Like many others with limited maturity levels, I've been utterly corrupted by Mel Brooks.
Bring up the word "Frankenstein" and I don't think of Mary Shelley or even Boris Karloff. No, unfortunate people like me immediately fall into a reverie of jokes from a certain 1970s movie: "Blücher!" (whinny), "Would you like a roll in zee hay?," and, of course, "What hump?"
Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster. His creation is smart and eloquent, far from a grunting ogre. Beyond that, the whole story – as imagined by an extraordinary young woman – explores deep questions about humanity, death, and the limits of science.
Emerson College literature professor Roseanne Montillo explores a world of grave-robbing, fantastic, scientific advances and scandalous writerly behavior in her new book "The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece."
In an interview, Montillo talks about science without boundaries, a monster with a brain, and the "Frankenstein" quandaries that still resonate after almost two centuries.
Q: These days, scientists would be laughed out of the laboratory if they tried to study bringing people back from death.
But, as you write, respectable scientists of 200 years ago loved to explore the prospect of reanimating the dead. How were things different back then in terms of acceptable scientific pursuits?
A: There was a great demand after the French Revolution – maybe something can be done to bring all of these young people back. A lot of women were left without husbands, fathers without young ones. Maybe something can be done for all these people who are sad, grief-stricken, and upset.
There was also the idea of a financial gain. If you could bring people back, they could go back to work.
Q: According to Christianity, dead people don't return to earth in a human form. How did the idea of reanimation challenge people's faith?
A: You're taking God completely out of the equation if you believe you can bring someone back. If you're assuming you can do it yourself, like Frankenstein, what do you need God for?
For the religious individuals, this was a no-no right off the bat.
Q: What about the wishes of the dead people themselves, like the many criminals who were executed at the gallows and then experimented upon?
A: Maybe these people didn't want to come back. Maybe they'd gone to heaven and it was a good place, or they went to hell and it was where they belonged.
Maybe they didn't want to come back or shouldn't come back at all. No one took this into consideration.
Q: Did the book explore these issues?
A: "Frankenstein" was one of the earliest books to ask these questions.
At the onset, it seems very much a plain horror story. But once you read on inside, it asks a lot of deep moral questions. People didn't have the answers for them then, and we still don't today.
Q: How is our popular view of Frankenstein and his monster different from the original portrait that Mary Shelley created?
A: The pop-culture view of Frankenstein's monster is focused on his freakiness: the creature is a lump of bones.
In the book, the creature was meant to be a moral compass. He commits horrible deeds, but he's also very eloquent. He's an intelligent being, he speaks very clearly. He tries to be nice and makes a conscious choice to move to evil. One could debate whether he's even smarter than Victor Frankenstein himself.
Most of the movies miss that. He grumbles, he's green, he's got those outstretched hands. You know what he's going to do if you come in contact with him.
Q: Did Mary Shelley create the first "mad scientist" of fiction?
A: She really did.
One could argue whether he was truly mad. I'm not sure, but he is eccentric. He wants to know more, he's into the pursuit of knowledge, he is curious and intelligent. The book tells you right away that he wants to know the secrets of heaven and earth.
He did achieve his goal to give life to a creature. But he missed the mark and didn't live up to his responsibilities. I think he became a little bit mad afterward.
Q: How does the book fit into the early development of what we now know as the genres of science fiction and horror fiction?
A: It was probably the first science-fiction book. She led the way for everyone who came after her.
Different bookstores have different ways of labeling it. It can be science fiction or horror. Many bookstores place it in feminist fiction as well, which is odd to me.
Q: What message is Mary Shelley sending that's still relevant today?
A: Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" as a warning to society. At that time, people had ambition and wanted to push those lines and see how far they could go.
But where is that boundary? Science wants to achieve its goals, but how do you know when too much is too much? Is there a line that shouldn't be crossed?
I'm not quite certain there is. But you do have to take responsibility for your creations since consequences can be quite dire, as Victor Frankenstein found out.
Q: So she's giving a warning to scientists?
A: It is a warning, but I don't think they will see it as that.
If anything, Mary Shelley had an opposite effect: People see this as something that could be done.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.
Books by Ebert, who died April 4, ranged from movie guides to compilations of reviews to memoirs that looked back on the many years he served as a critic.
A staple of his work was “Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook,” which was published yearly and compiled his work from the previous two-and-a-half years. Ebert released “Yearbook” every year, except for 2008, starting in 1999. His 2013 “Yearbook” edition came out this past December.
