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In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays

by Katie Roiphe

This powerful collection of essays ranges from pop culture to politics, from Hillary Clinton to Susan Sontag, from Facebook to Mad Men, from Joan Didion to David Foster Wallace to--most strikingly--the author's own life. For fans of the essays of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Jonathan Lethem. Katie Roiphe's writing--whether in the form of personal essays, literary criticism, or cultural reporting--is bracing, wickedly entertaining, and deeply engaged with our mores and manners. In these pages, she turns her exacting gaze on the surprisingly narrow-minded conventions governing the way we live now. Is there a preoccupation with "healthiness" above all else? If so, does it lead insidiously to judging anyone who tries to live differently? Examining such subjects as the current fascination with Mad Men, the oppressiveness of Facebook ("the novel we are all writing"), and the quiet malice our society displays toward single mothers, Roiphe makes her case throughout these electric pages. She profiles a New York prep school grad turned dominatrix; isolates the exact, endlessly repeated ingredients of a magazine "celebrity profile"; and draws unexpected, timeless lessons from news-cycle hits such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" revelations. On ample display in this book are Roiphe's insightful, occasionally obsessive takes on an array of literary figures, including Jane Austen, John Updike, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, and Margaret Wise Brown, the troubled author of Goodnight, Moon. And reprinted for the first time and expanded here is her much-debated New York Times Book Review cover piece, "The Naked and the Conflicted"--an unabashed argument on sex and the contemporary American male writer that is in itself an exciting and refreshing reminder that criticism matters. As steely-eyed in examining her own life as she is in skewering our cultural pitfalls, Roiphe gives us autobiographical pieces--on divorce, motherhood, an emotionally fraught trip to Vietnam, the breakup of a female friendship--that are by turns deeply moving, self-critical, razor-sharp, and unapologetic in their defense of "the messy life." In Praise of Messy Lives is powerfully unified, vital work from one of our most astute and provocative voices.From the Hardcover edition.dcover edition.

Still She Haunts Me

by Katie Roiphe

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a shy Oxford mathematician, reverend, and pioneering photographer. Under the pen name Lewis Carroll he wrote two stunning classics that liberated children's literature from the constraints of Victorian moralism. But the exact nature of his relationship with Alice Liddell, daughter of the dean of his college, and the young girl who was his muse and subject, remains mysterious. Dodgson met Alice in 1856, when she was almost four years old. Eventually he would capture her in his photographs, and transform the stories he told her into the luminous Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Then, suddenly, when Alice was eleven, the Liddell family shut him out, and his relationship with Alice ended abruptly. The pages from Dodgson's diary that may have explained the rift have disappeared. In imagining what might have happened, Katie Roiphe has created a deep, textured portrait of Alice and Dodgson: she changing from an unruly child to a bewitching adolescent, and he, a diffident, neurasthenic adult whose increasing obsession with her almost destroys him. Here, too, is a brilliantly realized cast of characters that surround them: Lorina Liddell, Alice's mother, who loves her daughter even as she envies her youth; Edith Liddell, Alice's resentful little sister; and James Hunt, Dodgson's speech therapist, an island of sanity in Dodgson's increasingly chaotic world.

Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 -1939

by Katie Roiphe

Katie Roiphe's stimulating work has made her one of the most talked about cultural critics of her generation. Now this bracing young writer delves deeply into one of the most layered of subjects: marriage. Drawn in part from the private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals of the British literary community from 1910 to the Second World War, here are seven "marriages à la mode"---each rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her husband, John Middleton Murry, that collapsed under the strain of real-life problems. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin spent years in a "semidetached" marriage (he in America, she in England). Vanessa Bell maintained a complicated harmony with the painter Duncan Grant, whom she loved, and her husband, Clive. And her sister Virginia Woolf, herself no stranger to marital particularities, sustained a brilliant running commentary on the most intimate details of those around her. Every chapter revolves around a crisis that occurred in each of these marriages---as serious as life-threatening illness or as seemingly innocuous as a slightly tipsy dinner table conversation---and how it was resolved...or not resolved. In these portraits, Roiphe brilliantly evokes what are, as she says, "the fluctuations and shifts in attraction, the mysteries of lasting affection, the endurance and changes in love, and the role of friendship in marriage." The deeper mysteries at stake in all relationships.

The Violet Hour

by Katie Roiphe

From one of our most perceptive and provocative voices comes a deeply researched account of the last days of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak--an arresting and wholly original meditation on mortality. In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe takes an unexpected and liberating approach to the most unavoidable of subjects. She investigates the last days of five great thinkers, writers, and artists as they come to terms with the reality of approaching death, or what T. S. Eliot called "the evening hour that strives Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea." Roiphe draws on her own extraordinary research and access to the family, friends, and caretakers of her subjects. Here is Susan Sontag, the consummate public intellectual, who finds her commitment to rational thinking tested during her third bout with cancer. Roiphe takes us to the hospital room where, after receiving the worst possible diagnosis, seventy-six-year-old John Updike begins writing a poem. She vividly re-creates the fortnight of almost suicidal excess that culminated in Dylan Thomas's fatal collapse on the floor of a Greenwich Village tavern. She gives us a bracing portrait of Sigmund Freud fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna only to continue in his London exile the compulsive cigar smoking that he knows will hasten his decline. And she shows us how Maurice Sendak's beloved books for children are infused with his lifelong obsession with death, if you know where to look. The Violet Hour is a book filled with intimate and surprising revelations. In the final acts of each of these creative geniuses are examples of courage, passion, self-delusion, pointless suffering, and superb devotion. There are also moments of sublime insight and understanding where the mind creates its own comfort. As the author writes, "If it's nearly impossible to capture the approach of death in words, who would have the most hope of doing it?" By bringing these great writers' final days to urgent, unsentimental life, Katie Roiphe helps us to look boldly in the face of death and be less afraid.From the Hardcover edition.

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