Monthly Archives: January 2007

Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles

1124764.gifI have very mixed feelings about this book; at times I hated it and at others I laughed or admired the writing or felt I could appreciate what Schulz was doing. Sometimes I was horrified by it.

It’s a series of short stories, sort of — I think of the chapters as being on the boundary line between stories and sketches. Some of them actually told a story with a plot, while others were more descriptive, without much, or any, narrative. They are about a young boy’s family and his city; I think we are safe in assuming that the main character is at least partly based on Schulz himself.

These stories are often fantastical. They might start off in a realistic mode, but most of them eventually veer off into the dream-like and the impossible. I wasn’t expecting this, and so I spent a lot of time figuring out what Schulz was doing and how I supposed to approach his stories. I found the reading experience to be disorienting — which isn’t a bad thing, really, although it wasn’t purely pleasure, either. As I was describing the stories to the Hobgoblin, he asked if they might be called “magical realism,” and I thought not, because to me magical realism is more about describing the fantastical or the magical as though it were real — to treat it matter-of-factly — when what Schulz does is the opposite; he takes the real and makes it strange and otherworldly.

My favorite chapters were the ones that had more narrative, such as “Birds” or “Cinnamon Shops.” The more descriptive chapters drove me crazy; I felt like I was drowning in Schulz’s incredibly dense language. As I look over the book trying to find a passage to show you what I mean, I realize that this isn’t bad writing really, not bad in the sense that Schulz loses control of it and his meaning gets away from him. Here’s an example:

Once Adela took me to the old woman’s house. It was early in the morning when we entered the small blue-walled room, with its mud floor, lying in a patch of bright yellow sunlight in the still of the morning broken only by the frighteningly loud ticking of a cottage clock on the wall. In a straw-filled chest lay the foolish Maria, white as a wafer and motionless like a glove from which a hand had been withdrawn. And, as if taking advantage of her sleep, the silence talked, the yellow, bright, evil silence delivered its monologue, argued, and loudly spoke its vulgar maniacal soliloquy. Maria’s time — the time imprisoned in her soul — had left her and — terribly real — filled the room, vociferous and hellish in the bright silence of the morning, rising from the noisy mill of the clock like a cloud of bad flour, powdery flour, the stupid flour of madmen.

I’m fine with the passage for the first two sentences, and even the third, although I do wonder what kind of “chest” Maria is lying in. I like the description of her as “white as a wafer and motionless like a glove.” Then we get the silence talking, and I feel like we’re entering into deeper waters, but I like the idea of silence talking, and even arguing and being loud. The last sentence begins to lose me, though — Maria’s time is filling the room? I sort of get it, if I stretch a bit. I like the image of the cloud of flour filling the room, but why the “stupid flour of madmen”? This book is full of language you can struggle with for a long time, if you want. Or, I suppose, you can refuse to struggle with it and just let it wash over you.

The sections that describe the father were the most powerful; it was these sections that horrified me. He goes back and forth between sanity and insanity, and during his insane times, he does things like keeping a flock of birds in the attic and crawling across the floor like a cockroach. And the family can’t really do anything about it. They often act as though he’s not there, as though there weren’t a completely insane man living in their midst. I wonder if some of the book’s mixing of fantasy and reality is the boy’s response to his father’s madness; in the world the boy lives in, how is he supposed to distinguish what is real and what is not? What does he have to hold on to that’s solid and certain?


Filed under Books, Fiction

More on Johnson

Based on what I’ve read so far in The Life of Johnson, Johnson was a lovely letter writer, although an unreliable one. Boswell includes quite a few of his more interesting letters — both business ones and personal ones — and in the personal letters he’s always apologizing for taking so long to write. Here are a couple passages I particularly liked, both written to his friend Joseph Baretti who was currently living in Milan:

My vanity, or my kindness, makes me flatter myself, that you would rather hear of me than of those whom I have mentioned, but of myself I have very little which I care to tell. Last winter I went down to my native town, where I found the streets much narrower and shorter than I thought I had left them, inhabited by a new race of people, to whom I was very little known. My play-fellows were grown old, and forced me to suspect that I was no longer young. My only remaining friend has changed his principles, and was become the tool of the predominant faction. My daughter-in-law, from whom I expected most, and whom I met with sincere benevolence, has lost the beauty and gaiety of youth, without having gained much of the wisdom of age. I wandered about for five days, and took the first convenient opportunity of returning to a place, where, if there is not much happiness, there is, at least, such a diversity of good and evil, that slight vexations do not fix upon the heart.