Ebert's best-known books are probably “Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert,” a collection of his work which was released in 2006, and his recent memoir “Life Itself,” which came out in 2011. In “Life Itself,” Ebert discusses everything from his childhood to his recent health difficulties, which left him unable to talk, eat, or drink.
Other works by the critic honored the movies he loved and addressed those he hated. In “The Great Movies” (2003) Ebert discussed films he admired. This was followed by two further editions, "The Great Movies II" in 2006, and "The Great Movies III" in 2011. He also published “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie” in 2002, “Your Movie Sucks” in 2007, and “A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length” in 2012, all of which were compilations of reviews of movies which he had given two stars or less.
In addition, Ebert penned titles including “Questions For The Movie Answer Man,” which came out in 1997 and featured his answers to readers’ letters, and various movie recommendation books in the “Ebert’s Essentials” series such as “33 Movies to Restore Your Faith in Humanity” and “25 Great French Films.”
More offbeat works included a cookbook he wrote titled “The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker” and “The Perfect London Walk,” which Ebert wrote with author Daniel Curley and photographer Jack Lane and in which the three co-authors describe their journeys throughout London. Ebert also penned the novel “Behind the Phantom’s Mask” and the screenplay for the 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
“It communicates a whole lot of gusto and very little grief,” she wrote of the book. “Its globe-trotting, indefatigable author comes across as the life of a lifelong party.”
Washington Post writer Gerald Bartell was similarly won over.
“Tales from childhood, interviews with film stars and directors, funny and touching stories about colleagues, and evocative essays about trips unspool before the reader in a series of loosely organized, often beautifully written essays crafted by a witty, clear-eyed yet romantic raconteur,” he wrote.
In his third edition of “Great Movies,” Ebert himself wrote about how he felt about the power of the movies.
“Because we are human, because we are bound by gravity and the limitations of our bodies, because we live in a world where the news is often bad and the prospects disturbing, there is a need for another world somewhere,” he wrote. “A world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers live."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has gotten a release date for her planned memoir, and a new press release shed a little more light on what she’ll discuss in the book.
Her book will come out in 2014 and will be released by publisher Simon & Schuster.
Clinton had previously announced that she would be writing a new book about her time as secretary of state, but a press release from Simon & Schuster elaborated that the as-yet-untitled book would address the attack against Osama bin Laden and the end of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya as well as the Arab Spring in general and relations with China.
Simon & Schuster published Clinton’s previous titles as well, which include the 1996 book “It Takes A Village” and 2003’s “Living History.”
“Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary public service has given her a unique perspective on recent history and the challenges we face,” Simon & Schuster president and publisher Jonathan Karp said in a statement Thursday. “This will be the ultimate book for people who are interested in world affairs and America’s place in the world today.”
Karp is also serving as the book’s editor.
An anonymous source told the Washington Post that Clinton’s new book will not discuss the 2008 election or any presidential runs in the future.
The Frommer’s books were originally published by Simon & Schuster before switching over to publisher Wiley & Sons. The franchise was then bought by Google this past summer, but it was reported last month that Google would no longer be publishing print versions of the guidebooks.
Now Frommer has the rights to the brand back from Google and said he will be releasing the books in print editions and e-books and will be running the website.
“It's a very happy time for me,” Frommer told the Associated Press.
Google told the AP via e-mail that the deal had gone through but that some travel information it had gotten through Frommer’s would remain in areas of the company like Google Plus.
According to the travel website Skift, Google decided not to publish more than 20 titles that were to go out under the Frommer’s name. Authors were told by Google editors that their books would not be released as planned. In September, soon after their acquisition, Google had taken the bookstore component off the Frommer’s website.
An unnamed Google representative told CNET that they wanted to provide Google users with practical travel tips.
“We're focused on providing high-quality local information to help people quickly discover and share great places, like a nearby restaurant or the perfect vacation destination," they said. “That's why we've spent the last several months integrating the travel content we acquired from Wiley into Google+ Local and our other Google services.”
Google had also previously purchased legendary restaurant ratings guide Zagat.
Frommer first released travel advice in 1957 when he wrote a book titled “Europe On 5 Dollars A Day,” which was adapted from a guide he’d penned for American soldiers serving in Europe.
Jason Clampet, a Skift writer who is a former Frommer’s employee, told the AP he was happy about the switch.
“Everyone I know was hoping this would happen once we saw that Google was just after content for Google Plus rather than the brand's history and potential," he said. "I think Arthur's and [Frommer’s daughter] Pauline's passion will reinvigorate the series. There are dedicated readers both online and in print who will stay with a name they trust.”
In a column, Clampet speculated on what publisher will want to take the chance on releasing print travel guides for Frommer.
