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See a Page From a Gutenberg Bible in Close-Up

The bibles were first printed in 1456

It’s hard to pin down the exact day the book was born, but August 24 is as fine a day to celebrate as any: it was on this day in 1456 that at least one copy of the original Gutenberg Bible was completed. You can zoom in on a page from that milestone text by rolling over it with your cursor (on your phone? Just click). This is Jerome’s epistle to Paulinus, which serves as the prologue to the Bible:

Print Collector-Getty Images

Because the colorful decorations were done by hand, each of the copies—about four dozen of which have survived intact, out of nearly 200—is slightly different, even though the actual text was printed with the same type.

As TIME explained in 1999, when it named Johann Gutenberg the most important person of the 15th century, non-European printers had figured out the idea of moveable type first—but dealing with more than 26 or so letter characters made it less efficient. Printing in Europe, meanwhile, was usually done by carving into a block of wood, which meant that once the printing form was made, you were stuck with it permanently. Having the idea of casting each letter separately and just moving them around wasn’t the only stumbling block for Gutenberg—he needed to find the metal that melted at the right temperature, he needed to find ink that wouldn’t smudge, he needed to design the press part of the machine—but it was a start.

Exactly what happened between his grand idea and the emergence of the first full Gutenberg Bible—like, for example, whether Gutenberg himself actually printed it—remains something of a mystery. But it was enough to get his name printed, as it were, in history:

By the time he was back in Mainz in 1448, Gutenberg had ironed out enough of these problems to persuade Johann Fust, a goldsmith and lawyer, to invest heavily in his new printing shop. Exactly what happened behind Gutenberg’s closed doors during the next few years remains unknown. But in 1455 visitors to the Frankfurt Trade Fair reported having seen sections of a Latin Bible with two columns of 42 lines each printed–printed–on each page. The completed book appeared about a year later; it did not bear its printer’s name, but it eventually became known as the Gutenberg Bible.

Read more about Gutenberg and others, here in the TIME Vault: The Most Important People of the Millennium

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What You Didn’t Know About the Act of Reading Books

Painting of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher.
Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Painting of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher.

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

Finding time to read has never been an issue for me. I read different books at different levels — you don’t put the same effort into Harry Potter as you do Seneca. Reading is the best way to get smarter. And while I’ve always taken notes while reading to improve my ability to remember what I’ve read, I’ve had a nagging feeling that I was missing part of the work.

Perhaps, I’ve been reading too much and reflecting too little.

As I reflect more on the relationship between reading and acquiring wisdom, I discovered Schopenhauer’s classic On Reading and Books.

For me, reading has always been about this website’s tagline: Mastering the best of what other people have already figured out.

In The Prince, Machiavelli offered the following advice: “A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it.”

Seneca, writing on the same subject, said, “Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides.”

So it makes sense to start with the people that came before us. No matter what problem we face, odds are someone has faced it before and written about it. No need to start from scratch right?


We return to the fundamental questions. What does it mean to read? Is reading the path to acquiring wisdom? If not why?

These are the questions that Schopenhauer attempts to address in On Reading and Books.

Mortimer Adler believed that reading is a conversation between you and the author. On this Schopenhauer comments:

When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. It is the same as the pupil, in learning to write, following with his pen the lines that have been pencilled by the teacher. Accordingly, in reading, the work of thinking is, for the greater part, done for us. This is why we are consciously relieved when we turn to reading after being occupied with our own thoughts. But, in reading, our head is, however, really only the arena of some one else’s thoughts. And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal — that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk.

Such, however, is the case with many men of learning: they have read themselves stupid. For to read in every spare moment, and to read constantly, is more paralyzing to the mind than constant manual work, which, at any rate, allows one to follow one’s own thoughts.

