How Some Protagonists Respond to Provocation

White House occupant Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of a perfectly good nuclear agreement with Iran — an agreement Iran was honoring — and followed that up with intense economic pressure and military threats. So naturally Iran started to push back, though the almost-always-lying Trump administration is surely exaggerating the extent of that.

This reminded me of a number of scenarios in literature where a character is unfairly provoked to the point of she or he retaliating. Sometimes the retaliation is effective (providing readers with satisfying wish fulfillment); other times the retaliating party suffers (which frustrates readers even as that suffering scenario can often be more realistic).

One of the most famous provoked-to-retaliate novels is Billy Budd, in which the popular-among-his-fellow-sailors protagonist is badgered by the envious, nasty John Claggart. After Claggart falsely accuses Herman Melville’s kindly title character of trying to incite mutiny, a shocked Billy strikes John with no premeditation and accidentally kills him. But we don’t get a happy ending after that. (A photo from the Billy Budd movie is above.)

In modern fiction, we have Lisbeth Salander of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Wrongly declared legally incompetent as a child, her appointed guardian Nils Bjurman sexually abuses her. Eventually, Lisbeth ruthlessly revenges herself on the sadistic Bjurman without killing him but in a way that deservedly ruins his life.

Sometimes in literature, abusive or otherwise despicable men ARE justly killed. That’s the case with the Karamazov father in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Ruth’s husband Frank Bennett in Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. (If you feel it’s weird to put those two novels in the same sentence, Flagg’s sprawling book is quite deep amid its entertaining aspects.)

Perhaps the greatest revenge novel of all is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, in which a false accusation puts young Edmond Dantes into a remote island prison for many years. After escaping, he dedicates his life to some epic payback.

Then there’s Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, in which Jessie Burlingame is treated shabbily by her husband before and during a sexual game he wants to play more than she does. Jessie, partly spurred by subconscious memories of also being abused by her father, kicks Gerald away and inadvertently gives him a fatal heart attack. The ensuing problem? Jessie is handcuffed to the bed, now alone in a remote lakeside house.

And various scenarios in various Jack Reacher novels have Jack minding his own business before being surrounded by a group of bad guys who feel they greatly outnumber Lee Child’s protagonist enough to give him a pounding. Reacher, who almost always welcomes the challenge, invariably wins convincingly.

Your favorite novels that fit this topic?

One final note: Iran is hardly an exemplary democracy, but neither is the U.S. under Trump and his cynical enablers in the Republican-controlled Senate, right-wing media, conservative corporate circles, and right-wing religious circles.

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which discusses a middle-school controversy and an endangered 1890s mansion — is here.

Authors From One Country Who Set Books in Another Country

It’s of course interesting to read novels set in countries other than where the reader lives. And those books can be written from two main vantage points.

One is for a novel set in a certain nation to be written by an author from that nation. Such a book most likely offers a local protagonist, deep knowledge of the culture, and so on.

The second vantage point involves novels that are set (or partly set) in countries other than where the authors live. That can often (not always) mean a protagonist from the writer’s country, a more superficial knowledge of the other country’s culture, etc. A non-native character who visits or lives in another nation is usually not truly representative of that country, but there’s the potential positive of the sojourning protagonist being sort of a guide or surrogate who helps readers understand the other country from an outsider perspective.

This blog post will focus on the latter scenario, and an excellent example is Mexico — one of the long/heavily researched novels by American author James Michener (pictured), and a book I’m currently reading.

It stars Norman Clay, a journalist born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and American father who has lived in the U.S. for many years before returning to his native country to write a story about a rivalry between two very different bullfighters. We see Mexico, and learn a lot about its present and past, through Norman’s eyes. Several of the novel’s fully Mexican characters are more interesting than Clay, but he is a guide/surrogate that a good number of American readers might relate to most.

Then we have novels in which we see the U.S. through the eyes of English authors and characters — with two examples being Martin Chuzzlewit (Charles Dickens jump-started sagging serial sales by sending Martin across the ocean) and Paradise News (David Lodge’s Bernard protagonist is a fish-out-of-water visiting Hawaii).

France? English author Charlotte Bronte gave her perspective on that country by setting Villette there. And Scottish author Sir Walter Scott did the same in Quentin Durward — though his perspective was on the France of the 1400s, nearly four centuries before Scott’s novel was written.