“There aren’t many publishers that don’t already have a guidebook series or that haven’t turned their back on the game,” Clampet wrote. “Wiley is obviously out, and the combined Penguin/Random House group already has a handful with Fodor’s, Rough Guides, and DK, among others.”
Clampet guessed that Avalon Travel, which publishes guidebooks by travel guru Rick Steves, might decide to print the books.
This year, the story of a little prince, his rose, and a fox friend, is turning 70.
“The Little Prince,” a novella by French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was first released on April 6, 1943. Last month, to mark the 70th anniversary of the book's printing, new editions were released by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. One version is a new paperback edition aimed at young adults, while another is a special anniversary edition of the book which includes an audio version of the book read by “Lord of the Rings” actor Viggo Mortensen.
A third edition, which is coming later this month, will be a reissue of the graphic novel version of the book by Joann Sfar.
In 1935, while trying to break the speed record for a Paris-to-Saigon flight, Saint-Exupéry crash-landed in the Sahara desert when his plane suffered problems. This accident was to become the inspiration for “The Little Prince,” in which the protagonist, an unnamed pilot, meets a small boy after landing in the desert. The boy tells the pilot he is from an asteroid and that he lived there until he decided he wanted to explore other planets. He also tells the pilot of a rose with which he fell in love, other planets he explored, and of a fox he met on Earth.
Finally, the pilot and the prince find a well that saves them from dehydration, but the prince soon tells the pilot that he wants to return home to his asteroid.
“The Little Prince” is one of the bestselling books of all time and was voted the best literary work of the 20th century by a French author in a 2000 poll. According to the Saint-Exupéry Foundation, the novella is the most-translated book ever after the Bible.
The book has been adapted for the screen, stage, and radio, with a radio adaptation produced by CBS debuting in 1956 and a BBC version airing in 2000. Notable film adaptations include a 1974 musical that featured Gene Wilder as the Fox, Bob Fosse as the Snake, and Richard Kiley as the pilot. The book has been adapted into a stage play, a musical, and an opera.
Author Gregory Maguire, who wrote a foreword for the book’s new paperback version, told Publishers Weekly that he believes the novella has more of an impact than its scant number of pages would suggest.
“The Little Prince is a little book, but what a little largeness it contains,” Maguire said. “Not quite fable, nor allegory, nor fantasy, nor farce, though it is all those things, too.... As a writer, I’ve always liked approaching tales read in childhood to see what they reveal to me now. As a reader, I do the same.”
The announcement that Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg would publish a book about the workplace, women's role in it, and how gender inequality still affects all of us, seemed to be greeted with equal parts anticipation and dread. Some potential readers couldn't wait to hear what Sandberg would have to say, while others predicted that it would just be another salvo in the “mommy wars” – the endless debate over whether or not women who are parents should work full-time and what is best when raising children.
“Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry,” proclaimed the book's publisher, Knopf Doubleday. “This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives… Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias.”
Sandberg’s book was released on March 11. Today, holding the No. 1 position for hardcover nonfiction sales on The New York Times bestseller list, the book has garnered largely positive from book reviewers.
“Sandberg ... has written a brave book that is unabashedly personal and political,” Monitor reviewer Anna Clark wrote. “’Lean In’ serves as a kind of philosophical and practical toolkit for women with ambitions of all kinds, and an education and inspiration for men who are aware that their workplaces and home lives are diminished when women are only a fraction of who they can be.”
New York Times reviewer Anne-Marie Slaughter spoke positively of Sandberg’s voice in the book in her review.
“Sandberg is not just tough, however,” she wrote. “She also comes across as compassionate, funny, honest and likable…. Most important, Sandberg is willing to draw the curtain aside on her own insecurities.”
NPR reviewer Maureen Corrigan was less enthusiastic about Sandberg's execution but overall did applaud her effort. Corrigan said she found parts of the book dull but that she’d still “slide ‘Lean In’ into my teenage daughter’s bookshelf.”
“I dozed off twice while reading it,” Corrigan wrote. “Most of the book is kind of blah, composed of platitudinous-corporate-speak-intermixed-with-pallid-anecdotes.... 'Lean In' may not be the most impassioned or entertaining feminist manifesto ever written and, sure, Sandberg is somewhat blinkered by her big bucks and privilege and inhibited by corporate caution. Yet, it's great to have a woman with such a platform speak up about sexism.”
Of course the book has also had its share of detractors. Writing for Atlantic, Christina Hoff Sommers charged that Sandberg “is mired in 1970s-style feminism.”