Just as a spring, through the continual pressure of a foreign body, at last loses its elasticity, so does the mind if it has another person’s thoughts continually forced upon it. And just as one spoils the stomach by overfeeding and thereby impairs the whole body, so can one overload and choke the mind by giving it too much nourishment. For the more one reads the fewer are the traces left of what one has read; the mind is like a tablet that has been written over and over. Hence it is impossible to reflect; and it is only by reflection that one can assimilate what one has read if one reads straight ahead without pondering over it later, what has been read does not take root, but is for the most part lost. Indeed, it is the same with mental as with bodily food: scarcely the fifth part of what a man takes is assimilated; the remainder passes off in evaporation, respiration, and the like.

From all this it may be concluded that thoughts put down on paper are nothing more than footprints in the sand: one sees the road the man has taken, but in order to know what he saw on the way, one requires his eyes.

It’s important to take time to think about what we’re reading and not merely assume the thoughts of the author. We need to digest, synthesize, and organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand. This is the grunt work of thinking. It’s how we acquire wisdom.

This is how we acquire foundational knowledge. The knowledge that allows us to pull forth relevance when reading and bring it to consciousness. Without this foundational knowledge, we are unable to separate the signal from the noise.

No literary quality can be attained by reading writers who possess it: be it, for example, persuasiveness, imagination, the gift of drawing comparisons, boldness or bitterness, brevity or grace, facility of expression or wit, unexpected contrasts, a laconic manner, naïveté, and the like. But if we are already gifted with these qualities — that is to say, if we possess them potentia — we can call them forth and bring them to consciousness; we can discern to what uses they are to be put; we can be strengthened in our inclination, nay, may have courage, to use them; we can judge by examples the effect of their application and so learn the correct use of them; and it is only after we have accomplished all this that we actu possess these qualities.

Reading consumes time. And if we equate time with money, it should not be wasted on bad books. In an argument that pulls to mind two filters for what to read, Schopenhauer writes:

It is the same in literature as in life. Wherever one goes one immediately comes upon the incorrigible mob of humanity. It exists everywhere in legions; crowding, soiling everything, like flies in summer. Hence the numberless bad books, those rank weeds of literature which extract nourishment from the corn and choke it.

They monopolise the time, money, and attention which really belong to good books and their noble aims; they are written merely with a view to making money or procuring places. They are not only useless, but they do positive harm. Nine-tenths of the whole of our present literature aims solely at taking a few shillings out of the public’s pocket, and to accomplish this, author, publisher, and reviewer have joined forces.

There is a more cunning and worse trick, albeit a profitable one.Littérateurs, hack-writers, and productive authors have succeeded, contrary to good taste and the true culture of the age, in bringing the world elegante into leading-strings, so that they have been taught to read a tempo and all the same thing — namely, the newest books order that they may have material for conversation in their social circles. … But what can be more miserable than the fate of a reading public of this kind, that feels always impelled to read the latest writings of extremely commonplace authors who write for money only, and therefore exist in numbers? And for the sake of this they merely know by name the works of the rare and superior writers, of all ages and countries.

Knowing what to read is important but so is its inversion— knowing what not to read.

This consists in not taking a book into one’s hand merely because it is interesting the great public at the time — such as political or religious pamphlets, novels, poetry, and the like, which make a noise and reach perhaps several editions in their first and last years of existence. Remember rather that the man who writes for fools always finds a large public: and only read for a limited and definite time exclusively the works of great minds, those who surpass other men of all times and countries, and whom the voice of fame points to as such. These alone really educate and instruct.

One can never read too little of bad, or too much of good books: bad books are intellectual poison; they destroy the mind.

In Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami makes the argument that “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” On this Schopenhauer said:

Oh, how like one commonplace mind is to another! How they are all fashioned in one form! How they all think alike under similar circumstances, and never differ! This is why their views are so personal and petty.

