Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, December 31, 2010

P4A and Zombies

"Congratulations, you’ve won an E-copy of an Unpublished Zombie Apocalypse novel by John Green! Thank you for donating to the Project For Awesome 2010. P4A raised over $135,000, in large part due to you."

Thank you, Harry Potter Alliance, Project for Awesome, and John Green. Don't forget to be awesome.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sookie: A Disappointment

Sookie Stackhouse and Charlaine Harris may be old news. But I work at Hastings, where people rent True Blood, the TV series based on the books, where we have a bottled beverage called Tru Blood, and where yesterday I rearranged all of the copies of the Sookie Stackhouse series. So let's just say it's on my mind. I wrote this post a year ago and never finished it. I present it to you now.

When I first heard of the Sookie Stackhouse series, I was vaguely intrigued, but I didn't make the effort to read one until I saw a coworker with a copy and he raved about it. Dead Until Dark, the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series, presents an intriguing world: Vampires have "come out of the coffin," letting their existence be known to the larger world. They claim they are not the supernatural undead, but victims of a disease which makes them allergic to garlic, silver, and sunlight. People who like to be fed from and like to get in the vampires' pants are called fangbangers. Vampires trying to live among humans are said to be "mainstreaming."

Sookie Stackhouse, young sexy waitress with the ability to read minds, is excited when a vampire comes to her bar and orders a bottle of synthetic blood. As Sookie gets friendly with the vampire, young women with vampire bites are being found strangled about the town. So begins this vampire story turned murder mystery.

In my experience, contemporary vampire stories either romanticize vampires or make them horrible monsters; vampire books are either romances or horror stories. Think Twilight and I Am Legend.

Dead Until Dark falls into the former category. Our sexy young waitress has maybe two conversations with the sexy old vampire, and suddenly they're madly in love. Surprise surprise. What had started out as a quirky take on the vampire genre with a saucy narrator turns out to be just another virgin-meets-vampire story. What follows is a number of sex scenes that try to titillate you while retaining a modicum of modesty. I have an idea: Let's describe sex while refusing to use the word penis or any of its synonyms. Gag me with a spoon.

The best part of the Sookie Stackhouse series may be the covers. I have to admit, they fill me with joy. You can't tell from the pictures, but they have glitter on them. I'm a sucker for glitter.

Still, the book was entertaining enough for me to read to the end and kind of want to read the next in the series. The romance may have been a drag, but the murder mystery was engaging.

At this point in the post I was going to compare Sookie Stackhouse to Sunshine, another modern vampire tale, but I've forgotten most of what I was going to say and it's been a couple years since I read Sunshine. I'll mull it about in my brain and post on it later. Stay tuned.

lucky girl

Hastings pays me to shelve books?!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love: There's Nothing Wrong with Inspiring Middle-Class Wives

It may seem a bit late to talk about Eat, Pray, Love. The book came out five years ago, the movie came out four months ago, and I read it over two months ago. But I was talking about it on the phone with Rhiannon today, and it's still a much-bought book and much-watched movie (I know since I work at a book/movie store).

In this post I'm going to address complaints against the memoir. Some have complained that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is spoiled. That she over-estimated the problems she faced in her life and that she dealt with them in a very bourgeois or even upper-class way. Most people can't pick up and travel the world whenever there's a problem on the home front. Someone called Gilbert a rich woman speaking to discontent middle-class wives.

It is my opinion that everyone is allowed to a personal crisis once in a while. And that if you have the opportunity to do wonderful things--like travel to Italy and India and Indonesia--you shouldn't refuse these opportunities because there are others who don't have these opportunities, who don't have the same privileges. Should I stop eating because there are people in the world starving?

And Gilbert wasn't necessarily rich. She lost most of her money in the divorce at the beginning of the memoir. And she was able to take a year to travel the world because she's a travel writer. That's her job.

So what's the actual issue with Gilbert? Is it envy? Are the complainers simply angry they didn't or can't do what Gilbert did? It's not Elizabeth Gilbert's fault we don't have publishers paying us to travel. She's just lucky enough to have a job that allowed her to spend a year in self-discovery. (I know at least one of the complainers simply wasn't paying attention when he read the little bit of the book he did; he was making an opinion with misinformation.)

Gilbert is inspiring. What's wrong with inspiring discontent middle-class wives? I find that when people bad-mouth chicklit and the stuff that appeals to middle-class wives, they are really bad-mouthing middle-class wives. So just stop.

I was telling Rhiannon that I want to read more books like Eat, Pray, Love. Not books about women who go to Italy to eat good food, or books about women who meditate, or books about women who fall in love (though I like all those things). I want to read books that make me feel the way Eat, Pray, Love did. Books that make me feel inspired, that make me feel spiritual, that make me feel motivated, that make me feel like there are forces of good working in the world.

If you know of any books like that, do let me know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Recommendations?

