Archive for December, 2012

Building Democracy in Japan: An Insight

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

Guest Author: Mary Alice Haddad

What is going on in Japan?  The staid, stagnant nature of postwar Japan politics seems to have been upended.  Contemporary Japanese society and politics have seen dramatic transformations in the last few decades, upsetting many of our understandings and stereotypes about the country. Building Democracy in Japan examines contemporary Japan as part of a continuing story of democratization and change.

Building Democracy in Japan uses the Japanese experience to ask broad questions about democracy and the democratization process: How is democracy made real?  How does an undemocratic country create new institutions and transform its polity such that democratic values and practices become integral parts of its political culture? Through investigating the answer to these questions, the book tells the bottom-up story of Japan’s democratization process.

The fundamental argument of Building Democracy in Japan is that democratization is a long process that involves the mutual adjustment of imported liberal democratic values, institutions, and practices with the political values, institutions, and practices that are present in the country prior to the onset of the democratization process.  Furthermore, it argues that Japan reached a generational “tipping point” in the 1990s when the generations of Japanese who were educated in a democratic Japan reached a majority of the voting population and took over many key leadership positions in government, business, and civil society.  This new generation of democratically educated Japanese had different ideas about the appropriate role of government, citizens, and business in society and began to make profound institutional and cultural changes to Japanese political culture.

The book is organized into sections that focus on the struggles with democratization in the government, civil society, and in individual lives.  The sections about the government examine the ways that government has become more transparent and accountable, even as the reach of its power has expanded.  One of the civil society chapters looks at “traditional” civic organizations that existed prior to the war and have persisted and evolved in the postwar period, changing from undemocratic organizations structured to support a fascist military regime to democratic groups that help citizens get what they need from their government.  The other civil society chapter examines “new” groups that formed after the war, groups that were founded on liberal democratic principals and have found ways to meld those ideals with important tenants of Japan’s traditional political culture.  The chapter examining individual Japanese responses to the democratization process focuses specifically on women, finding that democracy has had a paradoxical effect on women’s power, expanding their power over their individual lives, but reducing their collective power to influence society.

These broad arguments about the long social and political processes that lead to dramatic political, social, and economic changes is told largely through stories of real people on the ground.  The most fun and exciting aspects of the book can be found in the nuanced and often hilarious stories of communities, organizations, and individual Japanese as they struggle with transforming their political culture.

The book contains stories of how a neighborhood association chief stands up to his city government, shifting the power dynamics in his town from one where the city identifies the problem and tells the neighborhood association what to do to one where the neighborhood association identifies the problem and then tells the city government what to do.  It tells the story of how the Association of New Elder Citizens’ finds ways not only to improve the health and welfare of its senior citizen members but also to reach out to children and help them learn to become good democratic citizens that contribute to a more peaceful world.  It recounts the story of a young mother who decides to marry a foreigner and then quit her job rather than face the stress of combining motherhood with career, demonstrating her both her increased individual power to make decisions about her own life but perhaps a reduced collective power to influence politics.

It is through these stories that we can understand how citizens make (and remake) democracy around the globe.  Readers will finish the book with a much richer and more personal understanding of contemporary Japanese political culture. The author hopes that learning more about Japan’s democratization process will also cause readers to reflect on the politics in their own countries and how they may be contributing to democracy at home.

Mary Alice Haddad is an Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University. Her scholarship studies comparative politics, with a focus on civil society, and a regional specialization in East Asia. She is the author of Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2007), Building Democracy in Japan (Cambridge,  2012), numerous articles and book chapters, and has delivered more than 25 invited talks and conference presentations. She has received numerous awards and fellowships from organizations such as the Japan Foundation, the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, the East Asian Institute, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Know the TIME Person of the Year 2012, Barack Obama

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

On December 19, the TIME magazine has declared its Person of the Year for 2012, and it’s once again our one of the most-celebrated President Barack Obama who has captured the cover page of the magazine. He made it once before in 2008.

TIME’s managing editor Richard Stengel explained in his note this year, “For finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union, Barack Obama is TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year”.