On the two types of literature, Schopenhauer comments:

There are at all times two literatures which, although scarcely known to each other, progress side by side — the one real, the other merely apparent. The former grows into literature that lasts. Pursued by people who live for science or poetry, it goes its way earnestly and quietly, but extremely slowly; and it produces in Europe scarcely a dozen works in a century, which, however, are permanent. The other literature is pursued by people who live on science or poetry; it goes at a gallop amid a great noise and shouting of those taking part, and brings yearly many thousand works into the market. But after a few years one asks, Where are they? where is their fame, which was so great formerly? This class of literature may be distinguished as fleeting, the other as permanent.

Commenting on why we learn little from what we read, he writes:

It would be a good thing to buy books if one could also buy the time to read them; but one usually confuses the purchase of books with the acquisition of their contents. To desire that a man should retain everything he has ever read, is the same as wishing him to retain in his stomach all that he has ever eaten. He has been bodily nourished on what he has eaten, and mentally on what he has read, and through them become what he is. As the body assimilates what is homogeneous to it, so will a man retain what interests him; in other words, what coincides with his system of thought or suits his ends. Every one has aims, but very few have anything approaching a system of thought. This is why such people do not take an objective interest in anything, and why they learn nothing from what they read: they remember nothing about it.

But reading good works is not enough. We must re-read important works immediately because it aids our understanding, a concept that Mortimer Adler echoes.

Any kind of important book should immediately be read twice, partly because one grasps the matter in its entirety the second time, and only really understands the beginning when the end is known; and partly because in reading it the second time one’s temper and mood are different, so that one gets another impression; it may be that one sees the matter in another light.

And the final part of the essay I want to draw your attention to speaks to how advancement happens in a flurry of false starts, and answers the age-old question of why so many luminaries — whether scientific or even artistic — fail to be recognized in their present age as they will later come to be seen by the world.

… imagine the progress of knowledge among mankind in the form of a planet’s course. The false paths the human race soon follows after any important progress has been made represent the epicycles in the Ptolemaic system; after passing through any one of them the planet is just where it was before it entered it. The great minds, however, which really bring the race further on its course, do not accompany it on the epicycles which it makes every time. This explains why posthumous fame is got at the expense of contemporary fame, and vice versâ.

If you think Schopenhauer is for you, pick up a copy of The Essential Schopenhauer: Key Selections from The World As Will and Representation and Other Writings.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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Read next: 7 Summer Reads for the Curious Mind

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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J.K. Rowling Just Revealed a Very Specific New Detail About the Harry Potter Play

We might already know the 'cursed child' of the title

There’s still a year before J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter play hits London’s West End. And that just means there’s still a year for fans to speculate about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Rowling’s been very adamant that the play is not a prequel.(Though the Potter spinoff film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel.)

But now there’s new evidence that the ‘cursed child’ could be someone fans are familiar with.

That hardly narrows it down, of course. But if anything is certain, Rowling will be giving us more hints and riddles leading up to opening night.

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Just Revealed Her Favorite Harry Potter Fan Theory

"To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure"

There’s been a lot of discussion about Harry Potter theories recently. But the ultimate authority — Potter scribe J.K. Rowling — threw her weight behind a specific hypothesis on Friday when a fan asked about her favorite one.

The theory stems from the wizarding fairy tale The Tale of the Three Brothers, which follows the Peverell Brothers as they receive rewards for cheating Death: the unbeatable Elder Wand; the Resurrection Stone that brings people back from the dead; and the Invisibility Cloak, which conceals its user. These three items are often referred to as The Deathly Hallows, hence the name of the final book.

Voldemort is the oldest brother, murdered in his bed by someone who sought the Elder Wand. Snape is seen as the middle brother, who was driven to suicide after resurrecting the girl “he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely Death.” Harry would be the youngest brother, who escapes Death with the cloak before greeting “Death as an old friend” and going with him gladly. The Tumblr user, though, posits that Dumbledore is Death. “He greeted Harry at King’s Cross and was the one behind Snape and Voldemort’s death….He’s the one who gave Harry the invisibility cloak too…And he had the stone and the wand too.”

It’s not surprising that Rowling calls this a ‘beautiful’ theory, though. The entire series focuses on death as ‘the next great adventure.’

