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

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.