All Posts By Michael Kahn

Maybe You Can’t Tell a Book by Its Cover, But You Can Sure Sell It That Way

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I read a fascinating post on the Jezebel website by Kelly Faircloth  in which she recounted the history–or, per the title of her post, the “steaming, throbbing history”–of the covers of romance novels, from the sweet innocent covers of the 1950s to the soft-porn bodice-rippers of later decades, many of which featured the male model Fabio, such as the cover shown on the right for Johanna Lindsay’s Gentle Rogue. Some of those later covers edged even closer to hard-core porn, including the one at the top of this post for Tender is the Storm, which, as Ms. Faircloth writes, “features a frankly shocking amount of naked, manly haunch and appears to depict a man outright thrusting his penis between a woman’s abundant breasts.”

And thus while many of us invoke that old platitude that you can’t tell a book by its cover, those in the marketing departments of the major publishers roll their eyes and chuckle at our naiveté. And those marketing department chucklers, along with their insights, far predate the romance novel era of the final decades of the 20th century. Many of the most strikingly original covers date back to novels published before World War II–novels that can be found today not in the Romance section of your local bookstore but in the snootier Literature section.

For example, one of my favorite covers is, not coincidentally, the cover of one of my favorite novels, The Great Gatsby, which was published more than a half-century before Fabio and his ilk starting ripping bodices off of pretty young women.

Or let us go back a full century before Gentle Rogue to the top contender for the title of the Great American Novel, the first edition of which had a cover that was not too shabby.

To browse through a striking collection of book covers from that earlier era, check out “The Art of Book Covers (1820-1914) at the Public Domain Review, which includes these beauties:

 

And while design fashions change over time, a simple image is often the most powerful one to reel in your potential reader, as the covers of these two two mega-bestseller show:

 

My own novels have had a wide variety of covers, but the most interesting contrast is between the original hardback version of my first novel, published under the title The Canaan Legacy, and the paperback edition published under the title Grave Designs. (The change in title is a subject for another post.) At the heart of the novel is a mystery over the contents of a grave at a pet cemetery–and thus each of the designers chose to depict that mystery on the cover in their own way, as shown below:

So what’s my favorite cover? I confess my aesthetics may have been influenced by reading aloud a particular story dozens and dozens of times to each of my five children and now to several of my grandchildren. It also happens to be the cover of one of my favorite books as well. And for those of you with children or who have fond memories of your own childhood, you may have already guessed the title and the cover. If not, here it is:

Now We Can All Take That Road Not Taken! The Copyright Freeze Has Melted

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Once again my dual lives as a lawyer by day and an author at night have intersected in what is unquestionably a happy new year for all of us–including even Mickey Mouse. Two decades ago the Congress passed an amendment to the Copyright Act that added an additional twenty years to lives of the copyrights in all original works created on and after 1923. Had Congress not acted, hundreds of original works–books, songs, plays, photographs, paintings, poems, and the like–would have fallen into the public domain on January 1, 1999.

And once a work falls into the public domain, it is free for you to use anyway you want. You can make copies (and even sell copies), create derivative works (such as a movie from the novel), market t-shirts with your favorite lines from a poem, or otherwise exploit a work that, if still under copyright, would constitute infringement and expose you to the risk of a lawsuit and financial loss. For example, William Shakespeare’s plays and Jane Austen’s novels and Mark Twain’s novels are all in the public domain. And that means that you don’t need to pay anyone for the right to stage “Hamlet” (or make a movie version) or to download a free copy of Huckleberry Finn or to add zombies to your sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

The copyright laws, which date back to the enactment of the U.S. Constitution, are premised on the belief that you will enrich the culture if you give creators a financial incentive, and that incentive would be a monopoly over all rights in their creations for a limited time. Back then, that limited time was 28 years after creation. By 1978, that “limited time” had grown to the life of the author plus 50 years or 75 years total for a work of corporate authorship (such as a motion picture). And then, in 1998, pursuant to “The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” (also derisively labeled “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by critics who viewed the extension as a money-grubbing attempt by The Walt Disney Company to maintain their monopoly over Mickey Mouse), Congress added another 20-year term to all works made during or after 1923. In other words, copyrighted works created in 1923, which would have fallen into the public domain on January 1, 1999, would now remain under copyright until January 1, 2019.