Plenty of novels have focused on white people traveling to Africa, for better or often for worse. Two American authors who made that happen with from-the-U.S. characters include Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible and Paul Bowles in The Sheltering Sky.

We also have the interesting case of Buchi Emecheta, the Nigerian-born British author whose semi-autobiographical novel Second Class Citizen is about a Nigerian woman who moves to England. The book was published in 1974, when the author was already in England for 12 years, so we had at that time a British author writing about Nigeria (early in Second Class Citizen) and a Nigerian-born author writing about England (later in that novel).

There’s a similar cultural juxtaposition in The Kite Runner by Afghanistan-born U.S. author Khaled Hosseini, whose family left his native country when the future writer was 11. Hosseini’s novel starts in Afghanistan, moves to the U.S., goes back to Afghanistan, and finally returns to the U.S.

Not a novel, but a book that almost reads like one, is Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. In that travel book, Twain is a highly observant and drop-dead hilarious guide who gave American readers a look at various European and Mideast countries in the 1860s.

Your favorite novels that fit this topic?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which discusses a pretentious, overpriced hotel coming to my town — is here.

Literature’s LGBTQ Characters: an Update

In honor of June 2019’s Pride Month, I’m going to revisit LGBTQ characters in fiction — LGBTQ of course standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer.

I previously wrote about this topic in 2013 (a year before starting this blog) and mentioned a number of novels with openly, closeted, or maybe-they-are/maybe-they-aren’t LGBTQ characters in lead or supporting roles. Among those books were Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Colette’s Claudine at School, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, Margaret Drabble’s The Sea Lady, Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

This blog post will mention some of the novels I’ve read since 2013 with LGBTQ characters.

Despite the cruel right-wing intolerance in the U.S. and elsewhere that’s setting back various kinds of human rights these days, LGBTQ people are generally more accepted in many places than decades ago. This is reflected in recent literature — where there are more LGBTQ characters (from both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ authors), where these characters are usually treated more positively or at least more three-dimensionally than in the past, and where in many cases a big deal isn’t made of these characters; they’re one of the many parts of the human mosaic. That’s a good thing.

The five-person Lambert family that Jonathan Franzen focuses on in The Corrections (a great novel I also mentioned last week) includes daughter Denise, who’s had a bisexual life but is almost certainly lesbian. Her portrayal is satisfying and convincing partly because her sexual life is depicted as just one of many aspects of her — she’s also a conflicted daughter/sibling, a strong personality, very smart, a star professional chef, a hard worker, generous at times, unkind at other times, etc.

In Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy — which begins with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — the brilliant, abused, troubled, brave, vengeance-seeking Lisbeth Salander is bisexual. The most memorable character in those three riveting novels.

Among the many memorable characters J.K. Rowling has expertly created, from her Harry Potter series to her crime fiction, have been LGBTQ ones. For instance, in The Cuckoo’s Calling novel written under Rowling’s Robert Galbraith pen name, Guy Somé (pictured on the right in the above photo) is stereotypical in certain ways (he’s a fashion designer) but is depicted as a fairly complex person devoid of several other gay stereotypes.

The Secret History‘s Francis Abernathy is gay but that’s not overemphasized in Donna Tartt’s compelling debut novel. Her emphasis is more on the insularity and strangeness of the small group (including Francis) that protagonist Richard falls in with when he goes to college.

It’s not secret history that there’ve been LGBTQ people throughout time, and one example of this is in Philippa Gregory’s excellent novel Earthly Joys. Set in the 17th century, it features a master royal gardener (John Tradescant) who’s married to a woman but ends up having a same-gender sexual dalliance with a charismatic “bad boy” duke.

A novel that sort of/sort of not fits this blog post is Abigail Tarttelin’s excellent Golden Boy, which — like Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex — features an intersex character. The hermaphroditic gender confusion embodied in protagonist Max Walker has echoes of what transgender people face.

Your favorite novels featuring LGBTQ characters in lead or supporting roles?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which comedically compares my town in 2019 vs. 1796 — is here.

Is Overwriting a Thing?

We admire authors who are great prose stylists. But overwriting can sometimes be a problem.

There are novels that make readers gape at how well authors put sentences together. Evocative descriptions, awesome grasp of language, clever wordplay, scintillating dialogue, etc. The question is whether the writer is showing off, and whether the wonderful prose can be a bit distracting to things like the plot, character development, and the emotions we want to feel. On the other hand, maybe that wonderful prose is a joy to read and makes everything better.