This is so typical of Johnson, I think; it’s a very sad passage, very beautifully written. If you’ve read Rasselas (and if not, why not?) the tone may feel familiar. Here is another typical passage:

I know my Baretti will not be satisfied with a letter in which I give him no account of myself; yet what account shall I give him? I have not, since the day of our separation, suffered or done any thing considerable. The only change in my way of life is, that I have frequented the theatre more than in former seasons. But I have gone thither only to escape from myself … I am digressing from myself to the play-house; but a barren plan must be filled with episodes. Of myself I have nothing to say but that I have hitherto lived without the concurrence of my own judgement; yet I continue to flatter myself, that, when you return, you will find me mended. I do not wonder that, where the monastick life is permitted, every order finds votaries, and every monastery inhabitants. Men will submit to any rule, by which they may be exempted from the tyranny of caprice and of chance. They are glad to supply by external authority their own want of constancy and resolution, and court the government of others, when long experience has convinced them of their own inability to govern themselves.

There is much in this passage that strikes a chord with me, from living “without the concurrence of my own judgement,” to the desire to mend, to recognizing the attractions of having someone else order your life for you. I don’t really want another person or an institution to order my life for me, but I do understand what he means by “the tyranny of caprice and chance.”


Filed under Books, Nonfiction

Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise

8528163.gifOver the weekend, I finished Jane Kenyon’s book of poems, Otherwise, a book I’ve been slowly reading my way through for a good five months or so. It’s sometimes hard, actually, to finish a book after spending such a long time with it. I never spent that long with the book when I picked it up — I’d read maybe 2 or 3 poems at a time — but I read in it so regularly that Kenyon became a regular part of my life.

I liked the collection very much, although it took me a while to figure out how to read it — as I suppose happens with every poetry book, and every book really. For a long time I didn’t understand what people meant when they said that a book teaches you how to read it, but now I think I have an idea — each book has its own way of looking at the world, its own way of using language, its own obsessions and preoccupations, and it takes a while to get adjusted to those things.

Kenyon’s poems are typically about the spaces and objects in her house, or the natural world, or perhaps about her dog — she has several wonderful poems about dogs — and often about death. I got the feeling, reading through this book, that she had many encounters with illness and death, and I know she herself died quite young from leukemia. She writes about hospital visits and insomnia and bedside conversations with the ill and dying. She has a number of gripping poems about depression, which I think could only be written by someone who has first-hand experience of it.

Going through a list of the topics one might find in her book doesn’t really do the book justice, though — in fact, hearing that a poet writes nature poems might turn me away from the book if I were reading someone else’s review. There’s a lot of poetry about nature that I like, but to set out to read “nature poetry” sounds kind of dull. What’s most engaging about the book is Kenyon’s voice, the personality that comes through the poems, the sensibility that’s filtering the world for us. Sometimes she writes poems that are largely descriptive, perhaps evoking the feeling of a season or a walk in winter, and at other times she tells stories, of conversations, maybe, or of encounters with fellow townspeople, and either way her language is simple and clear; these poems are by no means difficult to follow or dense, and sometimes I wondered what, exactly, is poetic about them. But I think it’s the sharpness of observation and the often melancholy but always honest voice that makes them poetic; she writes with the kind of simplicity and clear-eyed vision that seems easy to imitate — until you actually try it.