“An up-to-date manifesto on women and work should steer clear of encounter groups and boys-must-play-with dolls rhetoric,” she wrote. “It should make room for human reality: that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women often take different paths.”
And WBUR writer Carey Goldberg identified what she calls “Sandberg’s biggest blind spot”: that some mothers don’t want to work while their children are young.
“Our greatest obstacle is not any girly self-doubt,” Goldberg wrote. “It is a rigid workplace culture that won’t let us ratchet down. It is employers who do not offer flexible alternatives that drive parents out, by offering only a binary choice between full-time-plus or the highway.”
Online reviews of the book have also been divided, with some readers singing its praises and others finding the content objectionable.
“This is a life-changing book, if you let it be,” an Amazon commenter named Cathryn Michon wrote. “By writing truthfully ... about her own failings and insecurities, Sheryl Sandberg tells every woman who reads this book that they are not alone if they ever pulled back from their ambitions, whatever they may be."
Michon also deplored "the vicious criticism" that has been hurled at the book. "The fact that there has been this much venom spewed at the writer of a business book (does anybody know what Jack Welch's dad did for a living or who paid his college tuition? Does anyone care?) tells you everything you need to know about how the playing field for women in business is in no way equal,” she wrote.
But a commenter on Goodreads named Aryn said she couldn’t see what the fuss was about.
“I am confused by this book, [because] it doesn't inspire me at all,” she wrote. “In fact, it makes me wonder if the other women around me actually feel this way??? I can't seem to relate to [Sandberg's] frame of mind. Maybe it's a generation thing? Maybe it was how I was raised, but I don't feel the same insecurities.”
Given the book's strong sales, one thing seems certain: “Lean In” – and the debate over its content – won’t be going away anytime soon.
A new study presents some surprising evidence about legendary playwright William Shakespeare.
Aberystwyth University faculty members Dr. Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley, and Professor Howard Thomas say that Shakespeare almost went to jail for not paying his taxes and received multiple fines, as well as being prosecuted, for buying food like wheat and barley to sell to others for a higher price than the sum he bought it for during times of food shortages.
Archer researches Renaissance literature topics, while Thomas is a plant science professor, and Turley is a professor of Renaissance literature.
“By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town, Stratford-upon-Avon,” the study reads. “His profits – minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion – meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”
Archer said the findings highlight the contrast in aspects of Shakespeare’s personality.
“Here was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright – as a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others' expense and exploit the vulnerable while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them,” she told the Sunday Times.
She noted that the playwright may have been thinking of his children because, in a world without royalties, he had no reason to believe his plays would generate profit after his death.
“He had two surviving daughters and would have seen himself as providing for them,” she said. “But he was acting illegally and undermining the government's attempts to feed people.”
The most recent instance is an example of the very best of publishing addressing the very worst of social problems – bullying.
Bully books are clawing their way into publishing houses and up bestseller lists, according to a recent article in The New York Times that explores the attention – and profits – books on bullies are receiving of late.
According to the library catalog World Cat, books tagged with the key word ‘bullying’ saw an increase of 500 in the last decade to some 1,891 such books in 2012, as reported by the Times.
“Bullying has always been a popular topic, but this year we are seeing bullying titles coming out as never before, and there is no end in sight,” Elizabeth Bird of the New York Public Library, told the paper.
And bully books aren’t just for kids. It turns out they represent the rare publishing trend that blankets all age groups, from children and teens to adults. As an example, the Times cites “Bully,” a picture book for elementary-grade students, “The Bully Book,” for middle school children, “Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories,” an anthology for teens, and “Sticks and Stones,” by Emily Bazelon, a recent release for adults.
But it doesn’t end there. Our favorite part of this story is that authors and publishers aren’t just looking for a bestseller or to make a quick buck. Besides writing and publishing books on bullying, the publishing industry has gone a step further, building antibullying campaigns, setting up antibullying support networks, and organizing conferences on combating bullying.
Among those efforts are campaigns by such publishers are Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harlequin, including the latter’s “Love is Louder” movement. There’s also a Facebook site called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying and a conference in Missouri for authors of books on bullying.
What’s more, “In response to government cues, libraries, schools and even bookstores like Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest retail book chain, have been holding events to talk about the problem and provide help for parents and children,” reports the Times.
As distressing as the subject and its real world tragedies are, we’re heartened to see the publishing world use books as a means to address the problem of bullying – and not just with ink on paper, but with campaigns, conferences, and candid conversations. For publishers, the potential to affect proactive change on a variety of subjects are endless and we’re eager to see more.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Founded in 2000 to celebrate the life of French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the International Edible Books Festival is held every year around the world on April 1st. Festival participants create cooked dishes and baked goods designed to look like books, share these images online, and then dine on them.
