Monday, March 15, 2010

Six Degrees of the Library Collection - From Shakespeare to Omar Tyree

"Beware the ides of March" a warning to Casar in Act 1 Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and an apt starting point for this mid-March version of Six Degrees of the Library Collection where we highlight random connections between the books and the authors you can find in the library's collection.

Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare's tragedy plays and portrays the action and events surrounding the assassination of the Roman leader of the plays' title. Although one of the most famous of literary depictions of Ceasar's downfall, it is certainly not the only. Caesar was murdered in Rome in 44 BCE on March 15th - the Ides of March on the Roman Calendar.

It's wasn't just Shakespeare that felt that the ides of March was a catchy turn of phrase in terms of talking about Caesar, in 1948 American author Thornton Wilder chose the term as the title for his historical novel of the Roman Era. The novel tells - through a series of fictional letters - the story leading up to Caesar's assassination.

Thornton Wilder was an American Playwright and novelist, who won the Pulitzer Prize 3 times - once for a novel and twice for plays. An interesting fact about Wilder is that his twin brother died at birth, and some critics have pointed to twinship as a theme in his writing, mostly notably in his novel Theophilus North which publisher Harper Perennial describes as an "imagined adventure" of the brother that Wilder never knew.

Philip K. Dick is another author who was born a twin but whose twin died early in life. In this case, a sister Jane, who survived birth but died when she was only a few weeks old. As with Wilder, many have noted the influence this may have had on his writing. His official website's biography notes "the dualist (twin-poled) dilemmas that dominated his creative work." Dick was a noted Science Fiction author and many of his novels have been turned into popular movies including The Minority Report and Blade Runner (based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). Philip K. Dick died in 1982 at the age of 53.

Another well known author who died in 1982 was Russian American novelist Ayn Rand. Rand is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and later as a popular philosopher in the school of objectivism, which is credited to her. In 1999, when a list of the 20th Century's Best 100 novels in English was compiled by public vote (the list was in response to a list published by the Modern Library the previous year), Rand held the top two places and had four books in the top 10. The original Modern Library best novels list was widely criticized when it was released in 1998 (hence the readers list). In particular the list was noted for its lack of female writers, the inclusion of only 3 African American authors, and the lack of authors from English speaking areas other than America or Britain. The board that made the selections was made up of a number of well known authors, including A.S. Byatt (the only woman on the board).

A.S. Byatt is an award winning British author, primarily of novels, many of which are historical or have an interest in history. In 1990, she won the Booker Prize for her novel Possession, which follows the machinations of a group of academics trying to uncover the mysterious past of a well known (but fictional) British poet. In 2000, she returned to the realm of the pursuit of biography with her novel The Biographer's Tale. A.S. Byatt was born Antonia Susan Drabble in Sheffield England in 1936.

Keen fans of British fiction will likely have caught something in that last detail. A.S. Byatt is the sister of another well known novelist, Margaret Drabble, although there is reputedly a rift between the two authors and they "don't read each other's books". Like her sister, Drabble has been writing since the early 1960s and has published 17 novels. Her most recent novel was 2006's The Sea Lady, and it may well be her last. In 2009, Drabble announced she would quit writing fiction.

Retiring is something that it seems not many novelists do in such a formal way - there are certainly authors who fall out of fashion and no longer publish, and but many seem to stay in the limelight until they die. One other novelist who recently announced a retirement is bestselling urban fiction author Omar Tyree. In June of 2008, he posted an editorial explaining his reasons for quitting a genre which he is seen to have a hand in popularizing. The post was controversial, particularly with fans of urban fiction, who were insulted by Tyree's criticism of the genre, but he has thus far stuck to his guns and 2008's Pecking Order was published as his final urban fiction piece. Sure enough his website now focuses prominently on his entrepreneurial efforts, and contains an additional - if more calmly worded - explanation of his decision.

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