Our hearty congratulations to President Obama, who was on the card with 8 other frontrunners for the honor — Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her crusade for better girls’ education; Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi; both Bill and Hillary Clinton for their global humanitarian and political activism; Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!; Apple CEO, Tim Cook, and the Higgs Boson, the particle of the year, along with the three scientists who discovered it.

If you want to learn more about President Obama and his ideas, you may start with the following books:

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama – A story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother.

Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise - This book outlines the President Obama’s vision for America.

The Obamas by Jodi Kantor - Takes us deep inside the White House as the President Obama and his wife Michelle try to grapple with their new roles, change the country, raise children, maintain friendships, and figure out what it means to be the first black President and First Lady.

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama - It is Barack Obama’s call for a new kind of politics — a politics that builds upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans.

Obama’s Wars by Bob WoodwardProviding the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama - A tender, beautiful letter to his daughters by President Barack Obama, offering a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation –from the artistry of Georgia O’Keeffe, to the courage of Jackie Robinson, to the patriotism of George Washington.


Top 10 Novellas: From Classic to Modern Literature

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

‘Too short to be novels, too long to be short stories’ –this is what a novella is. Though the length that defines a novella is arbitrary, it can be between 17,500 and 40,000 words or less than 300 pages. Brevity is the soul of a novella. Some very important, rich literature has come in novella form, and among the best-known novellas, the following titles are the top 10 works of literature:

A Christmas Carol by  Charles DickensA celebration of Christmas, a tale of redemption and a critique on Victorian society, Dickens’ atmospheric novella follows the miserly, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge who Views Christmas as ‘humbug’. It is only through a series of eerie, life-changing visits from the ghost of his deceased Business partner Marley and the Spirits of Christmas past, present and future that he begins to see the error of his ways.

The Time Machine by  H.G. WellsPublished in 1895, this science fiction novella is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively. The novel is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction and the progenitor of the “time travel” subgenre. Wells advanced his social and political ideas in this narrative of a nameless Time Traveller who is hurtled into the year 802,701 by his elaborate ivory, crystal, and brass contraption.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck The tragic story of the complex bond between two migrant laborers in Central California. They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. But, their dreams of owing a farm goes terrible wrong. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength.

Animal Farm by George Orwell - This is an allegorical novella that, according to author, reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union.

When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr. Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless elite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another. Orwell’s chilling ‘fairy story’ is a timeless and devastating satire of idealism betrayed by power and corruption.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – Originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation, and rebellion. The majority of the novel takes place over two days in December 1949. 17-years-old Holden Caulfield, the book’s narrator and protagonist, addresses the reader directly from a hospital in Southern California, recounting the events leading up to his breakdown the previous December.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote - In this seductive, wistful masterpiece, Truman Capote created a woman, perhaps her best creation ever, whose name become an American cultural icon. The story revolves around Holly Golightly, a country girl turned New York café society girl, who floats lightly through life looking for where she belongs and believes that nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany’s.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - A groundbreaking horror fiction novella, it has been the major influence in the development of the zombie genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth, but he is not alone. An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him. By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - This 1962 novella is a satire that portrays a future and dystopian Western society with a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence. It explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will as a solution to evil.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway - One of Hemingway’s most famous works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it centers upon Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who is down on his luck, and struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. This short work of fiction was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever. The Alchemist is such a book. This is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist.

The Creative Society – and the Price Americans Paid for It

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Guest Author:  Louis Galambos

If you want to know what has shaped American society in the last century or so, if you are teaching history and want your students to see how they can put themselves and their families into history, or if you are just a history buff who wants to keep up with the new ways to see and understand your nation, you will want to read The Creative Society – and the Price Americans Paid for It (Cambridge,2012). The focus is on professionals, the experts who created new ideas that helped the nation cope with the major problems it faced in the twentieth century – and still faces today. Many of those professionals didn’t produce entirely new ideas but instead negotiated the compromises that enabled the society to move on to the next big problem. That too is a creative process, but we usually only notice it when it doesn’t work. Then the media grinds out heroes and villains. We worry. But we usually don’t do anything because we leave most of those problems in the hands of the experts, the professionals.

