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Category: classical literature

Jane Austen ring goes up for auction

A ring once owned by author Jane Austen will be auctioned by Sotheby's later this month. Austen, the author of the much-loved novels "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility" and "Emma," never married or had children, but the ring has remained in the possession of her family since her death in 1817. Scholars had been unaware of its existence, and it is expected to sell at auction for $31,000 to $46,000.

The ring is made of gold with a cabachon blue stone of natural turquoise. It is, as Sotheby's auction house notes, in a simple style Austen wrote of sympathetically in her work. In "Mansfield Park," Fanny Price is given a gold chain by her cousin Edmund, who tells her, "I consulted the simplicity of your taste."

The jewelry is given to Fanny "in all the niceness of jewellers packing," just as the ring remains in its original box. It comes with letters dating back to 1863 describing its provenance: The ring was passed from Jane Austen to sister Cassandra Austen to sister-in-law Eleanor Austen to niece Caroline Mary Craven Austen to niece Mary A. Austen-Leigh to her niece, Mary Dorothy Austen-Leigh, then to her sister, Winifred Jenkyns, who passed it to her descendants.

The ring will be offered at Sotheby's English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations auction on July 10. The auction includes many sets of letters, and superb copies of the "Shakespeare Fourth Folio" (est. $124,000 to $186,000), Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" (est. $93,000 to $124,000), and Charles Darwin’s "On the "Origin of Species" (est. $77,000 to $108,000). It also includes fine first editions of Jane Austen's novels "Mansfield Park" (est. $4,600 to $7,700), "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" (est. $3,800 to $5,400), "Emma" (est. $15,500 to $23,000) and "Pride and Prejudice" (est. $31,000 to $46,000).

Hat tip to the Paris Review blog for spotting Jane Austen's ring for sale.


Jane Austen's unfinished manuscript goes up for auction

A Jane Austen memento. Pricey? Creepy?

Literary letters for auction at Sotheby's

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jane Austen's ring and a note about it, written by Eleanor Austen. Credit: Sotheby's


Rick Riordan meets Robert Graves in 'The Greek Myths'

"The Greek Myths"When it comes to Penguin Classics’ reissue of Robert Graves’ “The Greek Myths,” I have as many reactions as the hellhound Cerberus has heads (three, depending on what source you’re reading).

Head No. 1 says: I love the Penguin packaging. Like other books in the publisher's deluxe editions line -- personal favorites include "Cold Comfort Farm" and "The Call of Cthulhu" -- the cover is dazzling, clever, funny. Designed by Ross MacDonald, you find the ancient heroes and gods rendered as characters fresh from D.C. or Marvel Comics.

Head No. 2 says: I agree!  And what also makes this edition “new” -- aside from the packaging -- is the addition of a preface by Rick Riordan of the “Percy Jackson” YA series. He encountered this book of myths by the maestro of Majorca quite late, as an adult already teaching Greek myths to students.

The person who really first opened the door of mythology for Riordan was his eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Pabst: "Mrs. Pabst took me from where I was nurtured my interests, and planted the seeds for a lifelong love of literature. All heroes' quests have to start somewhere. That year, Mrs. Pabst was my Chiron. I felt kinship with Theseus, strapping on my sandals and heading down the metaphorical road to Athens to find my destiny."

Head No. 3 says: Both of you are right. This is a vibrant, playful-looking new edition! But a word of caution for parents: Graves didn’t write this book for kidlings – crack open the book, and you find a glorious, idiosyncratic chronicle based on his years of research and life in the Mediterranean.  The book contains stories that are definitely not YA fare (Pasiphae's passion for a bull, for instance, or Medea's murder of her own children). Dressing it up to look like a comic book with a preface by a popular YA author is slightly misleading.

If you’re at the bookstore and your child really wants it, of course he/she should have it. Everybody should have this wonderful Graves book –- along with “The White Goddess” and “Hercules, My Shipmate” -- somewhere in the house.  But just be forewarned that, like that innocent-looking swan that nuzzled up to Leda, it’s not exactly what it appears to be.


The Siren's Call: Where's Rimbaud? 