Not a lot of new exciting thoughts to report on books, you may have noticed. This is how my days have been going since school ended:

Try to get caught up on cleaning the house.
Go to work (at Hastings, half of which is devoted to books!).
Read Sherlock Holmes or wander the Palouse Mall on my break (Hastings is located at the Palouse Mall).
Go home. Watch Doctor Who and maybe a little Glee until bed.
Read Sherlock Holmes in bed.

But now that Christmas is passed and I'm not working full-time pre-Christmas hours, I have more time to read (and write and do yoga and hang out with friends). I'm putting together a reading list out of books people recommend and some stuff in the Hastings' "Books to give" catalog. So now I'm putting the question to you: Do you have book recommendations? The kind of books that are good to read over winter break? The kind that are absorbing and hard to put down?

So far people have told me to read:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
House of Leaves by that guy with the funny last name
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (I haven't read Stephen King since high school; if I'm going to keep quoting him I suppose I should read him.)
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Points to anyone who can guess which friend/relative recommended which book to me (I'll give you a hint, PB is on the list).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I'm in the supermarket one day with my cart, and there's this woman, about 95. She says, "I know who you are. You write those stories, those awful horror stories . . . I don't like that. I like uplifting movies like that Shawshank Redemption." So I said, "I wrote that." And she said, "No, you didn't."And that was it. Talk about surreal. I went to myself, for a minute, "It's not very much like my other stuff. Maybe I didn't write it!"

-Stephen King

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Narrative Chronology

I continue in my quest to find the optimal order in which to read the Sherlock Holmes stories. I thought that the list at the bottom of this page was the order in which the stories took place. So I was going through this list, and I began on the "The Reigate Squires," but immediately Watson was referring to events that I knew nothing of. Big sigh. So I'm just reading The Adventures straight through. I think I need to do more research into all of this. For instance, were the short stories published individually before they were gathered up and published as The Adventures?

Here's the list in (hopefully) narrative chronology:
A Study in Scarlet
"The Speckled Band"
"The Beryl Coronet"
"The Resident Patient"
"The Reigate Squires"
The Valley of Fear
"The Noble Bachelor"
"The Yellow Face"
"The Greek Interpreter"
The Sign of Four
"Silver Blaze"
"The Cardboard Box"
"A Scandal in Bohemia"
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
"A Case of Identity"
"The Blue Carbuncle"
"The Five Orange Pips"
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery
"The Stockbroker's Clerk"
"The Naval Treaty"
"The Engineer's Thumb"
The Hound of the Baskervilles
"The Crooked Man"
"The Red-Headed League"
"The Copper Beeches"
"The Dying Detective"
"The Final Problem"
"The Empty House"
"The Second Stain"
"The Golden Pince-Nez"
"The Norwood Builder"
"Wisteria Lodge"
"The Three Students"
"The Solitary Cyclist"
"Black Peter"
"The Bruce Partington Plane"
"The Veiled Lodger"
"The Sussex Vampire"
"The Missing Three-Quarter"
"The Abbey Grange"
"The Devil's Foot"
"The Dancing Men"
"The Retired Colourman"
"Charles Augustus Milverton"
"The Six Napoleons"
"The Priory School"
"Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"
"Thor Bridge"
"Shoscombe Old Place"
"The Three Garridebs"
"The Three Gables"
"The Illustrious Client"
"The Red Circle"
"The Blanched Soldier"
"The Mazarin Stone"
"The Creeping Man"
"The Lion's Mane"
"His Last Bow"

There are at least two stories missing from that list which my source has not told me anything about.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You May Now Proceed with Winter Break

Semester's over! I can return all these to the library. A gold star to whoever can figure out what my research paper was on.

New Watson Likes Jam

I can't seem to get this comic to be of an appropriate size. So read it here. This is by my favorite comic artist, Kate Beaton. Be a dear and go read her.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Chronology

I decided it was time for me to read more Sherlock Holmes. I took my double copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes/The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and began reading. But says Watson is married! When did Watson get married? Hmm...perhaps I need to read these in order. So I went onto my handy dandy Wikipedia and looked up the canon.

The order in which the Sherlock Holmes Canon was published:

A Study in Scarlet (novel)
The Sign of the Four (novel)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)
The Valley of Fear (novel)
His Last Bow (collection of short stories)
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)

I'd already read A Study in Scarlet a few years ago, but I'd forgotten most of it so I read it again. I then read The Sign of the Four, but I read in a footnote that it took place seven years after A Study in Scarlet. Seven years? What happened in those seven years? A lot happened, actually. The Valley of Fear and parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. And the short stories within The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes weren't even sorted according to chronology. It gets more complex: Some of the short stories take place early in Holmes and Watson's career but were only written by Watson later. So what order do I read them in? I don't want spoilers. I don't want to know Watson is married before I've heard the story of how he met his bride. * It's the more complex version of Narnia: Do I start with The Magician's Nephew or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

The order you would read them if you were to do them by chronology of the characters' lives rather than chronology of publishing:

A Study in Scarlet
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Valley of Fear
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Sign of Four
Part of His Last Bow
Part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Part of His Last Bow
Part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Part of His Last Bow
Parts of The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

The list goes on as we sort out 19 more short stories, but I'm done figuring it out and typing it up. I'll also include the list of the novels and short stories in chronological order, but not today. I'm going to try finding a compromise between publishing order and chronological order. I'll let you know how it goes, and hopefully at the end I can posit a good order to read them in that is not too taxing on your library account.