Not all of the nation’s major problems were solved with equal skill, and this book also looks into failure: institutional failure, personal failure, and intellectual failure.  That’s why the subtitle guides you to “the price Americans paid” for their brand of creativity. Even great success comes with a price tag. Some paid more dearly than others, especially those who paid with their lives. Our economic turmoil today is a perfect example of how Americans handle and sometimes mishandle these painful situations. As the book will help you understand, our creative society has been challenged before. This history may even prepare you to deal with our future challenges at home and abroad.  We’ll surely have them.

The central subject of the book is how Americans tried to deal with four of those problems and how a new class of experts – the professionals – came to play a central role in all of the country’s crises. One of the problems America had to face was learning how to cope with urban life. A second involved finding new ways to keep the U.S. economy innovative, changing to cope with new situations at home and overseas, adapting to new patterns of competition, and adopting new technologies and new types of organizations while finding and serving new markets.  In their rush to take advantage of the great opportunities U.S. resources offered, Americans gave little thought to the growing need for economic security in a more equitable society. Most were preoccupied with the creative side of creative destruction, but the need for security and equity became a serious problem as the society became increasingly urban and industrial. The fourth problem was complex and dangerous for the entire nation. Near the end of the nineteenth century, America became the world’s leading industrial power. It was the largest and most populous of the developed nations. As we exercised that power, the nation gradually began to piece together an empire, a distinctly U.S. style of empire that is still with us and still causing problems today. 

Along the way from the 1890s to January 2009, you will meet some real people (including the author’s family) in the book. Many readers will see a place for their own families in this history. All were caught up in a narrative of rapid change as a new professional class came to dominate the sources of power and wealth in America. At times this new class threatened to undercut our democracy, substituting the knowledge of the experts for the voices of the people. This is a struggle that continues today in every activity controlled by our 45 million professionals.

Still, we need their expertise and we benefit, as well, from the paths professionalism opens up for all those who can take advantage of America’s enormous educational system.  The book ends on a positive note:  “In the midst of great uncertainty, there are plenty of signs that this is still a creative society – one that learns from the past and continues to be flexible, a society with tremendous resources and a determination to use them to solve problems of the sort we’ve been discussing.”

Mr. Louis Galambos, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and an editor of “The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower“, is the author of “The Creative Society—and the Price Americans Paid for It (Cambridge, 2012)“. He’s also the Co-Director of The Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise, Johns Hopkins University.

He has taught at Rice University, Rutgers University, and Yale University, and have served as President of the Business History Conference and the Economic History Association. A former editor of The Journal of Economic History, he has written extensively on U.S. business history, on business-government relations, on the economic aspects of modern institutional development in America, and on the rise of the bureaucratic state.

From the Bill Gates’ Bookshelf: Top 10 Reads of 2012

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

Have you ever wondered what Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire philanthropist, reads and what’s the source behind his so productive ideas and approaches? Well, you can get an idea on this when you visit his official blog The Gates Notes.

Bill Gates has always been a well-read guy. As a youngster, he’d check out books from the library so frequently and so much that the librarian wouldn’t allow him the new ones until he returned some. May be that fondness with books is the source of origin of his all the intellectual thoughts.

Very recently this Microsoft co-founder, and philanthropist has posted on his blog “My top reads from 2012” that reflects what he’s been pondering upon throughout this year. Gates often writes his own thoughtful book reviews, so each title is linked with a full length personal review by Bill Gates. Most of the books in his list are focused on development or education.

 “I read some amazing books this year. Every one of these books changed my worldview, and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for inspiring reading. Read my book reviews to learn more”, says Gates, who frequently speculate and does a thing or two about the world’s most pressing problems.

Here is the list of top ten books that made Gates “think”, this year. To peek into one of the most absorbing minds of the 21st century, this list would be a good source. Take a look:

1. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined By Steven Pinker

2. Deng Xiaoping and The Transformation of China By Ezra Vogel

3. The Quest By Daniel Yergin

4. Moonwalking with Einstein By Joshua Foer

5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers By Katherine Boo

6. One Billion Hungry: Can we Feed the World By Gordon Conway

7. A World-Class Education By Vivien Stewart

8. Academically Adrift By Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa

9. This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly By Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff

10. The City that Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control  By Franklin Zimring


Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

We all are must have grown up reading story of Little Red Riding Hood who travels through the forest to see her ailing grandmother, but completely unaware of the dangers of the big bad world outside, she would be tricked by a wicked wolf.