But now the freeze has ended. If you’d like to see the lists of creative works that fell into the public domain shortly after we all uncorked champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve, you can go here or here. And if you’d like to read my legal blog post on the topic, you can go here.

As for the title of this post, many (or perhaps all) of you recognize that line from one of Robert Frost’s most powerful poems. That particular poem had actually fallen into the public domain seven years before the 1998 extension. But another powerful–indeed, magical–Frost poem is among the hundred of works that fell into the public domain, free to all, on January 1, 2019. If you’d like to put that poem on t-shirts or greeting cards or use it as lyrics for a song, go for it. And, if like me, you love that poem so much that you want to end your blog post with it, have at it! Enjoy:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Beers, Brands, Books, and Brawls

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My bio describes me as a lawyer by day and an author at night–and I generally try to keep those two identities separate. But a recent trademark brawl over the word SCHLAFLY–a name associated with both the late conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly and her nephew Tom’s brewery–inspired me to write a post on that lawsuit for my law firm’s blog, and in the process got me to mull over the many examples of men and women who turned their last names into trademarks associated with the companies they founded.

The Simon and Schuster of Simon & Schuster

In particular, I thought about the publishing world, and quickly realized that the names of the big publishing houses are so established that it’s easy to forget that those names were, once upon a time, the names of the founders. Just as, say, many of us may not realize that Goodyear Tire’s founder was Charles Goodyear and Bird’s Eye Frozen Foods owes its name to Charles Birdseye, I didn’t realize that Doubleday, the publisher of my novel The Mourning Sexton (under the pen name Michael Baron), was founded by Frank Nelson Doubleday, whose image is displayed at the top of this post.

Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster combined their efforts to create Simon & Schuster. James and John Harper and William Collins created HarperCollins. Louis Hachette founded Hachette. MacMillan got its name from its founders, Alexander and Daniel.

So if you’re thinking about naming a company after yourself or you’re just curious to learn more about the family brawl over the name SCHLAFLY, you can find my blog post here. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud’s famous (and perhaps defensive) remark about cigars, sometimes a beer is just a beer. But sometimes that beer can trigger a brawl that may yet end up in the United States Supreme Court.

 

Guess What? Now There’s an Awesome Map for Your Favorite Road Trip Novel

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As I have mentioned more than once on this blog, among my favorite opening lines in all of literature is Hunter Thompson’s in his bizarre road trip tale, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (You can read that amazing sentence at the end of my post entitled “The Magical Lure of the Intimate Voice.”)

Thompson’s vivid account of a drug-infused weekend road trip has earned its place in American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken. The only trip that comes close in weirdness is “Kubla Khan,” the opium-induced road-trip-to-Xanadu poem by Samuel Coleridge. But that was a trip to a fantasy world while Thompson’s was a trip to, well, the semi-fantasy world of Las Vegas

Fans of road trip novels–and there a many of you out there–can debate for hours which one deserves the crown as the Great American Road Trip novel. And while you could try to include sub-genres, such as “road trips” on water (Huckleberry Finn) and “road trips” on hiking trails (Bill Bryce’s A Walk in the Woods), there is something uniquely American about the great road trip story.

My short list of nominees, in addition to Fear and Loathing, would include Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Thus imagine my delight when I discovered another American road trip fan out there whose tastes not only matched my own but who has created a beautiful and captivating set of “travel guide” maps for the routes of some of the the most famous road trips in American literature, including the Fear and Loathing map displayed at the top of this post.