A natural history that almost wasn't: 'America's Other Audubon'

Book review: 'Insurgent' by Veronica Roth

--Nick Owchar

Photo: Cover of "The Greek Myths" by Robert Graves. Credit: Ross MacDonald / Penguin Classics

This Sunday: Figment, Charles Dickens, Etgar Keret and more

FigmentIt’s been a busy week around The Times' book department as we get ready for the Festival of Books in just two weeks (April 21 and 22) at USC. We’ve been planning coverage leading up to the festival and thinking about the great writers, editors and publishing figures coming to town to talk about our favorite subject: books. If you haven’t had time to check the lineup of outstanding panels, conversations and other presentations, please check it here.

   Meanwhile, a relatively new communication platform and a decidedly old one highlight our book coverage on Sunday. The new one is Figment, the social networking site primarily for teens, where budding writers can critique their work and the work of others. The site’s slogan is “Write Yourself In,” and in just 15 months, more than 200,000 young people have done so and more than 350,000 individual pieces have been posted. According to Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor at the New Yorker and Portfolio who is in charge of the site’s day-to-day operation, they add 1,000 new pieces a day.

"It’s essential that our users feel a sense of ownership," Lewis told Times book critic David Ulin, who writes about Figment’s rapid rise for this Sunday's Arts & Book section. Currently on Figment, according to Ulin, is a mix that includes the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as well as Rachel Hawkins’ third “Hex Hall” novel, “Spell Bound.”  “You’re as likely to find a reference to Tom Waits or William S. Burroughs as to ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘The Hunger Games,' ” Ulin writes.  “Its success, then, simply reaffirms what readers everywhere have always known: that literature and reading aren’t going anywhere.” The site’s founders, Lewis and New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear, will be honored on April 20 at the L.A. Times Book Prizes with the Innovator’s Award. 

The decidedly old platform is letter-writing, and this Sunday we look at 450 examples of Charles Dickens' masterful epistolary prose that have been gathered for “The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens,” edited by Jenny Hartley. Our reviewer novelist Nicholas Delbanco notes that “By the time he died, at 58, he was world-famous and besieged with mail; he answered correspondence promptly and received by his own attestation 'three or four score letters every day.' ”  That’s a lot of mail to keep up with. No wonder he died at 58. Think not? Try sitting down and writing a letter — snail mail, that is — to your Aunt Bruce in Cincinnati.  One of our favorite examples from Dickens, which Delbanco notes with pleasure, is this snippet he wrote, when 21, to Maria Beadnell, who had rejected his advances: “I have often said before and I say again I have borne more from you than I do believe any creature breathing ever bore from a woman before.”

More after the jump

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Which classic work of literature is the most romantic? [poll]


Its Valentine's Day, a day of celebrating romance. If it's a bit artificially brewed, goosed a little by a culture that likes our holidays polished and popular, that doesn't make the sentiment any less worthy. Who doesn't like a little romance? And what book lover doesn't love a great book about lovers?

Below, we've picked four classic love stories. Which is the most romantic? If you don't love any of them, let us know what classic romance you truly adore.

Happy Valentine's Day.


Forget the romance: "The Science of Kissing" is a bit dry

Romancing the tome: a book fair for the bodice-ripper

"Love Story" author Erich Segal dies at 72

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Wednesday book news: Bezos, the Elsevier boycott and more


What was it like to sit in Westminster Abbey while Prince Charles, Camilla, Ralph Fiennes and 200 descendants feted Charles Dickens on his 200th birthday? Alison Devers teared up, she writes at Slate.

Scientists and academics worldwide have signed a petition boycotting the high pricing of publisher Elsevier's acadmic journals. Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon, Cal State L.A., and universities in Australia, India, Italy and France are just a sampling of the more than 4,600 who have signed the online petition, refusing to publish with or act as peer reviewers for articles being published in Elsevier's journals. Other complaints: that the company's policy of offering journals to libraries in bundles means the libraries are forced to take those they don't want, and that Elsevier supported the controversial SOPA and PIPA legislation. For its part, Elsevier says the $10 price per article is "bang on the mean." Leave it to a science publisher to use a term like "mean" to make me realize I don't quite remember the difference between mean, median and, wait, what was the other one?

A popular Android voice app called Iris (an inversion of Apple's Siri) has turned up some unusual resuts. Ask "Is Noah's Ark real?" and the answer is that it "is biblically believed to be real. It gave forth a new beginning to a underserving earth." Ask if humans come from monkeys, and the answer is "a part of Darwin's Theory of Evolution is that human's over time evolved from apes. Since it is a theory, it can't be proven." Curious about these answers -- and others that are even more extreme -- Gizmodo dug into the companies behind them. They come from a Q&A site called ChaCha, which boasts that one of its "prestigious investors" is Bezos Expeditions, the personal funding arm of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Read the complete report at Gizmodo, which includes many other surprising Iris answers.