Today the same story you can be heard or seen on the Google doodle in 22 illustrious frames, which is a tribute to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a collection of German folklores of which the story of Little Red Riding Hood is a part, for completing its 200 years of existence.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the contemporarily popular name of a 19th century German folkloric book titled as Children’s and Household Tales written by German brothers Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm.

Among the most popular fairy tales collected by Grimm brothers are Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, The Golden Goose, The Frog-Price, Goldilocks And The Three Bears, Rumpelstiltskin and many, many more.

Revised in seven editions, the very first volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales was published in 1812 containing 86 stories. With 70 stories, the second volume came in 1814, and the third one introduced in the market in 1822. Stories were added, and also subtracted, from one edition to the next, until the seventh and final edition under the brothers’ watch was published in 1857 with a total of 211 tales.

All editions were extensively illustrated, first by Philipp Grot Johann and, after his death in 1892, by Robert Leinweber.

Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Guest Author: By Lawrence A. Cunningham

Many people think that promises must be kept, come hell or high water. They say promises are sacred and suppose that judges force people to perform them—as if Portia might have ordered Antonio’s pound of flesh paid to Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” Many believe judges punish those who breach promises. Some think that a valid contract must be signed, sealed, and delivered—as in the title of Stevie Wonder’s popular song. Hourly workers think companies can only fire them for “just cause.” All these beliefs are mistaken.

These examples of mistaken beliefs reveal that a huge gap separates people’s beliefs about contracts from the reality of contracts. The gap entices visionaries to recommend changes to contract law. Moralists see in promise-making a higher order of behavior that is sacrosanct and prescribe that promises should be kept. Economists think promise-making can be measured solely in utilitarian terms. So they dictate choosing among alternative actions, such as performing a promise or breaching it, by comparing costs and benefits. Some on the political left suspect that contract law privileges the rich against the poor and the powerful over the weak. They urge a more egalitarian revision. Their foes on the political right declare that contract law is too paternalistic and yearn to oust normative law from the market altogether.

These positions are alluring. Approaching the world with a measuring device like a utility function, and hunting for the efficient solution, offers the satisfaction of a definite course of action. Taking a contextual approach to problems and appreciating the plight of others brings the satisfaction of empathy. Despite allure, the settled doctrines of contract law have long served our widely-accepted social and business goals. This body of ideas holds a sensible center against both extreme political positions and misguided populist intuitions.

            True, the substance of contract law expresses a political philosophy. In a capitalist society, contracts and contract law are essential. Where people are free to own and exchange property, contracts and contract law establish ownership and facilitate commerce. “Freedom of contract” describes an approach of deference to private autonomy and individualism. It means courts have a limited, though crucial role: to decide whether contractual liability exists and order appropriate remedies for breach. Freedom of contract can be a wonderful way to unleash creative energies and expand productive capacity and well-being. Yet this contractual freedom is neither unchecked nor unbridled. Government regulation provides some social control over individuals by curtailing licentious pursuits of self-interest. Governmental regulation aims to protect people from the unscrupulous who would take advantage of contract law’s freedom. “Freedom from contract” provides a way to limit such exploitation. This gives courts a broader role. They decide not only questions of liability and remedy, but police against objectionable bargains. While there can be conflicts between private autonomy and state regulation, in contract law, there is remarkable harmony between the two: you can bargain for anything you want—almost. But that does not stop people from advocating that contract law should move towards the extremes.

            Devotees of pure capitalism, on the right, campaign for uncompromising devotion to freedom of contract, and resist state regulation that limits individual autonomy or contractual possibilities in any way. Opponents of rampant capitalism, on the left, vigorously object to such rugged individualism, pushing for substantial social control, and stressing freedom from contract. They exhort judges to review bargains for fairness or impress standards of behavior on people even if they did not agree to accept them.