The concept for these enchanting maps can be traced back to Keilah Keiser. By day, Keilah is a Content Marketing Specialist based in San Diego. In her free time, she focuses on curating travel content. As she told me:

“Growing up as a bookworm I’ve always had a passion for literature. Pair that with my love for travel and the open road, and it made sense to create a guide to literary road trips across the country.”

Keilah worked on this concept with CarRentals, who mapped out their guide to literary road trips across America so that the rest of us could set off on an adventure of our own that follows a narrative arc.

“Pick from six legendary routes,” Keilah explained. “You can recreate that author’s experience and, along the way, write your own story”

So if you share my love of American road trip novels, get ready to experience a true delight and then click here. Have fun!! And thanks for sharing, Keilah.

Opening Passages to Greatness

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The other day I stumbled upon The Heart, a wonderful series in the online version of The Atlantic in which authors discuss their favorite passages in literature. Browsing through the collection, I came upon John Rechy’s discussion of his favorite, which is the opening sentence of William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” which also happens to be on my list of greatest short stories, although I confess I had never before focused on that opening sentence, which is as follow:

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combination gardener and cook—had seen in at least ten years.

William Faulkner

Read it again, and you will start to see how much is going in that sentence, from the formal reference to “Miss Emily Grierson” (thus an unmarried woman) to the fact that no one but an elderly man-servant had seen the inside of her house for at least a decade (thus she died a recluse). As Rechy states:

Everyone goes to Miss Emily’s funeral, a ritual not to be missed. Clearly, this lady who died unmarried was of importance to everyone. And yet the town itself is eventually divided, and we see that division here in the first line. The men attend her funeral “through a sort of respectful attention for a fallen monument,” but that “sort of” tells us it’s qualified admiration. And there’s the subtle, metaphoric symbolism of “a fallen monument,” which is thematic—the fall of the South after the Civil War— which Faulkner often lamented, at times too much.

By contrast, the women go there to see what is inside that mysterious house.

And all gleaned from that first sentence, which ends with a hint of suspense. What might be hidden in that house? As with any great opener, I was intrigued–so intrigued, in fact, that I had to re-read that short story, which was even better than I remembered.

Which got me thinking about the opening passages in other great short stories. So I browsed through some of my favorite stories and found several intriguing and well-crafted openers–sometimes just a sentence, other times more than one. I will confess that I also discovered that some of my favorite short stories–including ones by Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, and James Joyce–do not start with a bang, although most do end with one.

Set forth below are examples of great opening passages from some of my favorite short stories. Enjoy!

  1. “The Swimmer” by John Cheever. “It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, ‘I drank too much last night.’ You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible hangover.
  2. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry: “One dollar and eighty–seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty–seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.”
  3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe: “TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”
  4. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce: “A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees.”
    Ernest Hemingway
  5. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway: “‘The marvelous thing is that it’s painless,’ he said. ‘That’s how you know when it starts.’”
  6. “Barnaby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville: “I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written:—I mean the law-copyists or scriveners. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener of the strangest I ever saw or heard of.”

Make America Naughty Again

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As many of my readers know, I haven’t been able to quit my day job. Fortunately, the focus of my day job is intellectual property law–a legal realm sprinkled with just enough quirky issues to keep my day job fun.

One such example is the subject of my latest post on my law firm’s blog, entitled “Make America Naughty Again: The Risk of Risque Trademarks.” Back when I took a class in trademark law at Harvard, I never dreamed that the question of whether you could register an X-rated trademark would be the subject of important federal court cases. But now it has–and resulted in important rulings by the United States Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Or, as we might now say, Shit Happens®.

Here is a link to that post. Hope you enjoy it.

FYI: The image at the top of this post is just one of more than 100 pending “shit” trademark registration applications. A similar number of applications have been filed to register trademarks containing a word that rhymes with “truck.”

Cain is able, better than most, and far darker: An Appreciation

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At least thirty years had passed since I first read The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain. I confess that during those intervening decades my memory of the short novel had faded into a vague recollection of a dark somewhat sexy crime story involving low-life hustlers that took place somewhere in California.