When Harry finally makes it to his parents’ tombstone, it reads: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” In 2007, Rowling told TIME that the Bible verse, a passage from I Corinthians in which Paul discusses Jesus’ Resurrection, was the theme for the entire series.

Read next: 8 Ridiculous Theories That Will Change How You Read Harry Potter

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Jonathan Franzen Considered Adopting an Iraqi War Orphan

BookExpo America 2015
Brent N. Clarke—FilmMagic/Getty Images Author Jonathan Franzen speaks on stage during Opening Day Spotlight: In Conversation with Jonathan Franzen during BookExpo America held at the Javits Center on May 27, 2015 in New York City.

But his editor convinced him it was a bad idea

The greatest writers must have deep insight into their contemporary societies, a fact novelist Jonathan Franzen knows well. So when he found himself confused by the younger generation, he thought perhaps adopting an Iraqi war orphan might help him understand.

Franzen, whose latest novel Purity debuts Sept. 1, told the Guardian that he and his partner, Kathryn Chetkovich, had considered the adoption when he was in his late forties (he’s now 56).

“One of the things that had put me in mind of adoption,” he said, “was a sense of alienation from the younger generation. They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me.”

Franzen now describes the idea as “insane,” and says his editor at the New Yorker talked him out of it, arranging for him to meet with a group of recent college graduates instead. “It cured me of my anger at young people,” he said. The novelist remains childless.

[The Guardian]

Read next: Review: Jonathan Franzen’s Purity Examines Wealth and Identity

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7 Summer Reads for the Curious Mind

Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

Out of the 44 books I read from January to June, here are the 7 that resonated with me the most. (For the curious see the 2012, 2013, I can’t find the 2014 edition.)

  1. Pebbles of Perception: How a Few Good Choices Make All the Difference— This book is an invitation to be curious, build character, and make better choices. Very much in line with the Farnam Street ethos — so much so that I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements. It belongs on your shelf next to Seeking Wisdom.
  2. Sit Like a Buddha: A Pocket Guide to Meditation — If I could encourage you to look into one thing to think and focus better, this would be it. This is an enormously powerful little book that will help you focus your mind, open your heart, and think with more insight. It’s short enough to consume over a glass of wine (or two) on the patio and simple enough that you’ll want to put it into practice.
  3. The Lessons of History — A concise book of lessons drawn from the survey of history. The book comes highly recommended by someone I met at the Berkshire Hathaway meeting. I can’t believe I haven’t read this before. I’ll be re-reading this a few times and I’ve started listening to the audio version in the car as well.
  4. The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship — A beautiful and thought-provoking book that argues we should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. “Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back and working too hard in each of the three commitments. In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one or more of them to gain an easier life.”
  5. How to Get Lucky: 13 Techniques for Discovering and Taking Advantage of Life’s Good Breaks — Some people are luckier than others and it’s not always by chance. Lucky people tend to position themselves in the path of luck. They take risks but not stupid ones. They know when to give up on love, stocks, and even opinions. A great read.
  6. Obvious Adams: The Story of a Successful Businessman — a short, yet important, book that I wish more people would read and think about. (You can find a pdf here.) In a nutshell the book represents the mindset that “avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.” It’s amazing what we see when we focus on the obvious insights that we’re missing because we’re trying too hard to grasp the esoteric.
  7. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere — An excellent counterbalance to our endless diet of movement and stimulation.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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5 Books for Fans of John Green

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These novels will not disappoint

I mean, is there any other way to read Paper Towns? Like all John Green books, Paper Towns can only be devoured whole. So if you’re planning to see the movie and haven’t read it yet, you’ve got plenty of time. But when the dust settles and the tear-soaked pages finally dry, where do you turn? You will inevitably look to An Abundance of Katherines, The Fault in Our Stars, and Looking for Alaska if you haven’t read them already—and they will not disappoint. After that, try these:

1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

For me, John Green and Rainbow Rowell go hand in hand. Their books are equally fun, insightful, and moving. While Rowell’s most-loved book Eleanor & Park is also a fantastic choice, I highly recommend Attachments as your first post-Paper Townsread. The novel takes place as an often-hilarious email exchange between two work friends, Beth and Jennifer. They know someone is monitoring their work email, but they don’t know that the person reading them is falling for Beth. Thematically, it’s similar to Paper Towns in that Lincoln is learning about Beth little by little, through clues of sorts. It’s a quirky romance that somehow reads like a page-turning thriller—you will not be disappointed.

2. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

After the humor of Attachments, you may be prepared to dive back into the tearjerkers, and you should do so with Thirteen Reasons Why. High school student Clay Jenson is reeling from the suicide of his classmate and crush Hannah Baker when he finds a mysterious box full of cassette tapes on his doorstep. It’s Hannah, telling 13 different stories about her classmates that detail why she decided to commit suicide. Again, the theme is right there with Paper Towns. And yes, it makes an absolutely devastating read. But it’s ultimately a beautiful message about the importance of treating people with kindness.

3. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Even though the cover is a complete rip-off of Where’d You Go Bernadette?, Finding Audrey stands on its own as one of this summer’s breakout YA novels. After being traumatized by a bullying incident, 14-year-old Audrey develops an anxiety disorder and her parents resort to home-schooling, while Audrey hides behind her sunglasses and the walls of her house. On the road to recovery, Audrey meets her brother’s friend Linus, and a sweet friendship develops that helps Audrey get back to herself.

4. This Side of Home by Renee Watson

This Side of Home was Renee Watson’s first foray into Young Adult, and it immediately stood out as one of 2015’s must-reads in the category. The story centers on Maya, a young woman entering her senior year of high school and dealing with the rapid changes in her Portland neighborhood. As her hometown transforms from rough to “up-and-coming,” filled with coffee shops and boutiques, Maya feels like she is losing her home, while her twin sister is thrilled. Watson beautifully navigates the typical coming-of-age struggles with friends, dating, and going off to college alongside a poignant exploration of gentrification, identity, race, class, and culture.

5. Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

If you’re missing the road trip part of Paper Towns, check out Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour. Amy is forced to transport her car from California to her mother’s new home in Connecticut, but ever since her father died in a car accident, she doesn’t feel so comfortable behind the wheel. Luckily Roger, a family friend whom she has known forever, offers to make the drive with her. As they travel across the country, you’ll experience their playlists, their travel journals, their menu options, and most importantly, all of the feels.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

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Bestselling Mystery Writer Louise Penny Discusses Her New Novel

Sigrid Estrada Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s 11th book in the Inspector Gamache series, The Nature of the Beast, hits shelves August 25. The award-winning mystery author talked to TIME about poetry, ham and brie sandwiches and what makes art

Mystery author Louise Penny has won the Agatha Award for best mystery novel of the year five times, but she balks at the Christie comparison. Instead of Hercule Poirot, Penny has brought readers Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec who is a mentor, a leader, a brilliant detective and a beloved husband and father. Through Gamache and a cast of other original characters, including an abrasive, drunk poet who has a pet duck, Penny has created eleven different mystery novels and one novella, many of them bestsellers, that weave together the excitement of classic whodunits with the pleasure of small town life. Her 11th book in the series, The Nature of the Beast, comes out August 25, and she’s already busy working on the 12th.

When you started writing your first Inspector Gamache book almost 15 years ago, did you ever think someday you’d be publishing your 11th?

No. Never. Never. Ever. I remember being in London at some event and my publisher or editor was talking about editing someone’s fourth book and the fact that she was having difficulty with her plotting or pacing, and I’m thinking, ‘How does someone get to the fourth? By then you must be an expert, how could there be any problems? You must know what you’re doing.’

What first sparked your idea for this series?