According to the official website, there are only three rules for participation:
1. The event must be held on April 1st (or close to that date).
2. All edible books must be "bookish" through the integration of text, literary inspiration or, quite simply, the form.
3. Organizations or individual participants must register with the festival’s organization and share images on the international festival website (www.books2eat.com).
The sheer range of style in the entries is impressive. Some participants design pastries to look like books; others use a normal cake base, but illuminate a passage, or draw a picture from a favorite book in frosting. Still others use EBF as an opportunity to sculpt flour, eggs, and sugar. The best creations, however, tend to be culinary slapstick efforts that rely heavily on puns.
At some sites, there is voting to determine favorite entries. In 2012, festival winners selected at the University of Texas in Austin included "Tart of Darkness" and "War and Piece of Cake."
Other fantastically horrible EBF puns have included "Cavity's Rainbow" (Skittles organized by color in a glass case) and an empty blender next to a mint-flavored drink ("The Last of the Mojitos").
Every local festival seems to have its own categories for evaluation of the dishes – from Best in Show to Punniest to Best Depiction of a Book/TV series ("Game of Scones"). But the highlight at most festivals occurs after the awards are handed out when participants get to eat their creations.
Francis Bacon got it right when he said, "Some books are to be tasted, others swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."
Ben Frederick is a Monitor contributor.
In a move that has angered some in the book world, Amazon has bought popular social media book website Goodreads.
Goodreads lets readers view recommendations from other users and comment on their favorite titles, and having the website may give Amazon more of an ability to reach readers and recommend books.
In a statement on their website, Goodreads founder Otis Chandler wrote, “Goodreads will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site—the ability to track what you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors—and your reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads. And it's incredibly important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even stone tablets.”
The site was founded in 2007 and now boasts more than 16 million members. Chandler wrote on the company’s blog that “Goodreads and the awesome team behind it are not going away,” so it seems as if the website’s staff will stay on.
Chandler said of becoming part of the Amazon company, “We truly could not think of a more perfect partner for Goodreads as we both share a love of books and an appreciation for the authors who write them. We also both love to invent products and services that touch millions of people.”
The acquisition should close by July. Details such as whether Amazon will have access to information shared by Goodreads users or whether Goodreads recommendations will carry over to users' Amazon accounts have not yet been shared.
However, some are not happy about the decision, with industry newsletter Shelf Awareness writing that some Goodreads members, including those who own independent bookstores, left the website after the announcement was made.
“Too bad,” one commenter named Wendi wrote on the Goodreads site. “Another good independent thing bites the dust. Happy for you and the money you'll make off the cool thing you started; sad for me, and sad for the internet, which will soon be owned by Amazon and Facebook.”
Another commenter named Macartney wrote, “This is a big bummer. I understand you guys and your backers are looking to make money, but this has ripped the rug out from under everything I enjoyed about Goodreads. Amazon is undermining and destroying publishing as we know it. I don't want to participate with that kind of company.”
However, some Goodreads users wrote that they looked forward to the change.
“I'm excited!” a user named Jennifer wrote. “I love Goodreads and I love my Kindle Fire. I would love to see my bookshelves [integrated] or some type of bookshelf via a Goodreads app that will work with the Kindle. Only downfall of the Kindle Fire via the Nook Color is not being able to organize my books.”
A user named Joanna agreed.
“Awesome news,” Joanna wrote. “Can't wait to see what kind of integration this will produce. Would be nice to be able to sync the books on my kindle with GR automatically.”
Others turned to Twitter to express their feelings on the change.
"Goodreads is basically one huge advertisement," a user named Justina Ireland (@tehawesomersace) tweeted. "If Amazon controls Goodreads, they control discovery."
Another user seemed pleased, with Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford) tweeting, "Looking forward to seeing how @Amazon integrates @Goodreads into the Kindle/Kindle app. The first truly social book reading experience?"
Amazon already owns one website, Shelfari, that is similar to Goodreads, letting users share books with others, which Shelf Awareness wrote was “left to die on the Internet vine.”
In addition, a new website that lets users share recommendations is already out there – several of the major publishers launched Bookish in February. The site lets users organize an electronic “shelf” and write reviews for titles as well as allowing users to purchase books from various vendors, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
“The similarities are sufficient that when Bookish launched in February, a Wired writer dubbed it 'the love child of Goodreads and Amazon,'” he wrote.
Will Goodreads change now that it’s part of the Amazon company? Only time will tell.