1. A Thousand Acres
    by Jane Smiley

    Modern version of King Lear when a father decides to divide his farm among three daughters.  Opening paragraph:  At sixty miles per hour, you could pass our farm in a minute, on County Road 686, which ran due north into the T intersection at Cabot Street Road. Cabot Street Road was really just another country blacktop, except that five miles west it ran into and out of the town of Cabot. On the western edge of Cabot, it became Zebulon

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  2. The “Glow of Warmth” From Twice-Told Tales
    October 2018

    Why are novels that recast plots from well-known classics—from mythology to Shakespeare to famous Victorian novels—so popular? Perhaps because of what social psychologists call the “mere-exposure effect” or the “familiarity principle.” Studies have shown that people feel the”glow of warmth” in the presence of something that is familiar. Here are six novels for which I felt that “glow of warmth”—not only because they were familiar plots—but because they were excellent books on their own! My favorite in this genre is Kamila

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  3. Who Shall Inherit?
    March 2018

    From Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet to the Victorian Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations to today’s wildly popular Inheritance Cycle, inheritance has always been a popular theme in literature. No wonder. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by identity and control; wealth and power; the Victorian “marriage market”; disinheritance and usurpation; parental love and approval—and plain old luck? Here are some wonderful novels dealing with this theme. Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Perhaps the most famous inheritance novel, Bleak House features

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  4. One-Hit Wonders
    May 2017

    I fondly remember a section in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame devoted to “One-Hit Wonders”: explosively popular hit songs performed by artists who are never to be heard of again—such as “My Sharona,” “Spirit in the Sky,” “Macarena,” “Gangnam Style,” and “Call Me Maybe.” Perhaps even better examples come from classical music. Pachelbel’s “Canon” and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio,” like the books listed below, are wonderful pieces, but most of us couldn’t name anything else either composer has written.

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