I suppose what I look for when I read poetry — and Kenyon offers this without a doubt — are poems that make me look at the world in a different way, or even poems that make me look at the world, period. I’m well aware that there are those who say poems should make you look at poems differently — that the point of poetry is to say something about aesthetics and art and not to reflect on the world outside the poem — but I just don’t read them that way. I don’t like poetry that’s didactic or easily sentimental, but I do look to poetry for wisdom.

Here’s one of those wonderful poems about dogs, called “Biscuit”:

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can’t bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.


Filed under Books, Poetry

My day

030726419×01_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_v65791194_.jpgToday is my birthday (I feel strange drawing attention to that, because I don’t generally draw attention to myself, which is weird … because I blog … but I’m mentioning it because I want to talk about my gifts), and the Hobgoblin gave me three news books: The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice. I’m excited about the two novels both because they look good and because I’m in need of some contemporary fiction right now. I’m still reeling from The Street of Crocodiles (more on that later) and want something likely to feel a little more familiar. And I’m excited about the Trillin book because I’ve heard wonderful things about it, and I read an excerpt of it in the New Yorker a while back that was really beautiful.

The Hobgoblin also got me some cycling tank tops (special because they have pockets in the back) and a sweater. We went out to a fancy restaurant last night to celebrate, which is standard for us — we agree that everything should be celebrated with a trip to a fancy restaurant, preferably one we haven’t been to before. Oh, and a good friend of mine got me the Jane Austen action figure, which I’m really excited about — it comes complete with writing desk and a quill pen, and the box has this wonderful quotation on it: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Today we went on a group bike ride, which turned out to be wonderful. It was three hours, with about a dozen people, and I was happy with it because for the most part everybody kept a reasonable pace — not too fast — so I worked hard but didn’t kill myself trying to keep up with the others. It was a beautiful day, upper 30s and so warm enough to be comfortable (especially with my toe warmers!), clear, and sunny. The only problem was that the roads were wet, and riding on wet roads with a group can be a bit gross because the tires of the person in front of me spray water and road grit directly at my face. I know the taste of dirty road water all too well. But otherwise, I couldn’t have asked for a better ride.


Filed under Books, Cycling, Life

My ranking

I have a national USCF (United States Cycling Federation) ranking! All you need to do to get one, actually, is to ride in a USCF race and finish it, so it’s not like it’s a big deal, but I was pleased to realize that someone is keeping track of my performances and that I’m not dead last in my category. Many race organizers report their results to the USCF, which then uses a complicated formula to give all finishers a certain number of points (this is based on your place in the finish, the number of riders in a race, your age group and probably other things too) and then you get ranked along with other riders in your category. So my ranking isn’t based on how I compete against all other women, but against all other category 4 women (beginners).

And you’d like to know what my national ranking is? I’m 132 out of 225 in road races and 145 out of 195 in criteriums. Woo-hoo! This is based on only three races, actually; I guess they only count races where you ride with your gender and category, and most of my races last year were with men. The USCF website has my results in these three races (results which I’d pretty much forgotten about): 22nd and 33rd in the road races and 13th in the criterium.

The website gives even more information though; here are the various ways they break it down for road races (I’m giving away my age here!):

1 Rank in your zip code
6 Rank in your state
4 Rank in your riding age (33)
22 Rank in 5 year age range (30-34)
55 Rank in 10 year age range (30-39)
132 Overall rank

And here are the stats for criteriums:

1 Rank in your zip code
5 Rank in your state
4 Rank in your riding age (33)
25 Rank in 5 year age range (30-34)
58 Rank in 10 year age range (30-39)
145 Overall Rank

#1 in my zip code! — and probably the only one. What these stats conveniently leave out is how many people I’m competing against in each of these categories. Oh, this makes me laugh. So, okay — I have lots of room for improvement. But that’s a good thing, because it won’t be so impossibly hard to move up in the overall rankings this year. And maybe I’ll manage to stay #1 in my zip code.


