Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler are a duo of books intended to have become a trilogy, though the third never came to be. Now that we inhabit the time in which the novels actually take place, they’re more eerily prescient than ever.
When Parable of Sower (1993) begins, Lauren Olamina is a young Black woman just emerging from her teens, navigating the apocalyptic world of Los Angeles in the 2020s. A fight — and flight — for survival leads to her create a new faith called Earthseed, in hopes of repairing the world.
We find Lauren once again at the center of Parable of the Talents, now a young mother and still fighting to salvage humanity with Earthseed, the new faith she founded. Now she’s battling violent bigots and religious fanatics.
It’s possible that Octavia E. Butler’s speculative, dystopian, and science fiction novels and short stories have been over-described as “prescient.” But there’s hardly a better word for many of her major works, and in tandem with her keen observance of human nature, they’ve transcended genre to become classic literature.
In her New York Times obituary, Butler was described as “an internationally acclaimed science fiction writer whose evocative, often troubling novels explore far-reaching issues of race, sex, power, and ultimately, what it meant to be human.” Read More→
The Reef by Edith Wharton, published in 1912, came more or less in the middle of her novel-writing career. It came after the triumph of The House of Mirth and before her Pulitzer Prize-winning turn with The Age of Innocence.
The author herself wasn’t pleased with this book, writing her regrets over it to a friend not long after its publication, describing it as a “poor miserable lifeless lump,” and vowed that next time she was “going to do something worthwhile!”
Some critics tended to agree with Wharton’s self-assessment. The New York Sun’s review called The Reef “a bitter, disheartening, sordid story and we could wish that Mrs. Wharton would look on brighter and nobler aspects of life.”
The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019) is an ingenious, lavishly illustrated excursion through the printed history of Jane Austen’s books. Barchas contends that the cheap, sometimes shoddily produced printings of Austen’s novels helped keep her work affordable and in the public eye.
From the publisher: In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen’s novels targeted to Britain’s working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes.
At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen’s beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen’s early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people. Read More→