            Contract law in the United States reflects neither extreme. U.S. citizens may be conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, even libertarian or socialist. But the country, as a whole, is none of those things and neither is its contract law. The country’s practices are capitalist and democratic, capacious notions stressing both entrepreneurship and responsibility. The nation’s contract law gives enormous but not unlimited space for freedom of contract. Of course, contract law is dynamic, adapting as society and the economy change. And the philosophies of particular judges in individual cases affect their analysis and sometimes the resolution of a dispute. But contract law’s evolution and its application by particular judges has vacillated within stable, practical boundaries.

For example, at one end stands classical contract’s relative strictness, limiting the scope of contractual obligation, and this is accompanied by an equivalent strictness of enforcement: if a contract is hard to get into, it is also hard to get out of. People could be bound to contracts that were made based on mutually mistaken assumptions or even where performance became impossible. At the other end the ambit of contractual obligation is broader and so are grounds for excusing it, like mutual mistake about the terms of a trade, or impossibility of performance, such as a power outage in a rented banquet hall. Similarly, classical contract law venerated written records, limiting the scope of obligation to what was plainly meant within a document’s four corners. The realists were more willing to consider evidence supplementing these written expressions.

Unbounded is the range of subjects contracts involve, which is as large as life. Contract law addresses all exchange transactions and the universe of promises. Given such a sprawling enterprise, expect to find occasional tensions or contradictions between cases or within doctrines, or variation among states. Despite such findings, however, which tend to be clearest at microscopic levels of inspection, contract law shows a surprising degree of coherence across settings and geography.

            Many have tried to provide a grand theory of contract law, but it is unsurprising that contract law’s vastness defies tidy explanation using any single account. True, much of contract law is based on promises, but not all promises are recognized as legally binding; much of contract law probes whether people have consented to some exchange, but it is likewise true that not every consented deal is valid and liability can attach though consent is not obvious. It is particularly difficult to explain everything about contract law in terms of protecting people when they rely on others or determining which arrangements are the most economically efficient, though both reliance and efficiency are often relevant. If pressed, the best way to account for the vast run of contract law doctrine is pragmatism—a search for what is useful to facilitate exchange transactions people should be free to pursue.

            Famous books have been published that consciously demonstrate not contract law’s coherence, but its tensions, contradictions, and the dissolution of revered categories, including the venerable distinction between torts and contracts.  Other approaches include the “law in action” movement, which insists that, in contracting, business reality is more important than the law. Proponents joined critics of the “case method” to debunk the practice of learning contracts from common law opinions, saying that was akin to learning zoology by focusing on unicorns and dodos. Though influential, these tidings did not transform the field, which is still readily learned by the reading of opinions in individual cases and stitching them together into a tapestry of knowledge.

            The great majority of deals are made and completed without giving contracts or contract law the slightest thought. Only a tiny fraction trigger disputes of the kind these stories tell. Much as we breathe without thinking about the indispensability of oxygen, however, those invisible qualities of contract law enable doing deals without conscious thought of the subject. Keeping it that way means that people should know enough to discuss stories of contracts in the news intelligently, check those advocating extreme changes, and appreciate how principles germinated many generations ago remain vital to resolve ongoing challenges.

Bio: Lawrence Cunningham is the Henry St. George Tucker III Research Professor at George Washington University Law School and Director of GW’s Center for Law, Economics and Finance (C-LEAF) in New York. He is the author of numerous books including, The Essays of Warren Buffett and The AIG Story. His research appears in leading university journals, including those published by Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Michigan, Vanderbilt and Virginia; op-eds have run in newspapers such as the New York Times and the Financial Times.

Top Most Popular Classic Books For Christmas

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

This Christmas gift your near and dear ones the gift of classics. Given below a list of the most popular classic literatures on Christmas that can be some best choices for you to gift on this Christmas. Take a glance:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - The classic Christmas tale with highly decorated illustrations that has touched thousands of human hearts over the years, takes you on a ride to visit Victorian Christmas. Through the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens introduces you with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future that come up with the moral lessons of kindness, charity and goodwill. Gift your beloved ones and let them experience the best Christmas carol ever.