It was just after 9/11 that I started writing it. At the time, the world seemed a very frightening and threatening place and I felt the need for security and for connection and company and a sense of belonging, and of course the peace and security that comes with that. And so I created this village. To be honest with you, every decision I made in Still Life [Penny’s first novel, published in 2006] was selfish. I created it just for me. So I created Three Pines, and I created these characters that I would choose as friends, mostly because also I realized, having been a journalist for many years and spoken to many people in publishing, the chances of people published were so tiny. I realized that really writing it had to be reward enough because it may be the only reward I would get. So I created characters whose company I would enjoy, I created a main character who I would marry, I created a village I would love to live in. And as it turns out, other people feel the same as I do, thank God.

Your books take place in the fictional village of Three Pines, but the portrait of the place so intimately drawn. Did you take anything from your own small town in Quebec to create it?

It’s definitely drawn from a whole bunch of things. Absolutely from the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The books are many things, probably least among them crime novels. They are definitely crime fiction, but they are love letters to the place I choose to live. I could live anywhere in the world and I choose to live in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. People might read the books and think I’m creative, and the fact is I’m not. I just write what I see. And I write what I feel every day. And I have never been made to feel a stranger, [my husband] Michael and I have both been welcomed and embraced. It feels like there was always a place at the table just waiting for us. That home I had been yearning for for most of my life I found here, and the books are a big thank you to this area.

No one can read your series without wanting a warm ham and brie sandwich at the bistro – what role does food play in your books?

I love food. You only have to look at me to notice how much I love food. I realized that I wanted the location to be a character. And I wanted that very keen sense of place. And I thought the best way to do that was to make the books really sensuous, so that when you read the books it’s not just going into your brain, it’s going into your nose and your ears and you’re smelling the café au lait, and you’re tasting the ham and brie sandwich, you’re feeling the warmth of the fire after the cold outside. So I wanted to try to bring down that fourth wall so people would feel not that they’re voyeurs, but that they’re actually sitting in the bistro.

Your new book deals thematically with the idea of whether you can ever separate the creator from the created. What do you think?

You awful woman! [Laughs] The fact is I don’t know. I know myself that I can’t separate the two. But I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. As I said in the book, I wouldn’t want the Stalin family cookbook, I wouldn’t want a watercolor by Hitler no matter how stunning it was. So I don’t know whether it should be separate, but I know for me it isn’t.

One of your most memorable characters is a poet, and we see snippets of her work throughout the series. What function does poetry serve in your novels?

Poetry for me is a lot like music. I listen to music because it allows me to get to places emotionally in myself that I couldn’t normally access. Music makes me feel, and the same with poetry. Emerging writers, if they ask for any advice from me, and often even if they don’t, I give them advice to read poetry. I don’t care whether it’s Winnie the Pooh or a greeting card or Yeats and Auden or anyone else. I think poets manage to achieve in a couplet what I struggle in an entire book to achieve. My last book quotes Robert Frost and a letter he wrote to a friend where he describes his creative process as a poet. And he says that for him, a poem begins as a lump in the throat. For me, each book of mine begins as a lump in the throat. And in fact, it begins with a couplet. I find a bit of poetry, I write it out on a Post-it, and I stick it on my laptop. So when I inevitably get all lost and confused, I can go back to it and say, ‘That’s what the book’s about.’

You used to be a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – why did you decide to become a novelist instead?

I always wanted to be a novelist and the journalist was the side road, because I was too scared to try. I think I was a combination of I was too afraid to try to write, in case I realized I couldn’t and then I would lose the dream, and also I was very fortunate in my upbringing in that nothing bad ever happened to me. It was lucky from a personal point of view, not so lucky from a novelist point of view. I was fairly callow. There’s a line from Auden in his elegy to Yeats where he says Ireland hurt him into poetry. What a great line. I had to be hurt into novel writing. I had to get to a certain stage. I had to lose enough people, I had to have a lot of ego pounded out of me and pride, I had to learn compassion. I had to do enough vile things that I hated myself, and then was forgiven, so that I had something to write about that wasn’t about how other people perceived me.