Oh, occasionally I would come across the title in articles and blog posts on great opening lines in American literature, where Cain’s opener–“They threw me off the hay truck around noon”–often made the list. But that was about it for me.

Until last week. While listening to an interview of mystery novelist Laura Lippman discussing her new novel, Sunburn, a book she acknowledged was inspired in part by Cain’s Postman, she spoke of her strong admiration for Cain and mentioned that she teaches his novel to her students in a writing course.

Great timing, since I happened to be looking for a good audio book for my commute to and from the office. A quick search turned up a version from Audible narrated by Stanley Tucci. James Cain and Stanley Tucci? That sounded like the perfect combo for a terrific listening experience–and its was, clocking in at just under 3 hours from start to finish.

Laura Lippman was right. The Postman Always Rings Twice is a gem of American literature. While we typically associate the American Noir genre with murder mysteries, such as those by Dashiell Hammett, there is no mystery here, although there is plenty of suspense in those 116 pages.  The book tells the story of a Frank, a drifter who takes a job at a diner and falls for the greasy owner’s seductive wife, Cora, who convinces Frank that getting rid of her husband is the only route to freedom and a better life. We readers follow the two protagonists through every stage of what they believe is their plan to commit the perfect murder. It fails the first time, appears to succeed the second time, but appearances can be deceiving.

As with so many great works of literature, the experience is so vivid and captivating that it’s hard to believe that the novel is more than eighty years old. From the crime to the sex, nothing feels outmoded or subdued. Here, for example, is Frank checking out Cora for the first time: “Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.” And he does indeed when she demands that he bite her and rip off her clothing.

So if you’re looking for a terrific short read–or short book on tape–I strongly recommend The Postman Always Rights Twice. And while there has been much rumination over the meaning of that title–especially since no postman makes an appearance in the novel–I’m fairly confident you will grasp its significance by the time you finish the book.

Enjoy!

 

 

The Magical Lure of the Intimate Voice

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I have written here and elsewhere of the power of a great opening line. If you can imagine a bookstore as a crowded singles bar with each book hoping to get lucky, that first sentence essentially functions as the author’s pick-up line. Sure, a sexy book jacket helps, since it will increase your chances of getting pulled off the shelf. But as the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover. And thus when that curious reader opens to page 1, your odds greatly improve if you can start with something original and enticing.

Leo Tolstoy did it with Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And Jane Austen most certainly did it with Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” They are hardly alone. The Internet is filled with lists of great opening lines, such as this Top 100 from the American Book Review and this Top 30 from The Telegraph.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about an even more powerful seduction tool: the opening paragraph. Many of the great opening lines, including the two quoted above and, of course, “Call me Ishmael,” stand alone. Literally. They are one-sentence paragraphs. Yes, they catch your attention–much like that snappy pick-up line in the singles bar. But then, well, you need to start all over again.

The real magic takes place in a great opening paragraph. A real paragraph. Not just a one-liner. And what makes an opening paragraph great? The magical lure of the narrator’s voice. Take, for example, the greatest opening paragraph in American literature:

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Or this droll opening paragraph of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Two very different opening paragraphs, two very different novels, but both sharing something vital: a distinct and intriguing narrator voice. And while Huck Finn and Philip Marlowe share little else in common, those two opening paragraphs have drawn millions of readers into their stories.

In mulling over great opening paragraphs, I came to another realization: almost all are written in the first person. That’s Huck’s voice we hear. And Philip Marlowe’s voice. Those opening paragraphs achieve a special intimacy between the reader and the narrator. The same is true for so many other great opening paragraphs–from Pip (in Great Expectations ) and David Copperfield to Holden Caulfield and Augie March and so on and so on.  Pick your favorite opening paragraph and odds are its narrated in the first person, and often by the protagonist. (We can let the critics debate whether Nick Carraway is the real protagonist in The Great Gatsby.)