I thought about all this last week while reading The Corrections, in which Jonathan Franzen unleashes writing fireworks even when describing relatively mundane things. One example:

“Chip sat on a freezing guardrail and smoked and took comfort in the sturdy mediocrity of American commerce, the unpretending metal and plastic roadside hardware. The thunk of a gas-pump nozzle halting when a tank was filled, the humility and promptness of its service. And a 99-cent ‘Big Gulp’ banner swelling with wind and sailing nowhere, its nylon ropes whipping and pinging on a galvanized standard. And the black sanserif numerals of gasoline prices, the company of so many 9’s…”

Impressive? Sure. A bit over-the-top? Probably. Franzen also periodically overdoes the language thing in his later, more-famous Freedom. But despite that and despite both novels having quite a few cringe-worthy characters, I liked the books a lot. Franzen’s skillful depiction of dysfunctional-family dynamics and his scathing social satire certainly help.

I’m also a fan of most novels by Cormac McCarthy, who’s seemingly incapable of writing a straightforward sentence — instead using rich prose that gets almost biblical at times. That’s also the case in Herman Melville’s work. Gabriel Garcia Marquez often uses lavish, bountiful wording that I feel doesn’t go overboard. And Mary Shelley, in novels such as Frankenstein and The Last Man, is a master as well at the kind of “overwriting” that’s totally welcome.

Marcel Proust is a bit of a different story for me. I was bowled over by his language and imagery when I read In Search of Lost Time, but I also found that famous fictional work frustrating enough, and sometimes almost boring enough, to give up after several hundred pages. I know that many literature lovers feel differently.

Then there’s Henry James. I’ve greatly enjoyed his early and mid-career novels, which are full of excellent literary writing but not too dense; The Portrait of a Lady is my favorite example of that. I also liked The Ambassadors — the one late-career James novel I’ve read — but it was at times somewhat of an overwritten slog to get through, even as a good deal of the prose was exquisite.

William Faulkner also elicits mixed reactions from me. I loved Light in August, liked As I Lay Dying, abandoned Absalom, Absalom! fairly early, and ran screaming from The Sound and the Fury after 30 or so incomprehensible (to me) pages.

Toni Morrison? I admired the very ambitious Beloved, but got lost in it at times and ended up liking rather than loving it. Something like Morrison’s Sula is much more straightforward, albeit not as interesting as Beloved — which wrestles with The Big Issues (virulent racism, the true meaning of good parenting, and more) amid the often-superb writing.

Umberto Eco? Big fan of The Name of the Rose; got a headache reading the overwritten Foucault’s Pendulum.

I haven’t sampled James Joyce and Virginia Woolf widely enough to comment on their most challenging works, but I really liked some of Joyce’s Dubliners story collection (especially “The Dead”) and all of Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway.

George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky have the reputation among some novel-goers of being “difficult” authors, but I find them VERY readable — even as they satisfy those of us seeking fantastic prose, literary flourishes, psychological nuance, and a deep dive into “the human condition.”

Anyway, I’m sure your opinions will vary about which novelists overwrite and which don’t. Your thoughts, and the authors you feel fit this topic? Or is there no overwriting problem if a novelist is good enough?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — covering everything from a march against draconian anti-abortion laws to an anti-war take on Memorial Day — is here.

Romantic Rivalry Can Result in Riveting Reading

Romantic situations make many novels interesting, and complicated romantic situations can make them even more interesting.

Among those complications are when two people love the same person, one person has two suitors, the desired person tries to decide between the two, and so on. How long will the process take? How intense will things get? Are both suitors true contenders? Who, if either, will be chosen? Will the most compatible match happen? How will the “loser” react? What might the relationship be like after that? Etc.

I most recently encountered a version of this scenario in Ivan Turgenev’s A House of Gentlefolk, in which Panshin and Lavretsky both want the hand of Lisaveta. While Lavretsky is the better “candidate,” neither he nor Panshin are ideal. Panshin is handsome, confident, and somewhat talented, but quite shallow. The deeper Lavretsky has drawbacks such as being much older than Lisa (36 to 19) and being depressed after a disastrous marriage to a woman who’s now (supposedly) dead. Lisa, while ethical and intelligent, is a somewhat sheltered person and much more religious than either of her two suitors. All in all, things are not promising for a match made in heaven — or Russia. And then things get REALLY complicated…

Another relevant 19th-century novel is Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, in which the independent and initially idealistic Isabel Archer rejects Lord Warburton and Caspar Goodwood and instead marries Gilbert Osmond. Yes, three suitors, and Isabel’s choice proves to be disastrous.

