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The Little Book

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Overview

Thirty years in the writing, Selden Edwards' dazzling first novel is an irresistible triumph of the imagination. Wheeler Burden-banking heir, philosopher, student of history, legend's son, rock idol, writer, lover, recluse, half-Jew, and Harvard baseball hero-one day finds himself wandering not in his hometown of San Francisco in 1988 but in a city and time he knows mysteriously well: Vienna, 1897. Before long, Wheeler acquires a mentor in Sigmund Freud, a bitter rival, a powerful crush on a luminous young woman,...

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The Little Book: A Novel

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Overview

Thirty years in the writing, Selden Edwards' dazzling first novel is an irresistible triumph of the imagination. Wheeler Burden-banking heir, philosopher, student of history, legend's son, rock idol, writer, lover, recluse, half-Jew, and Harvard baseball hero-one day finds himself wandering not in his hometown of San Francisco in 1988 but in a city and time he knows mysteriously well: Vienna, 1897. Before long, Wheeler acquires a mentor in Sigmund Freud, a bitter rival, a powerful crush on a luminous young woman, and encounters everyone from an eight-year-old Adolf Hitler to Mark Twain as well as the young members of his own family. Solving the riddle of Wheeler's dislocation in time will ultimately reveal nothing short of one eccentric family's unrivaled impact upon the course of human history.

Edwards, author of The Lost Prince, brilliantly weaves romance, art, history, and culture in this unforgettable and dazzling debut novel. 

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  • Selden Edwards' The Little Book
    Selden Edwards' The Little Book  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The subtitle of Edwards's Twain-indebted debut, written over the course of 30 years, might be "A California Yankee in Doctor Freud's Court." Following a physical assault, Stan "Wheeler" Burden is precipitated into the past—1897 Vienna, to be exact—from 1988 San Francisco. Wheeler has been a teenage baseball star and famed rock 'n' roller, but he's dreamed of Vienna since his prep school days, where his teacher, Arnauld Esterhazy, instilled a love of the city's gilded paradoxes. Vienna of 1897 is indeed hopping: Freud is discovering the Oedipus complex, Mahler is conducting his symphonies, and the mayor, Karl Lueger, is inventing modern, populist anti-Semitism—which the young Hitler will soon internalize. Making this a true oedipal drama, Wheeler's father and grandparents come to town, too, all at different ages, and with very different agendas. Edwards has great fun with time travel paradoxes and anachronisms, but the real romance in this book is with the period, topped by nostalgia for the old-school American elite, as represented by the we-all-went-to-the-same-prep-school Burdens. This novel ends up a sweet, wistful elegy to the fantastic promise and failed hopes of the 20th century. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

It is 1988, and 47-year-old Wheeler Burden, minding his own business in San Francisco, suddenly finds himself walking along a Viennese street-in 1897. Historical figures including Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, and Gustav Klimt each play roles in Edwards's debut novel, but the main characters are Wheeler's own relatives, strangely collected in a magical time and space. The stellar, low-key narration by Jeff Woodman (An Ideal Husband) helps move along this story, in which fantasy and history combine to create a beautiful snapshot of the beginning of the modern age. Recommended for medium-sized and large fiction collections. [Audio clip available through us.penguingroup.com; the Dutton hc received a starred review, LJ8/08.-Ed.]
—Janet Martin

Kirkus Reviews
A debut novel of oversized ambitions written by a former school headmaster. Edwards plainly dreams no small dreams. He explains in the acknowledgments that this novel has taken him some 30 years to write, though it seems to have its genesis even earlier, in the anything-goes '60s. Or at least that is the setting in which protagonist Wheeler Burden establishes himself as something extraordinary: first as a college baseball pitcher, then as a rock star-veteran of Woodstock, survivor of Altamont, buddy of Buddy Holly, composer of the most famous feel-good anthem of his generation. Yet Burden has walked away (literally) from both the diamond and the bandstand to write a book based on the notebook of his beloved prep-school teacher, followed by a tour that results in Burden's assassination (shades of John Lennon). Somehow (don't ask) death transports Burden to turn-of-the-century Vienna, where most of this novel transpires. Here he encounters his war-hero father, the late Dilly Burden, who attended the same prep school and had the same beloved teacher as Wheeler. Not so coincidentally, that teacher is coming of age in that same 19th-century city. They also meet the notorious anti-Semite who will become Dilly's father and the irresistible woman who will marry him (and with whom Wheeler engages in what is perhaps an incestuous relationship). Wheeler's tale provides fodder for the theories of his analyst, Sigmund Freud, as the plot additionally features cameos by Mark Twain, Gustav Mahler and a very young Adolf Hitler. The burden for the Burdens is to discover whether they have any choice but to let history play itself out as they know it will, a combination of diary and prophecy that Wheelerrecords in the "little book" of the title. That book provides the source material from which his Jewish, pacifist mother crafts this narrative, following instructions that "all of our lives weave together in a fatal and continuous and repeating loop, one not easy to comprehend."Those who demand comprehension will be exasperated, but others willing to suspend disbelief might be enchanted.
The Barnes & Noble Review
First-time novelist Selden Edwards here conjures up a light fable about the birth of modernism -- a frothy bit of time-travel that makes literal Nietzsche's idea of the eternal return. In this case, we're given to understand that Edwards's all-American hero, Frank Standish Burden III, and his father, Frank II, were able to change the course of modern history and culture by traveling back to Vienna during its golden age. With cameos by Freud, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and a host of Viennese luminaries, Edwards compounds his historical conceit by comparing the radical politics and artistic tumult of the fin de siècle to America in the '60s. Frank III, known to friends as "Wheeler" for his devastating baseball pitch, shows up Zelig-like at all sorts of crucial moments in his own time as well. A hip refusenik in the Bartleby tradition, he walks off the mound at the Harvard-Yale game -- one pitch shy of a perfect game; and off the stage at Altamont -- he's also a kick-ass rocker who learned his licks from Buddy Holly himself. But Wheeler, "a stranger in a strange land" wherever he is, rises to greater challenges when he wakes up one day in the past -- a past inhabited also by members of his own Boston Brahmin family, who figure greatly into the future of politics and culture. The plot twists can be dizzying, with some weird suggestions of incest, but Edwards's mythic quest and liberal notions will delight fans of Jack Finney and John Irving. His New Age-y ideas about a "symmetric reality," "state of flow," and "life force" serve him well for this improbable romp through time. --Thomas DePietro
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525950615
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/14/2008
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Selden Edwards began writing The Little Book as a young English teacher in 1974, and continued to layer and refine the manuscript until its completion in 2007. He most recently authored The Lost Prince. He spent his career as headmaster at several independent schools across the country, and for over forty years has been secretary of his class at Princeton, where he also played basketball. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 42 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(21)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 19, 2009