*Sorry for any of you who didn't know Watson was married and hate spoilers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

-Stephen King

Monday, December 6, 2010

Delicious Death

September 15 was Agatha Christie's 120th birthday. In celebration, the baking star Jane Asher created a cake based on the Delicious Death chocolate cake made for a birthday tea in A Murder is Announced.

"Impossible to make such a cake. I need for it chocolate and much butter, and sugar and raisins," says the housekeeper who is to make the cake in the book. "It will be rich, rich, of a melting richness! And on top I will put the icing – chocolate icing – I make him so nice – and write on it Good Wishes. These English people with their cakes that tastes of sand, never never, will they have tasted such a cake. Delicious, they will say – delicious."

Jane Asher says of her Christie-inspired concoction, "It has an intense, forbidding dark Belgian chocolate centre which is lifted by the unexpected sharp zing of its brandy-soaked cherry and ginger filling. The glorious assault on the senses doesn't end there: the cake is decorated with flecks of pure gold, sprinklings of crystallised rose and violet petals, and swirls of ganache piping. This paragon of a cake is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious – and deadly? – to eat."

You can find the recipe for this cake at Agatha Christie's website. I'm certainly going to try it, though I may veganify it. But veganism is too wholesome for such a poisonous endeavor... We shall see.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saffron Eyes

I recently read Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly. If you're a vampire aficionado, you may want to read it. If it's the middle of finals and you just need something to take your mind off school before bed (like me), this might be worth your time.

But generally, not a very good book. For all the ingredients that should make this good--it's a gaslamp fantasy; it's got an intriguing theory on vampirism; its heroine is more kick-ass than Mina; its protagonist used to be an agent for the British government and is now a linguistics professor; it's got legendary ancient vampires*--the finished product just isn't particularly delicious. But it's got suspense and mystery, so I did get caught up and read it through.

I'll give an example, something that immediately made me distrust the book. Hambly uses her adjectives and adverbs ill-advisedly--she's trying to be poetic, but she goes overboard. And cliches abound. What most annoyed me were the descriptions of the main vampire's eyes. She could have said they were yellow and left it at that. But no, she gave four different descriptions of the eye color in the space of twelve quick-to-read pages. Each description was lovely in its own right ("saffron eyes," "acid and honey"), but all together it was simply heavy-handed. And I was only keeping track those first twelve pages; she continues to constantly harken back to the vampire's eye color throughout the book, rotating through her descriptions. When she could have said, "the vampire looked at me," she instead said, "impenetrable champagne eyes looked into mine."

*What I love about vampires is the immortality, that they can have seen so much history and lived in so many different time periods.

How to Write

Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

-Samuel Johnson, "Recalling the Advice of a College Tutor," Boswell, Life of Johnson, 1791

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I finished in November:

Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir by Ander Monson.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling.

The Women by Hilton Als.

PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality, edited by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel, preface by Kate Bornstein. (Did you see Bornstein's tattoo?)

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie.

On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men by J.L. King.

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly.

Amphigorey Also by Edward Gorey.

These days, when I look at the list of books I've finished reading, I don't feel very accomplished. But of course this list doesn't reflect the tons of reading I've been doing. The essays by fellow MFAs, parts of books for my rhetoric class, parts of books for my research paper, children's picture books, even webcomics.

Speaking of which, if you've never read any Kate Beaton, she's fantastic. Especially if you like literature and history. But even if you don't like literature and history, she's hilarious. Maybe in an upcoming post I'll make a list of my favorites.

Monday, November 29, 2010


If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.

-Stephen King

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Words of Wisdom From E. Gorey

It takes elan
To wield a Fan.

Forbear to taste
Library Paste.

The way to Hell
Is down a Well.

The letter X
Was made to vex.

-Edward Gorey, from The Eclectic Abecedarium

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I'm a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami.

-Stephen King

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book-Title Poetry

Have you heard of book-title poetry? I think some blogger started it, but unfortunately I don't know whom to give credit to. But here's some Katie and I made back when our separate books lived together in a single library of glory:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Have you read these 100 books?

I copied this off Facebook:

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100* books listed here.


• Bold those books you've read in their entirety.

• Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read only an excerpt.