What’s your daily routine?

I get up at 5 and feed the dog and walk the dog. My husband isn’t well so that’s why I get up at that hour, it gives me four or five hours just to myself with quiet in the house to write. And then by 10 or 10:30 I’m generally finished. I set a word count for myself. When I first start the beginning of a first draft, I set it very low because it’s so frightening to start a first draft. I set it at about 200 or 250 words, which I can do perhaps in 20 minutes and then have the rest of the day to myself. It’s so scary for me still. I wish I could say at book 11 or 12 that I was over the hump, but there are different humps. I’ve gotten over some, but then lo and behold, there’s another one right there. So I set the word count very low, and then I raise it to about 1,000 words minimum. And once I’ve finished the 1,000 words, for the rest of the day I can focus on my husband and on me.

What are some of your favorite mysteries?

Agatha Christie, of course. That was the starting point, she’s like a godmother to me, though [my books] aren’t really Christie-esque. I really loved the Maigret books by George Simenon. He had a real sense of place. And I loved Josephine Tey. [Her books] are gems, crystalline, every word, every phrase has a purpose.

Can you give me a hint about what’s next for Inspector Gamache?

Well, there is the alien invasion…

This interview has been lightly edited for length.


TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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Read a TIME Article Written in the Style of H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft, (1890-1937), American writer, circa 1934.
Everett Collection H.P. Lovecraft, (1890-1937), American writer, circa 1934.

Attendees at this week's NecronomiCon celebration will appreciate this 1973 attempt to channel the author

Starting on Thursday, fans of the writer H.P. Lovecraft will gather in his hometown of Providence, R.I., for the annual NecronomiCon festival, this year marking what would have been Lovecraft’s 125th birthday. For an author of rather niche specialty—supernatural horror—his staying power within the culture has been impressive.

In 1973, when new editions of several Lovecraft works were released, TIME’s Philip Herrera decided to get to the bottom of that appeal. Lovecraft’s talent, he decided, was a combination of “mesmeric” prose and the insight to know that inexplicable evil was scarier than any monster. Rather than rely on vampires or other stock demons, he turned to the “more intimate horror” of ancient and pervasive power that all our modernity could do nothing to stop.

But, in order to reach that conclusion, Herrera really got into the spirit of things. Instead of writing a straightforward review, he summoned the image of three nightmares set at the Providence cemetery, each of which reveals something new about Lovecraft. And, in describing those dreams, he channeled Lovecraft’s signature style, to amusing results:

The graveyard bristled with baleful intensity. Strangely colossal bats beat the air around my face, and chittering hordes of toadlike things chortled in infandous rhythms of ululation in dissonances of extreme morbidity and cacodemonial ghastliness. As I somehow anticipated, the cowled figure, his face ever hidden, approached and tugged my pajama sleeve, pulling me toward the open Lovecraft tomb. Forgetting danger, cleanliness and reason, I ventured into the yawning Stygian recesses of the inner earth, down inclined passageways whose walls were coated with the detestable slimy niter of the earth’s bowels. My whole being choked on the stinking confluence of incense fumes, and a cancerous terror clutched my chest with strangling tendrils. Penultimately we reached a vast vaulted room lit with a gangrenous green glare from an unknown source, while all around pulsed and crashed a monstrous noise not unlike a machine malevolently crunching great living trees to pulp.

Read the full story here, in the TIME Vault: The Dream Lurker

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Review: Jonathan Franzen’s Purity Examines Wealth and Identity

Purity Tyler, the hero of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, has a very contemporary problem: she owes $130,000 in college loans. Purity, who hates her name and goes by Pip, grew up with her eccentric mother in a 500-square-foot cabin outside Santa Cruz. She knows nothing of her father—her mother obstinately refuses to reveal his identity—but her debt sends her on a quest to discover his name and, crucially, whether he can chip in on her monthly payments.

