is for Burglar this week, and, early in that excellent novel, California-based private investigator Kinsey Millhone flies to Florida and drives a rental car north to Boca Raton to look into the disappearance of a woman. I immediately thought of flying to Florida last April and driving a rental car north to Boca Raton to start a weekend celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday.

Speaking of travel, the mentions of New York City subway rides in James Baldwin’s compelling Go Tell It On the Mountain reminded me of the countless NYC subway rides I’ve taken myself.

Edith Wharton, an author often associated with NYC, wrote some terrific ghost stories. When I read a collection of them last year I was thrilled to see that “The Looking Glass” tale was set in my town of Montclair — the same New Jersey setting for Susan Moore Jordan’s absorbing novel Jamie’s Children, which I also read in 2016.

Then there’s Junot Diaz’s memorable The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which includes scenes at my Rutgers University alma mater in New Brunswick, N.J.

And Audrey Niffenegger’s haunting The Time Traveler’s Wife visits several of the Chicago places I saw during my time as a student at Evanston, Ill.-based Northwestern University. Niffenegger even mentions punk clubs, which made me think of the Clash concert I saw way back when — though that was in NYC rather than The Windy City.

Many of us had “interesting” roommates during and after college, and the different-household pairings of Marian and Ainsley, and Duncan and Fischer, in Margaret Atwood’s quirky debut novel The Edible Woman reminded me of my own dorm and apartment experiences as a young adult.

Moving this blog post out of the U.S. for a minute, I saw the great statue of painter Paul Cézanne during a 2007 visit to Aix-en-Provence, where my French professor wife was presenting a paper at an Emile Zola Society conference. Not long after that trip, I read Zola’s dramatic The Masterpiece starring an artist partly based on Cézanne, and immediately thought of that statue. (Zola’s not-so-positive portrayal of fictional painter Claude Lantier apparently ended the author’s lifelong friendship with Cézanne.)

During that same trip to France, we visited the Chateau d’If island prison off Marseille that figured so prominently in The Count of Monte Cristo. That stony jail was in my mind’s eye when I soon reread Alexandre Dumas’ rousing revenge novel.

And if I ever reread Sinclair Lewis’ eye-opening novel It Can’t Happen Here, I’ll think about miserably getting through Jan. 20, 2017 — the day when a man with fascist tendencies became president of the United States in real life. But those huge, fantastic anti-Trump marches the next day — wow!  🙂

Which novels have contained things personally recognizable to you, and what were those things?

(I wrote a “Recognizing Ourselves in Literature” post in 2012, but today’s new piece takes a somewhat different angle and mentions different books.)

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Authors Who Do and Don’t Set Their Fiction in One Place

A writer’s imagination can travel the world or stay mostly in a specific locale. And readers like both approaches.

Some authors are known for situating many of their novels and stories in one town, city, region, or state. Charles Dickens: London. James Joyce: Dublin. L.M. Montgomery: Prince Edward Island. Stephen King: Maine. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Massachusetts. Edith Wharton: New York City. Anne Tyler: Baltimore. Anne Rice: New Orleans. William Faulkner: Mississippi (the fictional Yoknapatawpha County inspired by the real Lafayette County). Of course, those and other locale-centric authors occasionally vary their settings — as did Dickens with his mid-book sending of Martin Chuzzlewit to America, Hawthorne when he put The Marble Faun in Italy, and Wharton when she focused on Massachusetts resident Ethan Frome.

There are also writers who set many of their novels in either of two places, as Fannie Flagg does with small towns in Missouri and Alabama (where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — born on this date, January 15, in 1929 — first became widely known during the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott).

Other authors bounce around to lots of locales in their fiction. A prime example is James Michener, who wrote novels titled Alaska, Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Poland, Texas, etc. Henry James set much of his fiction in the U.S., England, France, or Italy. Terry McMillan has placed her novels in places such as Michigan, Phoenix, Jamaica, and San Francisco. And, in different books, Lee Child’s roaming Jack Reacher character visits Georgia, Texas, New York City, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, France, and elsewhere.

The toggling can be in one novel, too, as when Donna Tartt places The Goldfinch protagonist Theo Decker in New York City, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam — even as her previous book, The Little Friend, stays in Mississippi.

Some advantages of different settings? Many readers relish “seeing” new places, and authors might be refreshed and invigorated not to be in a geographical “rut.” Heck, the plot, prose, and characters can end up being less predictable because of the new locales. And readers can be nicely surprised — I know I was when Wilkie Collins yanked A Rogue’s Life protagonist Frank Softly out of England and put him on a ship to Australia.

Among the advantages of using the same place in multiple books? Authors know the terrain well and thus their fiction can seem more authentic. Also, they’re able to spend more time on plot, prose, and characters instead of countless hours researching and visiting new locales. Meanwhile, the better writers who focus on one place are obviously “traveling” in other ways — through the realm of human emotions.

Of course, the further back in time authors lived, the harder it was for them to get to other places and to do research. From what I’ve heard, there were few computers or jumbo jets available to Jane Austen…

Who are your favorite past and present authors who have repeatedly used one locale, or who have used different locales in different works? Any other thoughts on this topic?

(There are no California references in this blog post because I recently wrote a piece about literature set in that state.)