*I don't know what happened to #23 and #26. On that note: the list is wonky. There is a listing for both the Chronicles of Narnia AND Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe; likewise the Complete Works of Shakespeare is listed, in addition to Hamlet. But whatever.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible I tried to read the whole thing multiple times, always starting over at the beginning. Accordingly, Genesis is my favorite book.

7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion - Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving

45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac There were some good parts, but there were too many not-good parts, so I got bored and never finished.

67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce

76 The Inferno - Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray Read half, decided the rest wasn't worth it.

80 Possession - AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I dunno--I've read some Sherlock Holmes.

90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo I was just telling Katie the other day how it's a mystery to me why I didn't finish this. I got close, and I quite enjoyed it.

I've read 42, and read parts of 11. Leave a comment with how many you've read.


Beloved blogger/best friend Katie won't stop talking about the mushrooms growing in her yard, and said she was going to put pictures of them in her blog (though she seems to have put a picture of a spiderweb instead), so here is my response to that post (even if her toadstool post is imaginary).

This is a toadstool I found on a hike. I think it was on Mount Pilchuck. The picture may have been taken by my friend Diana, but I think it was me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thoughts on Magic and the Internet

The wizarding world (and you know which wizarding world I'm talking about) has flying motorcycles. They've improved on our photographs by making them move. Instead of airplanes they have apparition. Instead of typewriters they have quick-quote quills. Instead of cell phones they send messages with their patroni (patronuses?). Instead of internet they have...wait--they don't have anything! Rowling, are you trying to tell me that these wizard and witches who live amongst muggles don't have an alternative to internet? Surely they've noticed their muggle neighbors looking at funny metal and plastic boxes; I know Harry has been on Dudley's computer. Why haven't they adopted this muggle technology? I'm quite certain they would find it useful. Email is faster than owls, for one thing.

Imagine if the Quibbler had been a blog. Imagine if Voldemort's Wikipedia page were getting vandalized by people typing, "Dumbledore's Army now recruiting!" or "Support Harry Potter!" Imagine if Death Eaters tracked who was looking at Harry's Wikipedia page. Imagine if information on horcruxes could be scoured for through Google.

Edit: I think the seventh book is supposed to take place around 1998, so I guess internet culture wasn't quite as large a force then. But still, I feel this is an oversight on Rowling's part.

Memoir as Art

Not to long ago I was talking to The Ex-Boyfriend, and told him I was excited because I was getting ideas for how to turn my assorted personal essays into a memoir. "No one would want to read a memoir by someone as young as you, unless you were a child soldier in Africa," he said.

My ex-boyfriend's unencouraging manner aside, within memoir culture (and I find increasingly it is a sort of sub-culture, not just a group of people) it's not what you say but how you say it. Style over content. It's not the story, but your abilities as a story-teller. James Frey's crime is not that he lied about his book being a memoir, his crime is being a bad writer. Some among the nonfiction community can even be derisive if the memoirist has a compelling story. "You were sexually abused? You were anorexic? You've overcome the odds? Come on!"

Here's Ander Monson's somewhat-cynical take on the memoir:

Asserting the primacy of I suggests that we should care about it because it is an I, because it has incurred slights at the hands of others, of the world. And we should care. Sure, I agree with that: everyone is special, deserving of attention and examination. And inhabiting their experience allows us to share it, know it. (This is called collective knowing.) But I still don't want to read what most people have to say about themselves if it's just to tell their story. I want it to be art, meaning that I want it transformed, juxtaposed, collaged--worked on like metal sculpture, each sentence hammered, gleaming, honed. For me, the sentence is where it's at--the way the story's told--not simply the story behind the language. The action of telling is fine: kudos for you and your confession, your therapy, your bravery in releasing your story to the public. But telling is performing, even if it seems effortless. And writing that story and selling it to a publisher make it product, packaged and edited and marketed. With years of reflection on that story and how it can be shaped as prose (and how its shape changes from our shaping it, reflecting on it), given audience and agents and editors, rhetoric and workshop and rewriting for maximum emotional punch--given the endless possibilities of the sentence on the page, I expect to see a little fucking craft.

If poets can turn the ordinary and mundane into art, why can't memoirists?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vanishing Point

Maybe what memoirs offer us is another fiction: that of understanding. By reading memoir we can pretend to comprehend a life. Which means our lives have meaning, a thing that we might extract and present to God if and when we have the chance to do so. And if others can step back from their lives and can process them as stories, as effects with traceable causes and rising actions and epiphanies, then we are convinced we might also do so.
--Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir by Ander Monson.

I liked Vanishing Point. I'd been wary of it ("Not a Memoir" sounds rather pretentious and unnecessarily rebellious, doesn't it?), but it won me over. Monson's voice is amiable and endearing, funny and casual, insightful. At least that's what I think; a peer spoke of the book's "pomposity and douchebaggery."