I confess that I, too, have succumbed to the lure of the opening paragraph. One example comes from my novel Firm Ambitions:

Despite the allegations in the petition, fellatio is no longer included in Missouri’s list of infamous crimes against nature. It remains, however, “deviate sexual intercourse,” which the criminal code defines as “any sexual act involving the genitals of one person and the mouth or tongue of another.” The code calls it a class A misdemeanor. Vicki McDonald calls it a Big Mac with Special Sauce.

And finally, no serious discussion of great opening paragraphs can ignore the Grandmaster of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter Thompson, who opened Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with the greatest first paragraph since Huckleberry Finn and thus provides us with a perfect closing paragraph here. As with Mark Twain’s opener, it’s hard to imagine any reader coming to the end of Thompson’s first paragraph and not continuing on to the second. Enjoy!

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. . . .” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus, what are these goddam animals?”

 

I’m Sorry, Anna.

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Mark Twain

For more years than I’d care to admit, my take on Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina was perfectly summed up by fellow Missourian Mark Twain, who famously defined a “classic” as  a novel “that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

But then a few months ago, while browsing my bookshelves in search of something to read, I once again paused at the spine of my unopened copy of Anna Karenina, this version the award-winning translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that I had purchased on a whim more than a decade ago. Having recently read two of Tolstoy’s most powerful (and depressing) short stories, The Death of Ivan Ilych and Hadji Murad, I decided it was time to give Anna her due. After all, I told myself, a novel that starts with one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature must be okay.

And so I removed that 817-page small-type tome from the bookshelf, lugged it into the bedroom, and heaved onto the nightstand. There it would remain for just over two months, lifted most nights for about a half-hour-or-so of reading. Like a determined marathoner, I stuck with the novel all the way to that final monologue of Kostya Levin as he walks down the hallway to check on his brother.

The verdict?

I will say this for Tolstoy. The novel lives up to the intriguing promise of its opening line, which reads: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy gives us several unhappy families: the Karenins, the Vronskys, the Levins, and the Oblonskys, and each one is unhappy in its own way. Moreover, Tolstoy brings many of those family members to life in a remarkably vivid manner. You recognize each one from almost their first appearance, and you come to know them as you read on, and even now, months later, I can visualize most of them. And just as remarkable, many of those characters are ones you would not want to spend any time with. Indeed, some are downright creepy. But alive on the page and in your mind.

But . . . I confess I finished the novel somewhat confused by its title. Yes, Anna Karenina is an important character in the novel, and her illicit (but understandable) love affair with Count Alexi Vronsky drives one of the plot lines that eventually leads to her suicide, but her story does not, at least for me, dominate the novel in the way one might expect of a title character. Think of the roles of the title characters in some of our great works of literature:

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Emma
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • David Copperfield
  • The Adventures of Augie March
  • Macbeth, King Lear, and the other Shakespeare tragedies
  • and so on and so on.

In other words, the names in those titles are the dominant characters in the stories. Yes, Ophelia is an important character in Hamlet, and her death is every bit as disturbing in that play as Anna’s death is in the Tolstoy novel, but Shakespeare named that play after the main character, and not Ophelia.   If we applied that rule to Tolstoy’s novel, the title would be Kostantin Levin, the exasperatingly conflicted but lovable  hero of the novel, and a character that  many critics view as Tolstoy’s autobiographical doppelganger.

Leo Tolstoy

As you have surmised by now, I like Anna Karenina but I didn’t love it. I found the characters far more compelling than the predicaments in which they found themselves. Shame on me.

And, perhaps even more shameful, my favorite character was neither Anna nor Levin, even those two were clearly the most genuine and deeply imagined characters in the novel. No, my favorite character–the one whose appearance always made me smile–was Anna’s brother Stepan Oblonsky, a/k/a Stiva. He is the impish, fun-loving, superficial socialite with a naughty roving eye.

Stiva’s mischief opens the novel. That famous first line sets the stage for the next paragraph, which begins:

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it.