Elsewhere in England, the Hatchet Job of the Year was awarded Tuesday. The winner of the first annual award for a deliciously nasty book review went to Adam Mars-Jones for his review of Michael Cunningham's "By Nightfall." The judges wrote:

Every one of his zingers –- “like tin-cans tied to a tricycle”; “it seems to be the prestige of the modernists he admires, rather than their stringency”; “that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard” –- is earned by the argument it arises from. By the end of it Cunningham’s reputation is, well, prone.


Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!

Introducing the Hatchet Job of the Year Award

The remains of Charles Dickens' cat, and his anti-Twitter tool

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ralph Fiennes reads Charles Dickens at Westminster Abbey as Prince Charles and Camilla look on. Credit: Arthur Edwards / WPA Pool / Getty Images



Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!

Charlesdickens_200Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago today in the town of Portsmouth, England. According to Claire Tomalin's 2011 biography "Charles Dickens: A Life," his childhood home was happy and comfortable, but his father tended to live beyond his means, and the family was uprooted more than once. On the worst of these occasions, 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a boot-black factory. He didn't like it. But it became material -- there was a boy there named Fagin, a name that will ring familiar to readers of "Oliver Twist."

Dickens was remarkable in that he created characters and stories that have become permanent fixtures in our cultural landscape. How many times has "A Christmas Carol" been adapted for stage, film, or sitcom holiday episodes? Too many for me to count. But that lasting cultural presence is paired with something else that sets Dickens the writer apart: He was stunningly prolific.

During the three years he worked full time as editor of the magazine Bentley's Miscellany, for example, he wrote and published two books -- no less than "The Adventures of Oliver Twist" and "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby." By the time of his death in 1870 at age 58, he'd written 14 hefty novels ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood" was published posthumously) and many other works.

To celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th birthday, then, here is a list of his published works.

Charles Dickens' novels:

The Pickwick Papers    
The Adventures of Oliver Twist        
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby    
The Old Curiosity Shop        
Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of 'Eighty'
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit      
Dombey and Son     
David Copperfield    
Bleak House    
Hard Times: For These Times    
Little Dorrit
A Tale of Two Cities    
Great Expectations    
Our Mutual Friend    
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

It continues after the jump.

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In Sunday books: On Patti Smith, Tolstoy and life in the marginalia


What's in a book? Ideas and language, of course, and, remarkably, Lynell George has been able to trace her mother's life in the marginalia she left in many of her books. As George notes in her essay, "A Life in the Marginalia," that starts on the cover of this Sunday's Arts & Books section, to open her mother's books was "to reveal all manner of ephemera -- from transit passes to cards to notes in her mother's elegant English teacher cursive -- and all marking chapters in a rich, full life. And, in a way, a gentle guidance." Just as her mother's books and love of reading were a gift to her, George's memoir reminds us of the gift of books in enhancing the fabric of a home.  

Also Sunday,  David Ulin checks in on Patti Smith's "Woolgathering," a collection of prose poems that Ulin says speaks volumes about the broad diversity that makes up the life of Smith as a rocker, mother, poet, artist.

You can also listen here to an excerpt of Smith reading from her award-winning memoir "Just Kids," which has just been released as an audio book: Pattismithexcerpt

Daniel Handler, known more familiarly to some as Lemony Snicket, is back with his YA-debut "Why We Broke Up," which Susan Carpenter describes as "a brief but intense teen relationship gone wrong." Carpenter says that few of these "tragic trajectories have been written about as poignantly" as in this book, which is illustrated by Maira Kalman.

Then there's Tolstoy. Yes, the life of the count is detailed in Rosamund Bartlett's "Tolstoy: A Russian Life." Reviewer Martin Rubin notes that Tolstoy was "a loner, a quintessential outsider and a generally awful and quarrelsome individual." So how was he able to "understand and evoke the glittering social whirl and intricacies of fashionable salons" that made up much of his fiction?

Shari Roan reviews Mary Johnson's "An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life," a memoir that will "fascinate not only Catholics but anyone who has wondered about the human capacity to vow lifelong celibacy, poverty and charity" and gives us a fascinating portrait of Mother Teresa. Online at The Siren's Call, Nick Owchar talks to novelist Richard Zimler about his recent visit to Poland to discuss the novel "The Warsaw Anagrams" with Polish audiences.