This is a book of essays, with different subject matters, different styles, and even different formats and fonts. However, books of essays don't sell so Monson had to make the essays talk to each other, allude to each other, build off each other to some degree, like they're chapters. So you can read the individual essays, but reading straight through ain't a bad idea.

There's an essay on artificial food flavoring that was fascinating and oddly appealing. There's an essay on YouTube (and I'm assuming that since you're reading my blog you're a fan of YouTube culture, probably a nerdfighter). There's an essay on the Biggest Ball of Paint in the world. There's an essay on Dungeons & Dragons (I think you'd appreciate it, Katie) (bonus points because Monson alluded to musician Final Fantasy). Scattered throughout there are essays of what Monson calls assembloirs, assembled memoirs, chapters filled with nothing but quotes from assorted memoirs gathered together to make a whole. I thought assembloirs were a good idea, but these chapters were actually my least favorite in the book.

And through all these chapters Monson is examining the genre of memoir, it's points of failure and its appeal. He's examining solipsism, the obsession with I, both in American culture and in memoirs.

I didn't like all the essays; some I skimmed through. But some I very much liked. If you read only one essay from this book, read "Transsubstantiation." I very much recommend it. Especially if you have an interest in food.

If you want a taste of Monson (and I think you do!) but don't have the book at hand, read one of the first incarnations of his essay "Solipsism." The essay evolves and expands each time it is reproduced, from internet to print, from website to magazine to book. I read its fourth incarnation, and it was one of my favorite essays of Vanishing Point.

One last fun fact: Monson uses the word queue an awful lot for being an American.


Frankenstein Doesn't Plant Petunias in Your Pants.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I finished in October (so this doesn't include short stories, articles, chapters, essays, blogs, etc.):

The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder
by Stephen Elliott.
Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf. Fantastic book.
The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order by Joan Wickersham.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Simply put: a disappointment.
Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" by Judith Butler.
Rent Girl by Michelle Tea, illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin.
Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennet.
Frankenstein Doesn't Plant Petunias by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones, illustrated by John Steven Gurney.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Human Jello!

I read Gorey's The Blue Aspic today. It was amusing, but had nothing whatsoever to do with aspic except this most-delightful cover.

Friday, October 29, 2010


This post is preaching to the choir. The choir being Katie, who has heard me talk about such things a number of times in a number of different ways. In fact, I'm kind of embarrassed to be talking about it again, and wish I could come up with some more elegant way of making my point. But I again found myself thinking these thoughts last evening, and on the off chance someone other than Katie reads my blog, thought I'd put them out there.

My roommate said she didn't like the chapter in Michelle Tea's Rent Girl called "How I Hated Men." I too did not appreciate the perpetuation of this stereotype that feminists and lesbians are man-haters (I was also flustered by the perpetuation of the stereotype that vegans waste away from lack of nourishment). At the same time, I appreciated Tea's sentiments and could relate to them.

I read Rent Girl for my Contemporary Memoir class (those of you who don't know me, I'm an MFA at University of Idaho). An upcoming book for the class is We Did Porn by Zak Smith. Today I first associated the name (Zak Smith) with the title and had the gut reaction, "I don't want to read a book about porn written by a man. A man's perspective isn't interesting/worth hearing." Of course, I knew I should give him a chance and that men can have perspectives worth hearing. But I feel like more and more I lose interest in male authors. The male perspective feels like "been there, done that." It's what we've all grown up reading/hearing/seeing. I can't tell you what the qualitative difference between male authors and female authors is, but I feel one. Maybe it's something subtle that only other women are attuned to, some recognition of a certain shared experience.

But think about it. If you're in school, count how many books by female authors your teachers are assigning you in comparison to how many books by male authors. Teachers are getting better and better at assigning women as well as men, but this difference is still large. English, philosophy, biology, anthropology, etc. Any department you are in you will be reading male authors. I can guarantee it. But will you read women? Maybe. If you want to be guaranteed to hear female voices, you have to take women's studies. Ditto with queer voices and queer studies. Women are something to be studied, not valid contributors themselves. You have to go out searching for women, but the male perspective is all up in your face whether or not you want it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Less than six degrees from...

Scene: Sitting in Contemporary Memoir, talking about Rent Girl.

Professor: Blah blah blah, Michelle Tea, blah blah blah.

Student Jory: Well, when I interviewed Michelle Tea this summer...blah blah...

Class: Blah blah blah Michelle Tea blah blah Rent Girl blah.

Professor: Hey, Jory, could you email Michelle Tea and ask her this question for us? And also this question?

Jory: Sure.

