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

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.