Old Christmas by Washington Irving - Get yourself introduced with an idealized celebration of old-fashioned Christmas customs at a quaint English manor. Through the five Christmas stories supported by rich and colorful illustration, Irving depicts the harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall, Birmingham, England. The book contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore - In the cozy and colorful house of Mary Engelbreit, you will discover a pure delight of the holiday magic with the glowing Christmas tree and Mary’s mischievous mouse. The Christmas Eve wouldn’t be that magical without reading this Moore’s enduring poem about a visit from Saint Nicholas. Give it to the youngest ones in your family and see how this classic book would bring the brightest smile on their face.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May – This children’s classic started with a poem by Robert L. May, which has been sung at Christmastime by everyone –young and old alike. It is the story of a fearless leader of Santa’s sleigh, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Being regardless of age and stage, you can gift it to anyone in your family and friends.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote - A unique journey into a unique Christmas memory. It is a classic memoir of Truman Capote’s childhood in rural Alabama. Until he was ten years old, Capote lived with distant relatives, memories of which he has captured in this book, telling the story of those years. This is truly a nice classic Christmas tale.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry - Here is one highly moving story that will  touch your heart and that of the person you will gift this book to. This is a sublime classic tale about the power of giving and the real meaning of an unconditional love. O. Henry paints a masterly portrait of unfaltering love, a haven from the harsh world outside.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss - A perfect Christmas tale for young hearts on this holiday season with crazy rhymes and coolest words. It is the wonderful story of the Grinch in the disguise of Santa bringing to you the religious significance of Christmas and spreading the message of goodwill. It is a classic to be treasured forever.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas - Dylan Thomas, one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, captures a child’s eye view of a magical Christmas Day in a small Welsh town, with uncles and aunties, sing songs, presents (some useful, some not) and lots of snow. This modern classic which will delight everyone with its marvelous tales of the fun and excitement of what it is like to be a child at Christmas.

Remembering John Kennedy Toole and His ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

John Kennedy Toole was an American novelist from New Orleans, Louisiana, best known for his posthumously published and Pulitzer Prize-winning uproarious picaresque novel A Confederacy of Dunces. He also wrote The Neon Bible, another posthumously published literature which Toole compiled at the age of 16, but never attempted to have it published. Although several people in the literary world felt his writing skills were praiseworthy, Toole’s novels were rejected throughout his life span. These failures brought him sufferance from paranoia and depression that ultimately led him to commit suicide at the age of 31.

Today is Toole’s 75th birth anniversary, and it’s a time to offer due recognition to him and his works that had been remained anonymous throughout his lifetime. Let’s take a quick dive into his Pulitzer Prize (1981) fame novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

Dunces is an American comic masterpiece of picaresque literature that features the misadventures of protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly, a huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, and a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter, who lives at home with his mother. Reilly is one of the most original characters in American Literature. He is a gargantuan self-professed scholar at war with what he believes is the “lack of theology and geometry” in the modern world, and whose intellectual egomania is matched only by his sloth. Set in a richly evoked New Orleans of the 1960s, the book weaves Reilly’s misadventures with incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic events and incidents.

Over the several hundred pages of the book, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Reilly’s path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate.

Toole started writing A Confederacy of Dunces during his two years of service (1961 to 1963) in the US Army in Puerto Rico as a teacher to English to Spanish-speaking recruits. was born in New Orleans. And, finished it at his parents’ home after his discharge. In 1964 he submitted the manuscript to publisher Simon & Schuster, where it reached noted editor Robert Gottlieb. Gottlieb considered Toole talented but felt his comic novel was essentially pointless. Despite several revisions, Gottlieb remained unsatisfied, and after the book was rejected by another literary figure, Toole stowing the novel away in a closet.

Later, after two years of his death, his mother discovered the manuscript and brought that to the attention of novelist Walker Percy, who managed to usher the typescript into print in 1980, with his forewords. In 1981, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Its comic brilliance and compelling back-story made A Confederacy of Dunces one of the best-reviewed books of the decade. Being celebrated as the quintessential novel of post-World War II New Orleans, this comic masterpiece has been translated into 18 languages so far, and has sold 1.5 million copies till date.

Further, his manuscript of The Neon Bible was published in 1989 and made into a 1995 film.