Man, why don't I get to be cool like Jory? Jory and I both have Tulip Festival pics for our Facebook profiles; that means we are similarly cool and I could interview authors for my blog, too, right? How do I get ahold of them? I'll just look them up in the phone book, yeah.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rent Girl

I read Rent Girl in one swoop last night between dinner and bed. It's an illustrated memoir about a woman who becomes a hooker. Written by Michelle Tea and illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin. I quite liked it. I like that it presents a female world--almost the only men are johns. In the beginning of the book, the narrator is so queer that when she sees a friend's boyfriend she wonders "what does she even do with him."

The drawback of the book was the typos. So many typos! On every page. They really got in the way, they weren't always ones you could just gloss over. Had to stop and think about what the book was trying to say. Get your shit together, Last Gasp publishing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Horned God

The Horned God of of Wicca-- representing fertility, wildness, the masculine--was seen in a Jungian analysis of women's literature by Richard Sugg to represent a lover who subjugates the social conformist nature of the female shadow. Think Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Women who have this Horned God character as a lover are often socially ostracized or even get in an inverted version of the male hero-story.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Radclyffe Hall

For Halloween I'm doing a costume exchange so I don't get to choose my own costume. But I was thinking I would love to be Radclyffe Hall (author of Well of Loneliness, 1928) for Halloween. Slick hair, smoking jacket, cigarette. Suave, classy. Oh yes. I've been invited to a costume party Saturday: dress as your favorite dead person. Oh yes?

Una Troubridge, Hall's partner, would also be a good costume. Monocle, daschund, bob.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't forget to be awesome

ohmygiddygod you can now go to this page by being awesome. Just type and voila! Or you can say to yourself, "don't forget to be awesome, Esme." and you've found me!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Letter to Henry James II

Dear Mr. James,

I want to like you, I really do. I want to have a deep appreciation of your work. This would be much easier if you would stop writing stupid stories.

I speak too strongly. I admit, I liked "The Private Life." It was pleasant and clever. And since you have five volumes of short stories and novellas plus your novels (I hadn't realized you were so prolific!), I am sure to fine more that agrees with me.

My main qualm is one of your more famous works: The Turn of the Screw.

I don't understand why the characters do or say the things they do. The protagonist seems to always be coming to understandings which I, frankly, do not understand. She is always jumping to conclusions (interrupting other characters to do so) and I cannot follow her logic. And at the end, when the governess "triumphs" over the ghosts, I can't figure out why her actions were significant enough to cause a triumph.

I get lost in your pronouns. Remember what Miss Marple said: "pronouns...were always puzzling and [some] were particularly prone to strew them about haphazard." I think you should read more Agatha Christie, Henry darling.

In my last letter I accused you of being vague. I stand by that. The little boy, Miles, was expelled from school for "wickedness." Wickedness? Was he stealing and doing nasty things to fellow children and their pets using his budding magical prowess? By the end of the novella we discover he told things to people he liked. He was expelled for saying "things"? WTF, Hank?

Perhaps I am simply obtuse, Mr. James. But I am not yet convinced you aren't too abstruse. For now, we shall remain respectful acquaintances. I hope our friendship can blossom upon further association.

Yours truly,
Ms. Dutcher

Monday, October 18, 2010


I just read the subtitle of the book I had planned to read next. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.

Indonesia? Indonesia?! She eats in Italy, prays in India, and finds love in Indonesia? She finds love in the country where Chris spent the summer and will be spending the not-too-distant future. Gah, irony! I have half a mind to return the book to the library unread.

Letter to Henry James

Dear Mr. James,

Your ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, has left me, how shall I say, underwhelmed. The protagonist, the governess, keeps crying how the ghosts are evil! dreadful! depraved! but you give very little explanation of what makes them so evil. Is it because they're ghosts? Yes, when the dead stick around it is unsettling. Is it because these ghosts were sexually promiscuous while they were alive? Certainly not something to laud, I agree. Is it because they were acting above their station, these low-class ghosts, in making friends with the upper-class children? Uppity ghosts should not be tolerated. But evil?

Well, they look evil! your governess cries. I could see the depravity in their eyes!

The male ghost had red hair, whiskers, and wore no hat. Oh the depravity, he wore no hat!

The female ghost wore mourning clothes and was quite pretty. Sinister, very sinister!

I'm sorry, Hank (may I call you Hank?), but you're going to have to do better than that if you want me shivering in my boots. Your evil is all together too vague.

Yours truly,

P.S. You use too many commas.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

human jello

I'm adding Edward Gorey to my autumn reading list. I would particularly like to get ahold of The Blue Aspic.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Such is the resiliency of man that he can become fascinated by ugliness which surrounds him everywhere and wish to transform it by his art into something clinging and haunting in it's lovely desolation.
--Sylvia Plath

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Daisy Miller

Henry James rewrote the novella Daisy Miller as a play which was never produced. He gave Daisy Miller a happy ending to please the supposed temperaments of theater-goers. I'm really curious about this happy ending. I was never able to make up my mind about what sort of person Daisy was, and I wonder what insights a happy ending might give.

