I need a book club book that is connected somehow to 'Frankenstein'.
March 21, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

I need a non-fiction companion to 'Frankenstein' for my book club.

My book club is reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein next month. We alternate between fiction and non-fiction, and I would like to suggest a non-fiction book that relates to Frankenstein as a follow up.

Ideally I'd like something that deals with the romantics and their circle, or with Mary Shelley's famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. I'm also open to something non-historical dealing with the technological themes of Frankenstein. Or something about the filming of 'Young Frankenstein'. As long as there is some connection, and the book fits the following book-club-friendly criteria:

1) not too long - long books always get shot down
2) not too dense - readable
3) not too new - no-one wants to buy an expensive hardback because there are 400 people waiting for it at the library

Bonus points if it's in the public domain and can be downloaded for free to ereaders. (hey, a girl can dream)
posted by bq to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to be really on point, there's Susan Tyler Hitchcock's Frankenstein: A Cultural History.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2011

How about a book about the event that triggered its writing, the Year Without a Summer? It's not often that a meteorological event can claim to have contributed to art (Turner's landscapes), literature (Frankenstein), religion (Joseph Smith), technology (the bicycle), and science (von Liebig) all at once.
posted by Paragon at 2:24 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

You may want to find books discussing reactions to "modern Frankensteins" like Andrew Crosse, who allegedly created a bizarre form of crystalline life. This great post by filthy light thief is an excellent starting point.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:26 PM on March 21, 2011

Are any of your readers interested in the genetic engineering of crops? "Lords Of The Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, And The Future Of Food" looks fascinating, and deals with scientists' desire to shape nature.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:27 PM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: Any recommendations on a book about the year without a summer?
posted by bq at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2011

I haven't read it myself, but The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History looks good.
posted by Paragon at 2:37 PM on March 21, 2011

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes. It's pop history, but pretty good pop history, and available for a handful of dollars second hand on Amazon.

(on preview I realise the US version has a subtly different title, I wonder why...?)
posted by AFII at 2:41 PM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: I will put 'The Age of Wonder' on my to-read list, but OMG, 576 pages.... I would get baby carrots thrown at my head.
posted by bq at 2:45 PM on March 21, 2011

I've always had professors who paired Rousseau with Frankenstein. His whole theory about the corrupting influences of society really fits in well. I'm pretty sure you could do select bits from The Social Contract and Discourse on the Arts and Sciences without getting too overwhelming.

Plus his personal life is fascinating, especially when compared to his philosophy!
posted by chatongriffes at 3:05 PM on March 21, 2011

Consider The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It's the story of how a woman's cells (said woman was only one or two generations removed from slavery) were taken without her consent and used for medical experimentation, and how this has affected both medical science (extremely beneficially) and her family (not so much). I wouldn't call it a direct parallel to Frankenstein, but it definitely has certain thematic similarities.

Reasonably short, extremely readable. Possibly a bit on the new side, but it's out in paperback and on Kindle.

(An aside: If tickets to NT Live's Frankenstein broadcast are still available in your city, I highly recommend it.)
posted by athenasbanquet at 3:11 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a Mary Shelley super fan. I wish I knew who said this, I can't remember, but here goes, paraphrasing: "all great writing is travel writing and Mary Shelley was the best." For that circle, all of them, the penultimate was not poetry or feminist writing - it was travel writing and the life that goes with it - not having a job, just experiencing life, lovers, new places and food and writing about them (that is my opinion). Mary Shelley was primarily a travel writer.

Quote from Wikipedia: 'In 18th century England, almost every famous writer worked in the travel literature form." 1

So my suggestion is to read some of her travel writing or read some modern travel writing about the areas they hung out - Geneva, Switzerland perhaps?
posted by cda at 3:23 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: What of her travel writing do you like best?
posted by bq at 4:37 PM on March 21, 2011

If you'd consider something more loosely connected, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach might be the thing.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:38 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mmmkay, it's only tangentially related to Shelley, but this short essay about her travelmates, John Polidori and "The Vampyre" by E.F. Bleiler, is hilarious. It's literary history as Road Trip Comedy.
Difficulties arose almost as soon as [Polidori and Lord Byron] reached the Continent, and the remainder of the trip soon became a succession of tantrums and retreats by Polidori. One incident will suffice to show the personalities of the two men: When the entourage reached Cologne and the Rhine, Polidori, who had been musing over the inequities of fate, said unexpectedly to Byron, "Pray, what is there excepting writing poetry that I cannot do better than you?" Byron calmly faced him and replied, "Three things. First, I can hit with a pistol the keyhole of that door. Secondly, I can swim across that river to yonder point. And thirdly, I can give you a damned good thrashing." Polidori stalked out of the room.
Spoiler alert: Not only did we get Frankenstein's monster out of this trip; Polidori trolling Byron went Horribly Right and accidentally gave us sexy emo vampires!

And for actual nonfiction suggestions, Mary Wollstonecraft's feminist essays make an interesting comparison.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:16 PM on March 21, 2011

I was going to recommend Stiff by Mary Roach.
posted by OmieWise at 5:35 AM on March 22, 2011

The book you need is, The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever.

Discusses how science and engineering was used to try to play with life and death, in a very frankenstein-ish way (but a true account).
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:16 AM on March 22, 2011

Not a book, but Serge Voronoff and Illya Ivanovich Ivanov were both pretty Frankenstein-y.
posted by electroboy at 7:05 AM on March 22, 2011

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