Still another relevant novel based in the 19th century, but in this case written in the 20th century, is Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Newland Archer is engaged to the conventional May Welland but becomes enamored with the unconventional Ellen Olenska. Archer’s ultimate choice is not disastrous, but his life ends up being pretty much a melancholy one. (The photo atop this blog post shows Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen, Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland, and Winona Ryder as May in 1993’s The Age of Innocence movie.)

In more recent fiction that sort of echoes what happens in Wharton’s novel, wedding band guitarist Dave is engaged to a fellow New Jersey resident (the rather boring Julie) he’s known since high school but then becomes smitten with a New York City resident (the arty but neurotic Gretchen) in Tom Perrotta’s The Wishbones.

Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe has Ruth Jamison marrying the abusive Frank Bennett, but Ruth and Idgie Threadgoode are the novel’s secret soulmates living in a difficult time and place for same-gender love to be out in the open.

Though it’s referenced completely in back story, Severus Snape is attracted to Lily, but she ends up marrying James in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Lily and James of course become the doomed parents of Harry.

In 18th-century fiction, the star of Fanny Burney’s Evelina finds herself the object of desire for the unsavory Sir Clement Willoughby and the admirable Lord Orville. Not much contest there.

A quirky version of the romantic-rivals situation is offered in Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which has hubby number one still in the picture despite being dead. 🙂

Your favorite novels that fit this topic?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about my town’s shamed Planning Board and a Board of Education in turmoil — is here.

When Famous Novels Meet, or Don’t Meet, Expectations

In 2011, I wrote a blog post about whether famous novels I belatedly read after many years met the pent-up “great expectations” I brought to them. I covered books such as Beloved, Don Quixote, East of Eden, Ivanhoe, and The Age of Innocence.

I thought I’d revisit that theme by discussing some famous novels I finally got to since then. I’ll start with The Outsiders (which I finished last week) and also mention (alphabetically by title) A Confederacy of Dunces, Doctor Zhivago, Ethan Frome, Fahrenheit 451, Gorky Park, Of Human Bondage, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Rabbit, Run, Silas Marner, The Big Sleep, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Last of the Mohicans, The Portrait of a Lady, The Secret History, The Stranger, and Villette.

The Outsiders (1967) is a modern young-adult classic, so I figured it would be pretty good. But S.E. Hinton wrote it while still a teen (as she was in the above photo), so I figured it wouldn’t be THAT good. I was wrong. It’s very well written, features a number of compelling characters, and has lots to say about youth angst, friendship, dysfunctional families, peer pressure, class divisions, and more. I was impressed.

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces? A weird book, but funny as hell — with quirky, eccentric characters and lots of New Orleans ambience. Worth waiting for.

I found Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago sweeping, romantic, and sad. Didn’t totally love it, but liked it a lot.

Ethan Frome is different than some other Edith Wharton books in featuring non-rich characters in Massachusetts rather than wealthy ones in New York City. It’s a downbeat novella that packs a feverish, emotional wallop.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 deserves its reputation as one of the most memorable dystopian novels.

Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park is a thriller that delivers in all kinds of ways — tense plot, great protagonists, great villains, excellent Russian atmosphere. Plus it spawned seven sequels nearly as good.

Of Human Bondage was W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece — and that’s saying a lot, because he wrote a number of terrific novels. It mostly lives up to the hype, though one does wonder how protagonist Philip could stay in love for so long with a character as unlikable as Mildred.

One Hundred Years of Solitude? A tour de force by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that deserves its reputation as one of the 20th century’s best novels, though it’s sometimes a bit confusing to read.

John Updike’s writing in Rabbit, Run can’t be questioned, but I found the protagonist Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom to be grating and sexist enough to not really enjoy the novel as much as I would’ve liked.

George Eliot’s Silas Marner has a reputation in some quarters as a tedious read, but I found it wonderful and heartwarming. And so short for an Eliot novel that it’s a very good introduction to that fabulous author for people wanting to try her work.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep? Lived up to its reputation for excellent, noirish, hardboiled crime fiction. And Humphrey Bogart was born to play private eye Philip Marlowe in the movie version.