And then we meet Stiva:

Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky–Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world– woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o’clock in the morning, not in his wife’s bedroom, but on the leather-covered sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and buried his face in it; but all at once he jumped up, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.

“Yes, yes, how was it now?” he thought, going over his dream.

And from that point forward, it will be Stiva who will brighten the scenery and rescue the reader at some of the darkest moments in the novel.

Finally, I should note that my lukewarm endorsement of Anna Karenina is not the unanimous view of the Kahn family. My wife Margi LOVED the novel and places it near the top of her list of great books. So don’t automatically follow Mark Twain’s advice. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. And let me know what you think.

What’s Your Dream Reading Spot?

On a lounge chair near a waterfall? How about a desert isle beneath the shade of a palm tree? Or maybe on a raft floating down a lazy river? Is there a margarita on a little side table? Or perhaps a Corona with a lime wedge?

I received delightful email from a self-described book lover who prefers to remain anonymous. She described her dream reading spot: “A window ledge with over-sized pillows and cozy blankets, complete with storage underneath to hold all of my favorite novels.” And then she asked me to share my dream reading spot in this post. That got me thinking.

My two current reading spots are satisfactory but hardly dreamy: one is a red leather chair in our den facing overstuffed library shelves and the other is the bed next to a nightstand with a precarious stack of books.

Functional? Check.

Convenient? Check.

Dreamy? Nope.

And thus when my reader posed her question, I set down my copy of Anna Karenina–with, I confess, a sigh of relief, recalling Mark Twain’s definition of a “classic” as “a book people praise but don’t read”–and tried to a imagine a reading spot so perfect that even the entire oeuvre of Leo Tolstoy would be welcome. I quickly came up with the three basic requirements. My dream spot would need to be:

  1. Outside my house;
  2. In a natural surrounding (e.g., trees, flowers, birds);
  3. Near water.

Now I confess that “outside my house” may require me to move, since there is no water besides our plumbing, and my current natural surroundings are limited to our backyard. But the question asked for my dream reading spot, right? As such, the sky is, quite literally, the limit–although neither a blimp nor a drone made my short list.

The easy pick, with minimal decorating demands, would be a hammock between two palm trees on a beach near an ocean. But I confess that a hammock on a Mediterranean beach is a LONG WAY to travel to spend a few hours reading a book. So, at least until we put our house on the market, I decided trade my hammock on the beach in Mallorca for a gazebo near a bubbling brook in Missouri.

But unlike that hammock, which merely requires two existing palm trees, a gazebo requires not just a gazebo but the furnishings inside that structure. Although I will never be a featured designer on Bravo TV’s Million Dollar Decorators, I do have access to Google.

First step: pick out my gazebo. I did some searching and found this one offered by Amish Country Gazebos.

 

Not bad, eh? I’ll order one with screens, since this is, after all, Missouri, and during the summer months our fine state feels like Mosquito Central.

Okay, got the gazebo. But then I had to furnish it. I did some more searching–Macy’s, Amazon, REI–although I soon landed on the Arhaus website, where I discovered that Arhaus features full sets of outdoor furniture (as opposed to me having to methodically select each chair, table, lamp, etc.)

So I studied each of the many Arhaus outdoor furniture collections and narrowed the choices down to the two below:

Emory Collection (Arhaus)
Emory Collection (Arhaus)

 

(If, instead, you prefer your dream reading spot to be indoors , that same Arhaus website is not a bad place to start. Check out these collections.)

Unable to pick one over the other, I am fortunate that the other major reader in our house–and the one with far better taste than me–is my wife Margi. I called her over, explained (or tried to justify) my selection of a gazebo in Missouri over a hammock between two palm trees and asked her advice on the furniture. Without hesitation, she opted for the Emory Collection.

So there you have it: my dream reading spot. Oh, yes, and I’ll have a chilled Corona with a wedge of lime.

And, when you have your dream reading spot ready to go and need a book to read, may I suggest this one.

So what’s your dream reading spot?