Filed under Cycling

Old School

Preparing myself for the one ride on the indoor trainer I’ve done so far this winter (mentioned in yesterday’s post), I went to the library to get an audiobook to listen to while I pedal. I picked up Tobias Wolff’s Old School, which I’d read an excerpt of a while back in the New Yorker, and which has stuck with me all this time. Alas, it didn’t make riding on the trainer any easier — I was hoping I would get caught up in the story and forget I was pedaling, but no such luck — but it has been an excellent book to listen to. I’ve taken it with me to listen to in the car a couple of times now and am about halfway through.

It’s hard for me to separate what I’m liking about the book and what I’m liking about the reader and having the book read to me; I didn’t like the reader’s attempts at a southern accent all that much, but otherwise he’s done such a good job I’m finding myself laughing out loud as I’m driving along, something I rarely do when I’m reading, rather than listening to, a book. I often respond more emotionally to books I’m listening to as opposed to books I’m reading, and I’ve decided I must keep up the habit of listening to audiobooks, a habit I dropped when I stopped doing my ridiculously long commute of a couple years ago. I find it troubling that I have a stronger response to audiobooks than regular books, since that makes it seem like my response to regular books is weak, and I wonder what this says about me. But I suppose there’s nothing to do about it except listen to audiobooks regularly.

In the novel, Wolff’s first person narrator describes life in a boarding school, and at least for the narrator and his friends, literature and writing are very important. The school has a regularly-held contest where a famous writer comes to campus, reads student fiction or poetry, and selects a winner; that winner then gets to have a private audience with the famous writer. So far, the school has held two contests; for the first one, Robert Frost came to campus, and for the second, Ayn Rand.

What I love about the novel is the humor with which these visits and all the excitement they provoke are described. The narrator’s voice is wonderfully well-done, very sympathetic to his boyhood naivete and earnestness, but also able from the adult perspective to point out how funny he could be — how funny all the students could be. With each author’s visit there’s a set-piece where the author gives a speech or does a reading and the students and teachers challenge him or her and the authors talk back in a characteristic manner, Frost waxing eloquent about the value of poetic form, and Rand getting huffy and haughty and insisting that the best American novels ever are The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

And the boys’ attempts at writing are funny — I don’t mean that in a mean way, but they are typical productions of adolescents who take themselves very seriously. The boy who wins the Robert Frost contest writes a poem in a very earnest Frost-like manner, but apparently it’s so bad Frost thinks it’s a send-up of his style and chooses it as the winner because he thinks the boy is brave for making fun of him. When the narrator finds out that Ayn Rand will be visiting campus he reads The Fountainhead and becomes a convert, looking with contempt at the silly, self-sacrificing, weak people surrounding him who so foolishly fail to appreciate the value of selfishness. If you’ve ever gone through an Ayn Rand phase, you will find this section hysterically funny and just a little bit painful.

And I’m only halfway through the book. I’ll be sure to report back on the pleasures to be found in the second half.


Filed under Books, Fiction

Winter riding: a cycling post

After weeks and weeks of ridiculously warm winter weather, it’s finally gotten cold around here, so I’ve had the chance to go riding in below-freezing weather. This is the first year I’ve ridden regularly throughout the winter, and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in for a January. I owe my ability to ride in freezing weather to L.L. Bean’s Wicked Good Toe Warmers, inserts you can place between your sock and the shoe, made of all-natural something or other, and let me tell you — they are wicked good. For some reason I simply can’t keep my toes warm without them. I can wear layer upon layer of socks and layer upon layer of shoe covers and my toes still get numb and painful after about 30 minutes. The Hobgoblin has this problem with his hands, but my hands are fine, and his toes are fine. I don’t get why this is.

The first time I used the toe warmers was on a 3-hour-long ride, and they felt heavenly; simply keeping my toes warm kept me happy the whole time. Now that my toes are warm, I don’t have much trouble riding in temperatures as low as 20 degrees. Below 20 degrees, it would be hard to keep the rest of my body warm — at that point, I feel like I’m working just as hard to stay warm as I am to ride my bike; my mind turns inward, and I have trouble paying attention to the road because I’m busy monitoring how cold I am.