There are also two versions of the novella; some prefer the first (reported to have more color and immediacy) and some prefer the second (reported to have a deeper tone). I wonder which one I read? Color and immediacy sound pleasant, don't they?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I miss Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty. I miss Nick. Sigh. But I can't always be reading it. Still, I miss it like a good friend. Reading Henry James will have to suffice.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


It's a Friday night and some people are gathered around a bonfire in a backyard in Moscow, Idaho. Even though I have never lived in a place where one couldn't see the stars, still I am slightly surprised and feel blessed that we can see the stars despite light pollution. Like most gatherings I go to, there's an assortment of MFA people here and we just can't go a minute without talking about writing. Sonya had a piece published recently, and as we talk about submitting our work, a poet (graduated) is surprised that as first years in an MFA program we are trying to get published. Shouldn't we simply be using the time to write and get better? "But if we have pieces we think are ready to send out, why should we wait?" I counter.

Ryan (lit MA, graduated) has his stepfather visiting. The stepfather says he's in business, but he loves to read, and he'd be interested to hear who are the favorite authors in this group. "Wallace Stevens," says the poet. "All mine are men," says my roommate (first year, nonfic) with chagrin. Dave Eggers is top of her list. I'm proud that most of mine are women, and I list some off the top of my head: "Angela Carter, Kathryn Davis, Susanna Clarke, Marilyn Robinson." "Robinson's Home is really good," says the poet.

There aren't many books that I'd willingly spend time to reread. A few I have known before I finished them I want to reread them: Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson.

What if I fed myself a diet consisting only of my favorite books? What if I read nothing but Mervyn Peake, Angela Carter, Kathryn Davis, Ray Bradybury, Marilyn Robinson, Helene Cixous, Alan Hollinghurst, Virginia Woolf? How would my writing be with such words roiling around in my body like reactive agents in a test tube? Like a flamingo who eats shrimp and turns pink, what color would my stories be?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Orlando: A Biography

The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner...
The new king...directed that the river, which was frozen to a depth of twenty feet and more for six or seven miles on either side, should be swept, decorated and given all the semblance of a park of pleasure ground...Coloured balloons hovered motionless in the air. Here and there burnt vast bonfires of cedar and oak wood, lavishly salted, so that the flames were of green, orange, and purple fire. But however fiercely they burnt, the heat was not enough to melt the ice which, though of singular transparency, was yet of the hardness of steel. So clear indeed was it that there could be seen, congealed at a depth of several feet, here a porpoise, there a flounder... Near London Bridge, where the river had frozen to a depth of some twenty fathoms, a wrecked wherry boat was plainly visible, lying on the bed of the river where it had sunk last autumn, overladen with apples. The old bumboat woman, who was carrying her fruit to market on the Surrey side, sat there in her plaids and farthingales with her lap full of apples, for all the world as if she were about to serve a customer, though a certain blueness about the lips hinted the truth.
--Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

What a glorious, splendid book! What wit, what cleverness, what sass! I shan't tell you what it's about; you must read it for yourself and discover for yourself all the beauty, the audacity, the most pleasant of surprises!

You should read Orlando while leaning against an oak tree. You should read it by the ocean. You should read it with flowers nearby. You should read it by candlelight. You should take a glass of wine with this book; in some parts a cup of coffee would not go amiss. But don't drink tea with this book; Orlando detests tea.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Autumn Books

I'm preparing my autumn reading list and I'm so excited for it I have to share. I love making reading lists. I hope I can get all these at the libraries round these parts.

The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids. Maybe Frankenstein Doesn't Plant Petunias or Witches Don't Do Back Flips.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich.
Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury.
Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly.
Fantastic Tales edited by Italo Calvino.

Anyone have any other suggestions? Anyone know of any good werewolf books? Or movies? Or YouTube?

Friday, October 1, 2010

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I Finished Reading in September

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The first half (or first book) is great, the second is just OK.

Bodily Arts
: Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece by Debra Hawhee.

Running in the Family
by Michael Ondaatje. A great book.

Leave it to Psmith
by P.G. Wodehouse. Apparently this is the fourth novel about Psmith and the second set at Blandings Castle. I'd been told by two different people that I would like Wodehouse, and I've finally read him and indeed I quite like him. A perfectly charming novel full of eccentric characters getting into trouble while running about picturesque garden-filled Blandings Castle in early 20th century England. I feel like I overuse the word witty, but witty is really the best way of describing Wodehouse.

Pigs Have Wings
by P.G. Wodehouse. This is the seventh novel set at Blandings Castle. I wasn't aware of such facts when I read them; I've got a collection of three Wodehouse novels in one book, you see, and it didn't pick its novels according to sequence. I went to the County Fair shortly after finishing this book, and it was fun to go in the swine barn because Pigs Have Wings is all about the hijinks involved in fattening pigs for a contest at a fair.