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

It’s a Crime That I Waited This Long to Write About Crime Fiction

Why do many readers love mysteries, detective novels, and thrillers? The obvious answer is that those kinds of books are often escapist and exciting — and exercise our brains as we try to figure out “whodunnit” and/or how things will end.

Sometimes books from the three above genres are as much literary fiction as genre fiction — with examples including Donna Tartt’s compelling The Little Friend (which I’m currently reading), Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (an early detective novel), Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (14th-century monk as sleuth), and even Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (more romance than mystery, yet there’s that central puzzle over who’s living in the attic). But if genre fiction is often not literary fiction, no big deal.  🙂

I have not read as many mysteries, etc., as some of the regular commenters here, but I’ve polished off more of those books during the past couple of years thanks in large part to recommendations from you. Some of my favorites, in no particular order: Sue Grafton’s A Is for Alibi, Lisa Scottoline’s The Vendetta Defense, Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress and A Red Death, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, John Grisham’s The Client and The Firm, P.D. James’ The Lighthouse, Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor, Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare, Richard Matheson’s Hunted Past Reason, and Dean Koontz’s Seize the Night.

Then there are Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, of which I’ve read eighteen in less than two years. My addiction to that series illustrates how thrillers, detective novels, and mysteries with an intriguing, recurring protagonist can get readers VERY addicted. Of course, it helps when those series offer riveting plots and “bad guys” who raise one’s blood pressure.

Also riveting is Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most original thriller protagonists in modern literature, and her computer skills exemplify how digital technology has greatly influenced the ways crimes are solved in novels of the past twenty years or so.

Larsson’s books, like many of the other novels mentioned in this post, also mix in all kinds of social issues — which I think can be a good thing along with the escapism. Though of course it can be nice once in a while to read genre fiction that intends to do nothing more than entertain.

Great mystery, detective, and thriller novels I’ve read less recently include several Agatha Christie novels (the iconic And Then There Were None deserves its stupendous sales), Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories, Edgar Allan Poe’s groundbreaking detective tales (such as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”) starring amateur sleuth C. Auguste Dupin, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, and other authors and titles. Plus Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace — a murder saga of a more literary sort.

Though I’m reading more of what might also be called crime fiction, I still like to mix things up with lots of literary fiction and “general-interest” novels — classic and modern — that are detective-free. It’s nice to jump from P.D. James to Henry James, from a Sue Grafton mystery to Elsa Morante’s History, and from a suspicious car wreck to something by John Steinbeck. And then jump back again.

What are some of your favorite mystery, detective, and thriller novels? Any thoughts about those genres and the attractions they hold?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.)

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

The New Year, and Some Anniversaries of Famous Novels

Every January 1 brings thoughts of anniversaries and the passage of time, so I thought I’d put a literary spin on that by looking at memorable novels released 10, 25, 50, 100, 150, and 200 years ago.

The big publishing event of 2007 was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of J.K. Rowling’s renowned wizarding-world series. A novel that delivered excitement, pathos, war, death, hope, and closure.

Also released in 2007 was Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following April for its mix of sharply drawn characters, politics, history, and pop-culture references.

A quarter-century ago brought readers Donna Tartt’s critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992). While I haven’t gotten to that book yet, I’m currently in the middle of Tartt’s mesmerizing second novel, The Little Friend (2002). And I believe Tartt’s lengthy third novel, 2013’s The Goldfinch, is one of the very best fictional works of the 21st century.

Fifty years ago saw the release of one of the 20th century’s most amazing books: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Ha — just kidding. It was 1967’s One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s sweeping, multi-generational epic about the town of Macondo but also about, well, the entire human experience.

One hundred years of literature ago (1917) was when L.M. Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams got published. I think it’s the best and most moving of the sequels to Montgomery’s outstanding Anne of Green Gables — with another sequel, the later Rilla of Ingleside, a close second.

Going back another 50 years to 1867, the early Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin got published. It was nowhere near Zola’s best book, but it was quite scandalous at the time and had moments that presaged the much better writing that would appear in later Zola classics such as Germinal.

In 1817, there was Northanger Abbey — which most readers would agree is the least compelling of Jane Austen’s six novels. But everything’s relative — it’s still a pretty good book as it mixes satire of Gothic fiction with a straight story of romance and more. Northanger Abbey was actually the first novel Austen completed (which helps explain its “so-so-ness”), but the late-1790s work wasn’t published until after Austen’s death.

Sir Walter Scott’s excellent Rob Roy also came out 200 years ago. The historical novel is named for the Scottish outlaw/folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, though he’s not the lead character in the book and doesn’t show up until a number of chapters go by. He’s actually a lot more prominent in the 1995 Rob Roy movie starring Liam Neeson.

What are your favorite novels from 1817, 1867, 1917, 1967, 1992, and 2007? (Google can be your not so “Little Friend” here.) Heck, you could also mention memorable novels published in other years ending with “7” or “2.” Lee Child’s Jack Reacher debut The Killing Floor — 1997! Toni Morrison’s Beloved — 1987! Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple — 1982! Stephen King’s The Shining — 1977! Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago — 1957! John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God — 1937! I’ll stop now…

Except to say that I don’t expect another 2017 milestone — incoming President Donald Trump actually reading a book. If he did, perhaps it would be Russian Bear, Russian Bear, You Love DT.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.