To know in-depth about the short life-span and the struggles of John Kennedy Toole, one can easily curl up with the Deborah George Hardy’s book, “Ignatius Rising: The Life Of John Kennedy Toole. This is a great resource to reach up the author.

Books on Christmas Decorations: Some Random Picks

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

Christmas is a wonderful holiday season, and the most prominent part of this fun is transforming our homes for the season. Therefore, from our eclectic collection of Christmas Books, we’ve randomly picked some tiles on Christmas Decoration that you can check out in the list given below. You may pick one or several titles from the list to add to your holiday library to enjoy them year after year.

Here’s the list:

Christmas Inspirations: Practical Ideas for Creating Beautiful Gifts and Decorations for the Holiday Season ­- In this book, Jo Tyler’s festive photographs, coupled with Rose Hammick and Charlotte Packer‘s beautiful, achievable ideas, will compel you to do just that. They begin by exploring four decorative Christmas themes for your home: Traditional Style, Nordic Style, Contemporary Whites, and Contemporary Brights, which show that a love of Christmas and chic modernity can go hand in hand. Subsequent chapters focus on the key elements, including gifts, cards, decorations, and, of course, the tree! From charming and unusual Advent calendars to delicious gingerbread snowmen, this book has everything ideal for everyone wishing to bring a personal touch to their holiday celebrations.

Christmas with Southern Living – With over 100 all-new recipes and dozens of decorating and entertaining ideas, it’s the one-stop, everything-you-need book for Christmas celebrations. Not only does this book offer readers a variety of recipe ideas to help celebrate the season, but it also offers dozens of decorating, entertaining, and gift ideas. It includes a 16-page write-on-friendly Holiday Planner containing calendars and charts, quick entertaining and cooking tips, and spaces to make holiday card and gift lists, organize menu plans, and note decorating ideas and upcoming holiday events.

Christmas: 1960 to the Present – A collector’s guide to decorations and customs, this book shows past years Christmas celebrations through historical photographs, catalog pages, and over 530 photographs of artificial and real trees, Christmas ornaments, interior and exterior lights, candy containers, cards, tinsel garlands, and cheerful holiday figurines. Innovations in Christmas ornamentation, lighting, and display are presented here including artificial trees of the 1960s, country-style ornaments of the 1970s, 1980s chaser lights, and sophisticated 1990s European glass ornaments. This wonderful book will enable you to cherish old classy style of celebration, letting you carry the spirit of Christmas all year ’round.

55 Christmas Balls to KnitInspired by traditional Norwegian knitwear, this book offers easy yet striking designs for colorful festive ornaments for tree decorations, centerpieces, wreaths, and window dressings. These designs for holiday ornaments integrate the old with the new. With crafts based on the authors’ original designs, this guide gives knitters the chance to craft their very own versions of these playful decorations. Each pattern can easily be adapted to hats, mittens, or even sweaters by the extra creative crafter.

Fast Fun & Easy Christmas Decorations - Here is the ultimate guide to creating your very own fantastic Christmas decorations. These fantastic projects – including Christmas garlands, tree-top angels, gift-boxes, gingerbread houses, sleighs, and advent calendars – are easy to make, display and store. With basic materials such as various fabrics, beads, Fast2fuse, cording, glue, and a sewing machine, each project requires only a small amount of material, so expense is kept to a minimum and family fun to a maximum. This is a must have volume for anyone who wants to make fabulous festive decorations.

Jeanne Bice’s Quacker Factory Christmas – With simple recipes, this groundbreaking book offers ideas for fabulous parties & decorations to put sparkle, not stress into your season. Jeanne Bice, known to millions of fans as “the Head Quack” of the clothing line, The Quacker Factory, is here to show you how to make your home fittingly festive without the fuss. With the home-spun charm that has made her one of QVC’s most popular on-air guests, she will help you add sparkle to your season. In addition to over a hundred family-favorite recipes, she shares simple Quacker-style decorating ideas along with complete menus for hosting themed parties, including a Crock-Pot Caroling Party, a Trim-a-Tree Party, a Cookie Exchange, and a Christmas Dinner Extraordinaire.

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