And, of course, we have our Best-Sellers lists of what's hot at Southern California stores.

Again, thanks for reading (and for listening).

-- Jon Thurber, book editor 

Photo: One of several books that were part of writer Lynell George's mother's collection. George's mother imprinted the book with a hand and footprint of her daughter when she was a baby. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times


Happy 176th birthday, Mark Twain! [Video]

Iconic American author Mark Twain was born 176 years ago, on Nov. 30 1835, as Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He took the name Mark Twain from the calls of steamboat navigators -- working on a steamboat, as a printer's typesetter and journalist in the just-settling West preceded his career as a humorist and novelist.

"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," (celebrated today by the Google Doodle), "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "The Innocents Abroad," "The Prince and the Pauper," "Life on the Mississippi" and "The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson" are some of the classics penned by Twain, who died in 1910 at 74.

One hundred years later, Twain made a surprise appearance on bestseller lists with the "Autobiography of Mark Twain," dictated by the author during his lifetime but barred from publication until a century after his death. After it began to sell, we wrote in 2011, "Editors realized that Twain's sly humor and skepticism about wealthy elites, U.S. militarism, politicians and organized religion hold a seemingly timeless appeal."

Twain is considered by scholar and historian Laura Trombley to have been America's first celebrity. He undertook lecture tour after lecture tour and crafted an image, always wearing white suits. In the rare color photograph above of the author -- a chromograph, actually -- taken at the end of 1908, he is said to have put on a red dressing gown at the request of photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, whose new color process wouldn't pop much if he was only wearing his classic white suit.

After the jump, more rare Mark Twain: the only known film of him, shot by Thomas Edison.

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'Pride & Prejudice & Zombies' — there's an app for that


The people who brought you "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" have launched "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: The Interactive Book App" just in time for Halloween.

The download is available for iPads and iPhones at an introductory price of $4.99. A version for Android tablets is expected soon.

Quirk Books kicked off the classic literature mashup bonanza in 2009 with "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies," which became a surprise bestseller. The publisher followed up with more of the same, with "Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters," "Android Karenina" and "The Meowmorphosis." What would Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy and Fanz Kafka think? Their books and others in the public domain are fair game, so the market was soon flooded with books like the "The Undead World of Oz" and  "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim."

But "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" started it all. Its interactive edition has Jane Austen's original version when your device is facing one way; flip it around and it's zombified. "The people in Austen's books are kind of like zombies," zombify-ing co-author Seth Grahame-Smith told The Times the day of the book's release. "No matter what's going on around them in the world, they live in this bubble of privilege. The same thing is true of the people in this book, although it's much more absurd."

The app's zombie elements include hundreds of illustrations, motion graphics, music and sound effects (squish). It was created by PadWorx Digital Media, which won a 2010 Publishing Innovations award for its ebook version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." A trailer for "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: The Interactive Book App" is after the jump.

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Jane Austen is at the heart of 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

Ppjz Craig Gillespie, director of "Lars and the Real Girl," is the man tasked with bringing "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" to the big screen. And he says that Jane Austen will remain at the story's heart. Or maybe she's its braaaiiiiiinss....

Gillespie helmed the just-released horror-plus-comedy movie "Fright Night." His Austen-plus-zombies adaptation, he told our sibling blog Hero Complex, has some similarities.

"It’s another tone issue, that's where the challenge is.... It's a little more serious than 'Fright Night.' It's staying incredibly true to Jane Austen and the humor that you get from Jane Austen and the dynamic of this society and the humor and insight that comes from the situations that she wrote about. And then you also get the  horror of of zombies."

The first of what became a string of literary mash-ups, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was written mostly by Jane Austen, with Seth Grahame-Smith adding bloodthirsty zombies, killing off one major character and providing the Bennett sisters with ninja training.

"The people in Austen's books are kind of like zombies," Grahame-Smith told The Times in 2009. "No matter what's going on around them in the world, they live in this bubble of privilege. The same thing is true of the people in this book, although it's much more absurd."

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," with its clever cover, became a surprise bestseller. Quirk Books, its publisher, has released more classic mash-ups, such as "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters."

Grahame-Smith has plunged into writing complete novels in a similar vein; he's the author of 2011's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," which is also headed for the big screen.


Kafka meets kittens? "The Meowmorphosis"

Zombies, classics and you

Inside the film "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

-- Carolyn Kellogg


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