Besides the temperature, the main problems with winter riding are snow and wind. Snow hasn’t a problem so far this year, but even when we get some, the roads tend to clear out and dry up pretty quickly, so even a big storm will only keep my off the bike a few days. I think the wind is more of a problem — partly because of the wind chill and partly because I don’t want to get knocked over, especially not into oncoming traffic.

So far I’ve managed to ride four or five times a week, and I’ve only ridden indoors on the trainer once, and that was because of the wind. It was actually a beautiful day out, sunny and clear, but there were gusts of 50 mph according to the weather reports, and I did not one of those to hit me sideways.

One other problem with winter riding — if it’s below freezing, it’s only a matter of time before my water bottles freeze. The Hobgoblin and I rode for 2 1/2 hours last Sunday, and I couldn’t drink for the last hour because my bottle got clogged with ice. This wasn’t too much of a problem because I don’t sweat much when it’s so cold and so don’t get dehydrated quite as easily, but still, it’s not a particularly good thing.

So, so far my experiment with winter riding has gone quite well, but as this isn’t exactly a normal winter, I don’t really know what it’s like. Would I ride this regularly if temperatures were closer to average and we had more snow? I don’t know, but I hope I would.


Filed under Cycling

Johnson and writing

I’ve gotten to the part in Boswell’s Life of Johnson where Johnson is writing twice-weekly essays published as The Rambler.  This is what Boswell says about it:

The first paper of the Rambler was published on Tuesday, the 20th of March, 1749-50; and its author was enabled to continue it, without interruption, every Tuesday and Saturday, till Saturday the 17th of march, 1752, on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation of the truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote elsewhere, that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it;” for, notwithstanding his constitutional indolence, his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on his Dictionary, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a week from the stores of his mind, during all that time…

I like the idea that you can write at any time, if only you really set your mind to it. Although I’ve never done much creative writing (defined narrowly as fiction or drama or poetry) and don’t know if I’d get writer’s block trying to do it, I’ve done a good bit of other kinds of writing — letter writing, course-paper writing, dissertation writing, blog writing, email writing, administrative report writing — and tend to agree with Johnson that the words will come if I just “set myself doggedly to it.” I’m not a writer’s block sufferer. In fact, for me, there’s nothing so pleasurable about writing as sitting down with pen and paper or a computer having little idea of what I will write and watching ideas come to me as I start to work. Which is not to say that Johnson’s feat of writing essays twice weekly for so long isn’t remarkable, but that I can see why he would want to do it and why, with that attitude, he’d do a good job of it. Well, being a genius had something to do with it too, of course.

The Boswell passage makes me think that blogging is a little like writing periodical essays — perhaps not always with Johnson’s brilliance (in my case, never with Johnson’s brilliance): it’s about producing a public piece of writing on a regular or semi-regular schedule, which means, if you do follow a schedule, even a loose one, you are privileging regularity over inspiration. One of the reasons I’m attracted to blogging and why I’ve come to love it so much is the regular productivity it requires, inspiration or no.

And, as a blog-reader, there’s nothing I love more than a regular feature on someone’s blog, poetry Friday, say, or Stefanie’s Saturday Emerson post, or Danielle’s daily book chat. There’s something very reassuring about knowing writers are out there who will produce words regularly. I would have eaten up Johnson’s twice-weekly essays if I’d lived then.

However, this passage about Johnson’s writing habits does not strike a chord with me:

Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority of Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed. It can be accounted for only in this way; that by reading and meditation and a very close inspection of life, he had accumulated a great fund of miscellaneous knowledge, which, by a peculiar promptitude of mind, was ever ready at his call, and which he had constantly accustomed himself to clothe in the most apt and energetic expression.

Oh, for some of that “promptitude of mind”!