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore. Moore is hilarious. This may be my second favorite Moore book, the first being Lamb. Apparently Moore writes comic fantasy.

My Life by Lyn Hejinian.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore.

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George. The second Inspector Lynley novel. If you can ignore the occasional cliche, melodramatic statement, or other instances of poor writing, George writes engaging whodunits.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Invisible Writers

Writers are hidden beings; you have never actually met one. If you should ever believe you are seeing a writer, or having an argument with a writer, or going to lunch with a writer, or listening to a talk by a writer, then you can be sure it is all a mistake.
-Cynthia Ozick, "Ghost Writers"

Monday, September 20, 2010

the drips

As if words could unite an ardent intellect with the external material world. Listen to the drips. The limits of personality. It's in the nature of language to encourage, and in part to justify, such Faustian longings. Break them up into uncounted continuous and voluminous digressions. The very word "diary" depresses me.

-Lyn Hejinian, My Life

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Now that I've moved to what feels like a very small town, I'm really interested in comparing the sizes of cities, figuring out who's bigger than who and by how much. So I've compiled some populations:

Snohomish, WA (the town I grew up in): 9,220
Bellingham, WA (where I spent the last four years): 80,055
Moscow, ID (where I now live and will be the next three years): 23,131
Missoula, MT (where Rhiannon is from and where I visited last weekend): 68,202
Coeur d'Alene, ID (one of the closest cities to Moscow): 43,683
Spokane, WA (where my friend Kathelyn lives and one of the closest cities to Moscow): 203,276
Seattle, WA (just for reference): 617,334

Western Washington University (where I just graduated from): 14,575
University of Idaho (where I now attend): 11,957

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I finished reading in July

Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake, the third of the Gormenghast novels. Not as good as the first two in the series.

Is that all I finished reading in July? Really? I read a short story by Angela Carter, I started Persuasion, I started The Wizard, I read from my meditation books. OK, I guess Titus Alone was all I finished.

Books I finished reading in August

The Wizard by Gene Wolfe, the second of The Wizard Knight. These two books were not all they were crapped up to be. Oh no, they weren't.

by A.S. Byatt. Wonderful.

The Discovery
by K.A. Applegate. The 20th book in the Animorphs series. I actually read most of this a year ago, and then while moving out of my apartment I picked it up and read the last chapter before bed because I didn't want to start anything.

The Threat
by K.A. Applegate. The 21st book in the Animorphs series. Finishing The Discovery got me back in the Animorphs mode. I think they're my version of comfort food.

The Solution by K.A. Applegate. The 22nd book in the Animorphs series.

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields. Review to come.

The Pretender by K.A. Applegate. The 23rd book in the Animorphs series.

At this point I regretted having left my Animorphs collection at my parents' house when I moved to Idaho. All outta Animorphs, and the library won't let me check out books.

Question: What's your literary version of comfort food?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Fact of the day:

Plato was a championship wrestler.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stuck in Moscow Without a Book

Today is the worst day of my life.

Two different libraries refused to let me check out books. I am stuck in Moscow Idaho without library access. What happened to the friendly no-questions-asked outlook of the Chelan Library I saw this summer?

The public library wouldn't give me a library card! They don't believe I'm a resident! They think I'm a book thief who goes from county to county getting library cards to check out books and then never returning the books. They think I'm going to smear mayo under the dust jackets and put condiments in their book drop. Well I don't need a library card to put condiments in your book drop, Latah County!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination"--above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Every time I'm in a nonfiction class (as in personal essay, memoir), the question of veracity and factualism inevitably comes up. Can I make up what color shirt I was wearing when I was five? If I remember the gist of a conversation, can I invent the dialogue? Can I write this scene to serve my emotional truth, my psychological reality, rather than the literal truth? Annie Dillard's imaginary cat will be mentioned. Someone will bring up Judy Blunt's green typewriter that her uncle didn't actually destroy with a sledgehammer in a fit of anger. James Frey's novel sold as memoir.

In Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, David Shields argues that every time we put pen to paper, every time we open our mouths, every we time we recall a memory, we are creating fiction. By deciding which memory to include in our memoir and which to leave out we are shaping our reality fictitiously. By using words to describe what was a physical incident we depart from the facts. By using metaphor we are giving coherence and form to meaningless circumstances. By remembering at all we are changing, shaping, creating. What is more faulty than a memory?

David Shields: "Just as out-and-out fiction no longer compels my attention, neither does straight-ahead memoir. I want the contingency of life, the unpredictability, the unknowability, the mysteriousness, and these are best captured when the work can bend at will to what it needs: fiction, fantasy, memoir, meditation, confession, reportage."

So where do you draw the line? Do you invent a scene because it illustrates your emotional truth? Do you blend fact and fiction to keep your readers on their toes, or in order to make a better story, or just for the fun of it, because writing is an inherently creative act? Because the world is uncertain and our writing should be too?