    Different book on different levels

    For a historical fiction fan this is a good book. Its placement in late 19th Century Vienna with descriptions of life and morals is interesting and escapist. For that it should get five stars. The time travel aspect supports that rating. The plot is at times hard to pin down, straining comprehension, at times beyond the limits of good fiction, and merits only three to four stars. The characters were, for the most part, stereotyped, like an Austrian melodrama, and rate only a three rating at best. Overall the book was fun, but at times incredulous. It is not for the analytical, more for the escapist. What started out for me as compelling became at times tenuous. The whole seemed to be better than the sum of its parts, but not to the degree to make this a great work. A decent read, yes, a top notch one, not for me.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2009

    A quircky, fun little story.

    I enjoyed this book because it contained elements of history, an interesting plot and some great characters. Probably not for everyone due to the fantastic premise of time travel but a great book club choice as it would prompt any number of discussions. I would reccomend it to anyone who enjoyed The Life of Pi.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2010

    I loved this book

    This book was an incredible journey. There were so many twists and turns you never knew what was coming. The backstory of the author is great as well. I can't wait until his next book is published.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A 30 year masterpiece!

    Do you ever see a book and just know that you are going to enjoy it? Well The Little Book by Selden Edwards was like that for me. I picked up the book as the cover looked intriguing to me (Yes! I was judging a book by its cover!). I knew I was probably in good hands when the two author endorsements were from Richard Ford and Pat Conroy. Both gentlemen are among my all time favorite writers. After quickly reading the inside of the dust jacket, I was sold. I was not to be disappointed.

    The book is set during the turn of the 19th century in Vienna. Mr. Edwards weaves in some amazing cameos of people who play a role in the story (Sigmund Freud is a pivotal figure). Whilst I don't want to give the plot away, be ready to explore several time periods from 1897 to 1988. There are some shocking moments in the book that make sense, will still surprise you. The tome wraps up with a flourish that will leave you smiling.

    If you have an interest in 19th century Europe, prep school, and larger than life heroes, this is the book for you. Although written over a period of 30 years, the prose and dialogue are seamless. Cheers to Selden Smith for a book well-done!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Just The Best Little Book!

    This book is fascinating. It has an air of mystery and absolutely charming. It is just The Best Little Book! I highly recommend it. A very relaxing read. I have just finished this book and could not put it down. My only hope is that it does not take Selden Edwards thirty years to bring back Wheeler Burden. A wonderful book. Outstanding. Reminds me of A Winter's Tale.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    A gripping story

    This book brought me such pleasure with its finely drawn characters and evocation of times and places past. There were twists and turns to keep you reading. But more than that there was joy and romance and history brought together beautifully. Time travel is a hard subject to do well, but Edwards has done magnificently. This book speaks to your heart. It is the author's lifelong project and he has given us a book to cherish for a lifetime. I loved Jack Finney's Time and Again and From Time To Time and now I have found something to compare. Bravo!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Confusing and boring

    I forced myself to finish this book, thinking that it MUST get better, but it never did. When it wasn't confusing, it was boring. Too many things going on that either didn't make sense or had no relation to the main storyline and characters.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Enjoyable fantasy

    This time travel was a little easier to follow than some. Enjoyed the idea that the characters cross in different time frames. Was a little let down with the ending, but overall and absorbing story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    A Five Star Read...Ah, the brain that came up with this story!

    This story of one family's ability to time travel is a great read! The men of the family find themselves crossing paths with other family members in some random pattern of mixing up the past with the present...and the future! Two years after having read Mr. Edwards' wonderful story I still think about it, that being the reason I bought the book...so that I can loan it to friends whom I can't wait to dicuss it with! Highly Recommended!!

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  • Posted September 21, 2011

    Loved this book

    Great fun to read. Reccimended it to others and they all enjoyed it too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    A great, complex read.

    Really a unique read -- fantasy, history, romance, suspense. I strongly recommend this book.

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  • Posted July 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An Interesting Story

    Although an interesting story with unexpected twists and turns, I was not overly impressed with the style of writing. A bit contrived.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Unique and Entertaining

    The characters and plot kept me reading. I was mostly surprised with all the twists and turns. Now I am dying to see Vienna. If you want to read something interesting, this is the book for you.

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  • Posted January 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    DO NOT BE FOOLED

    Well, maybe this novel needed another 30 yrs in the cooker to make it bearable because it is absolute pain.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2008

    Wonderful Story

    Great characters, wonderful time piece and intriguing story. Also reminded me of Time and Again - a classic I love. This is a must read for people who love reading great books!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 42 Customer Reviews

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