Leo Tolstoy’s melancholy The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of several examples of how that author rocked the novella in addition to lengthy books such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

The Last of the Mohicans is James Fenimore Cooper’s best-known novel, and it’s quite good, but I have to rate The Deerslayer (of the same “Leatherstocking” series) higher.

Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady doesn’t disappoint — a sublime, poignant work written before the author got a little too dense and wordy with some of his late classics.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is impressive for a debut novel, but it at times feels a bit too insular and contrived as it focuses on a small group of obsessive college students. I much prefer Tartt’s later The Goldfinch.

Albert Camus’ The Stranger is often mesmerizing, occasionally unsatisfying, and quite unusual.

Finally, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette has a number of riveting moments while also dragging in spots. The author’s earlier Jane Eyre is a much more compulsive read, and it probably didn’t help that Charlotte was depressed by the deaths of sisters Emily and Anne while writing Villette.

Your reactions to some famous novels when you finally got around to reading them? Did they meet, or not meet, your expectations?

Ray Bradbury mentioning Fahrenheit 451 on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life game show in 1956:

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — a too-much-rain-inspired satire — is here.

Readers Are Lucky When They Find Characters Who Are Plucky

Today’s topic is plucky protagonists — characters who, despite difficulties, remain mostly resilient and optimistic and good-natured until they sometimes (not always) achieve success.

My inspiration for this piece was my 11-year-old daughter Maria and her softball teammates, who had been overwhelmed this spring — losing their first four games 16-8, 22-4, 20-2, and 16-6. This is Maria’s fourth year of rec softball (she was previously on third-to-fifth-grade squads that won quite a few games), but a number of her current teammates had little or no experience with the sport. Plus they’ve been mostly playing teams from towns with much stronger softball programs.

But Maria (shown speeding to third base yesterday in the above photo) and her fellow Wildcats were still having fun, trying hard, displaying a good attitude, and not blaming each other for fielding mistakes, striking out, and so on. They were doing the best they could, and sometimes made great plays and sometimes hit the ball hard.

Then came yesterday’s fifth game of the season, which…well, I’ll wait till the end of this blog post to give you the results.

Plucky fictional characters who come to mind include those in the two novels I most recently read.

One of the books is Mrs. Pollifax Pursued, which is among the 14 seriocomic Dorothy Gilman novels starring an older woman who does freelance spy work for the CIA. Mrs. Pollifax faces obstacles because of her age, gender, lack of spy training when younger, etc. But she’s very smart, congenial, cool under pressure, usually makes good decisions, and doesn’t let mistakes get her down too much.

The other book is Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, which stars child of privilege Juan “Johnnie” Rico. He decides to enlist in a futuristic army, and fouls up several times during training and early missions, but generally maintains an excellent attitude and eventually meets with great success. A plucky guy.

Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich’s many mystery novels also finds it tough going at first as she tries to learn the ropes of bounty hunting. But she sticks to it with plenty of courage and humor.

Plucky characters are of course easy to root for, even in cases when they’re not doing totally admirable things. For instance, Heinlein’s sci-fi novel can be disturbingly militaristic.

And I should note that the term “plucky” can be seen as patronizing, but I think it’s a more positive word than that. For instance, the title character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is smart, stoic, independent, and more — but I would also praise her with the “plucky” adjective.

Penelope Keeling of Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers is plucky as well — going on with her life, with mostly an upbeat attitude, despite experiencing tragedy as a young woman and health issues in the novel’s present.

Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings deserves the “p” word, too, as does his traveling comrade Samwise Gamgee. That has something to do with their size — they’re both short-in-height hobbits — but has more to do with their bravery as they do their part to try to save Middle-earth amid friends and enemies who are usually bigger, stronger, and in some cases have special powers.

Size is also an element of pluckiness for Amy Dorrit, the titular character of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Plus she makes the best of a bad situation (her father is in debtors’ prison for a long time) — managing to earn crucial money and helping to keep the Dorrit family together.

Your favorite characters who fit this topic?

Oh, my daughter Maria’s team — in their fifth game yesterday — finally won for the first time this season, 14-11. One player hit a grand slam, and Maria got the save — coming in as a relief pitcher with the bases loaded and one out to throw out a runner at the plate and then strike out the final batter.

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about teachers without a new contract, a history-wrecking decision, and more — is here.