Fat Books for Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras fat books

While most are reveling in food, drink, and bad habits on this Fat Tuesday, we’re celebrating fat books. These 500-plus-pagers are an indulgence you can feel good about, even if they take you all 40 days of Lent to finish. From Tolstoy to Tartt, Rowling to Delillo, these wordy authors aren’t afraid to spend 1,000 pages or more to spin their yarns. And we shouldn’t be afraid to pick them up as a result. Happy Mardi Gras—and laissez les bons livres roulez!

Tell The Snail—what’s your favorite fat book?

Reading Red


The Snail is seeing red today in honor of National Wear Red Day and the American Heart Association. Women all over the country are wearing red on this special Friday as part of the fight against heart disease, which claims more women’s lives than anything else. So let’s sport some red, too, if not in our wardrobe then in our reading choices. Above is a stack of some powerful female-authored red selections from my library. But the bookstores have plenty of new red titles gracing their shelves. Here are a few new releases with a whole lot of heart between their crimson covers.


13579626Rooms, by Lauren Oliver
According to the blurb: The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Deliriumtrilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.”




How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You,  by The Oatmeal
According to the blurb: If your cat is kneading you, that’s not a sign of affection. Your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weakness. If your cat brings you a dead animal, this isn’t a gift. It’s a warning. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You is an offering of cat comics, facts, and instructional guides from the creative wonderland at The Oatmeal.com.”







A Map of Betrayal, by Ha Jin
According to the blurb: “A riveting tale of espionage and conflicted loyalties that spans half a century in the entwined histories of two countries—China and the United States—and two families. When Lilian Shang, born and raised in America, discovers her father’s diary after the death of her parents, she is shocked by the secrets it contains. She knew that her father, Gary, convicted decades ago of being a mole in the CIA, was the most important Chinese spy ever caught. But his diary, an astonishing chronicle of his journey as a Communist intelligence agent, reveals the pain and longing that his double life entailed—and point to a hidden second family that he’d left behind in China.”


Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
According to the blurb:18077903 “For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.”






The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
According to the blurb: “New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.”



A Hot Handwriting Scene in Jane Austen

love letter with a rose and penA strong pen, even strokes, letters of an impressive length . . . Jane Austen turns up the heat today, on the occasion of National Handwriting Day, with a surprisingly sexy scene about penmanship from Pride and Prejudice. Focusing on courtship in a world ruled by manners, Austen couldn’t touch the subject of sex. Yet she managed to offer an occasional erotic moment, even if couched in a seemingly innocent conversation about, yes, handwriting.

The romance is all one-sided in this P&P excerpt, which has the characters whiling away an afternoon in the drawing room of the Bingleys’ manor house. Mr. Darcy settles in to write a letter to his sister, but he can’t escape the attention of his ardent admirer, Miss Bingley. Though her advances are mostly met with silence, she praises the length of Mr. Darcy’s letter, the speed of his hand, and the evenness of his strokes. She also volunteers to adjust his pen, an offer he quickly refuses, saying he can fix it himself. (Hmmm . . .)

Ultimately, flattery gets Miss Bingley nowhere—in this scene and in the course of the novel. Elizabeth Bennet, who keeps her eyes on her needlework throughout most of the exchange, is the one he ends up asking to dance that day, and the one he asks to marry at the end of the novel.

In a side note, how much should we read into the admission Miss Bingley’s brother makes about his own handwriting? Charles Bingley, Darcy’s likable friend and romantic foil, says his own writing suffers from the problem of premature expression.

The day passed much as the day before had done. . . . Mr. Darcy was writing, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter, and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister. . . . Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his handwriting, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue. . . .

“How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!”

He made no answer.

“You write uncommonly fast.”

“You are mistaken. I write rather slowly.”1891

“How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of a year! Letters of business, too! How odious I should think them!”

“It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours.”

“Pray tell your sister that I long to see her.”

“I have already told her so once, by your desire.”

“I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well.”

“Thank you—but I always mend my own.”

“How can you contrive to write so even?”

He was silent. . . .

“But do you always write such charming long letters to her, Mr. Darcy?”

“They are generally long; but whether always charming, it is not for me to determine.”

“It is a rule with me, that a person who can write a long letter with ease cannot write ill.”

“That will not do for a compliment to Darcy, Caroline,” cried her brother, “because he does not write with ease. He studies too much for words of four syllables. Do not you, Darcy?”

“My style of writing is very different from yours.”

“Oh,” cried Miss Bingley, “Charles writes in the most careless way imaginable. He leaves out half his words, and blots the rest.”

“My ideas flow so rapidly that I have not time to express them; by which means my letters sometimes convey no ideas at all to my correspondents.”

. . . .

[Elizabeth said,] “Mr. Darcy had much better finish his letter.”

Mr. Darcy took her advice, and did finish his letter.

Day 25

Today marks the official end of The Snail’s “25 Days of Great Reads.” I hope you’ve enjoyed this seasonal series as much as I have. While making my book list and checking it twice, I thought I’d be able to put to bed a bunch of my favorites from the past year. And I did. But, in the process, I also kept discovering more and more great books that deserve our attention.

So, I offer you a final gift: seven more titles to carry you through the end of 2014. These are all books I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading. Based on glowing reviews across the Web, I’ve added them to my own to-read stack and thought you might want to, too. If you’ve read any of these, please share your opinions in the comments below. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for following The Snail in 2014. I hope you’ll pick up the trail next year. Until then, happy reading!

25 Days Read 25

25 Days Read 26

25 Days Read 27

25 Days Read 28

25 Days Read 29

25 Reads Day 30

25 Days Read 31

Day 24

25 Days Read 24

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

I apologize in advance if you’re expecting a story with good news today. On this 24th day of our “25 Days of Great Reads,” I bring you tidings not of great joy, but rather a civilization in collapse. But, somehow, in this dazzling new novel, Emily St. John Mandel proves it possible to depict doomsday in beautiful style. Station Eleven is gripping, heartbreaking, and mesmerizing all at the same time. If you’ve started your list of New Year’s resolutions, put this read at the top of your list.

The novel opens with the sudden death of an actor playing the part of King Lear, and then a snowstorm that threatens to shut down the city of Toronto. But those are minor incidents compared to what is about to happen to the world at large:

In the lobby, the people gathered at the bar clinked their glasses together. “To Arthur,” they said. They drank for a few more minutes and then went their separate ways in the storm. Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

While this unsuspecting group toasts the passing of a famous actor, a flu pandemic is breaking out that will lead to the collapse of the entire civilization. Pretty soon, the world as we know it is gone:

No more cities. . . . No more pharmaceuticals. . . . No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on the finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite. . . . No more countries, all borders unmanned. . . .  No more fire departments, no more police. . . . No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween.

But Station Eleven is about so much more than surviving in a post-apocalyptic environment. Mandel presents the possibility of love, friendship, beauty, and art as she tells the story of a traveling band of Shakespearean actors and musicians roaming the strange new territories in the Great Lakes region. The plot takes us both backward and forward in time, as we get to know characters before “the collapse” and then see them 20 years on, making it in a brave new world.

Named one of 2015’s best by the Goodreads Choice Awards, by the National Book Award committee, by Amazon, by HuffPost Books, by NPR, by the Washington Post—and the list goes on—this is one of those novels not to be missed. It’s the kind you’ll still be thinking about—maybe even dreaming about—long after you turn its final page.