Along the way, she meets a very contemporary character: Andreas Wolf, professional leaker, lady-killer and fierce rival of Julian Assange. From his camp in Bolivia, Wolf, an East German dissident turned political fugitive, runs an operation called the Sunlight Project, whose mission is to air the world’s dirty laundry. Pip cares little for such grandeur, but she thinks the project’s powerful servers might help her locate her missing father. When an internship with Wolf drops into her lap, she heads for South America, starting a series of revelations that result in a confession of murder, a suicide and the unlikely reunion of her parents.

Purity comes five years after Freedom and 14 years after The Corrections. Both earlier novels were called masterpieces of American fiction; to say the same of Purity might be true but misses the point. Magisterial sweep is now just what Franzen does, and his new novel appears not as explosion of literary talent (The Corrections) nor as glorious confirmation of it (Freedom) but as a simple, enjoyable reminder of his sharp-eyed presence. Near the end of Purity, Wolf muses on his use of the word totalitarian to describe life in the digital age:

Younger interviewers, to whom the word meant total surveillance, total mind control, gray armies in parade with ­medium-range missiles, had understood him to be saying something unfair about the Internet. In fact, he simply meant a system that was impossible to opt out of. The old Republic had certainly excelled at surveillance and parades, but the essence of its totalitarianism had been more everyday and subtle. You could cooperate with the system or you could oppose it, but the one thing you could never do, whether you were enjoying a secure and pleasant life or sitting in a prison, was not be in relation to it.

One might say the same of Franzen’s role in the culture. Perhaps it’s a bit rich for a writer to offer home truths about the Internet when (as he revealed in a 2010 TIME cover profile) he keeps it at bay by gluing shut his Ethernet port. But Purity assures us that, oppose Franzen’s truths or not, we readers can’t escape them. And they’re only coming faster.

Franzen’s world, like any teeming ecosystem, has its irritants. In Purity, people engage in toxic relationships, parents are either overbearing or absentee, and self-righteousness rises to the level of performance art (the performance being either masturbation or media appearance). Pip suffers from a common plague of coming-of-age heroes: she lacks a sense of self. Early on, she doesn’t act so much as flail. For a scene or two, she doesn’t seem worth our time.

But she has a sharp tongue, and gradually, over the 550-odd pages that bear her name, she begins to assert herself. She says no. She says it to powerful people and to the people who mean the most to her. Amid the frenetic ­subplots—backstories of Stasi-­surveilled East Germany and the agribusiness conglomerates of the American Midwest—it’s bit of a throwback miracle to discern as through line the voice of a young woman discovering her authority.

And Purity, in its loose and self-­assured way, gestures openly toward narratives past. Franzen excels at being timely—the post-financial-crisis vernacular, the Snowden name checks, the journalists funded by angel ­investors—but nobody christens a character Pip without courting comparison to Dickens’ orphan. The idea behind Great Expectations is that wealth, however well intentioned, is not separable from its origins: Dickens’ Pip cannot accept money from a convict, and the novelist as moralist makes sure of that. Much of Purity, likewise, is devoted to the scrutiny of money and motive, the aspiration (as the title suggests) to clear from a good life’s pursuits the shame of any ill-gotten gains.

But Franzen chases a different resolution. Bankruptcy, poverty, crippling debt: if these social scourges trace back at least in part to the deep financial dealings of institutions beyond our control, then perhaps even the most morally suspect fortune can be used to negate them. Or as Pip pragmatically puts it, “There’s got to be at least $3 million you can take in good conscience.”

Our very contemporary problems, then, bring us past idealism to compromise. And Franzen, even in a novel that flirts hard with Dickensesque coincidence, cements his place in the ranks of the realists. Maybe it’s because the fortune in Purity is so absurdly big, and the needs it can alleviate so relatively small, but the idea of a troubled inheritance suddenly seems like a playful thing, a route to contentment instead of a roadblock. This is still Franzenland: Purity closes on a profane shouting match between two adults who really ought to know better. But Purity is calm and quiet, having said what she needed to say.

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