Filed under Books, Nonfiction, Writing

So Long a Letter and other things

1248728.gifI began classes today, and while I won’t be really busy for a couple weeks when the first sets of papers come in, I’m still feeling a bit in shock — there’s a lot of new stuff to take in, new colleagues, new students, a new campus, a new daily and weekly pattern to life. It’s hard for me to settle down and read in these circumstances. And the thing is, I remember clearly writing this exact same stuff last fall, when I started my last new job. I’m ready for some quiet, some peace, some regularity — I’m ready for my life to be boring!

Anyway, I finished Mariama Ba’s novel So Long a Letter last weekend. I don’t feel like I gave this book a fair reading; in other circumstances I might have liked it more, but as it was, I never quite settled into a groove with it. You know how that is, when you orient yourself to a book and get absorbed and find yourself thinking about it throughout the day when you’re doing other things? My reading wasn’t like that — it was halting and distracted, and impatient at times.

But about the book itself — it’s about a woman in Senegal whose husband has just died, and she tells the story of their marriage, including the pain she experienced when her husband took a second wife. It’s a novel about how harsh marriage can be toward women in a polygamous culture, but also about how women are beginning to find independence and freedom and to assert their own desires, difficult and painful as the process may be.

The novel is made up of letters the main character Ramatoulaye writes to a friend, and it’s her voice that is the most memorable. She writes to try to make sense of her life, and as she does so her voice is alternately angry and at peace, accusatory and accepting, uncertain and full of conviction. It’s when I realized that Ramatoulaye is struggling to make sense of rapid cultural changes — that she doesn’t always know how to respond to women’s new-found sexual freedom, for example — that the novel began to come together a bit more for me. She’s not meant to be an infallible guide, an authoritative voice to tell people what to think; rather, she’s bewildered at times. Alongside her powerful voice speaking to the pain of being a forsaken wife is another voice that wonders what all the changes mean.

Here is Ramatoulaye thinking about ways she may have, in her own estimation, failed her husband:

I am trying to pinpoint any weakness in the way I conducted myself. My social life may have been stormy and perhaps injured Modou’s trade union career. Can a man, deceived and flouted by his family, impose himself on others? Can a man whose wife does not do her job well honestly demand a fair reward for labour? Aggression and condescension in a woman arouse contempt and hatred for her husband. If she is gracious, even without appealing to any ideology, she can summon support for any action. In a word, a man’s success depends on feminine support.

This sounds very old-fashioned and traditional — a wife’s role is to further her husband’s career and be his support. But two pages later, recounting a conversation with an unwanted suitor who shows up after her husband’s death, she says this:

“…You forget that I have a heart, a mind, that I am not an object to be passed from hand to hand. You don’t know what marriage means to me: it is an act of faith of love, the total surrender of oneself to the person one has chose and who has chosen you.” ( I emphasized the word “chosen”.)

“What of your wives, Tamsir? Your income can meet neither their needs nor those of your numerous children. To help you out with your financial obligations, one of your wives dyes, another sells fruit, the third untiringly turns the hand of her sewing machine. You, the revered lord, you take it easy, obeyed at the crook of a finger. I shall never be the one to complete your collection. My house shall never be for you the coveted oasis; no extra burden; my “turn” every day, clealiness and luxury, abundance and calm! No, Tamsir!”

I wish I could have done this novel more justice, but I am glad I read it (my first book in the Reading Across Borders challenge), and it’s the contradictions and struggles shown in those two quotations that I most liked about this book.


Filed under Books, Fiction, Life

Yay me!

All those years of church-attending and Bible-studying were good for something … Thanks to Bardiac for the link.

You know the Bible 100%!



Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses – you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
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Filed under Books

Reading time

There’s a post up at Metaxu Cafe (originally posted here) asking people how much time they spend reading — and asking for hard numbers, and numbers not including time spent on newspapers or the internet, but time spent with books (although I suppose one can read a book on the internet and newspaper reading can sometimes be intense — and what about magazines? — but I think you get the idea — this is about time spent on intense, substantive reading). How many hours per day? Per week?

I think this is an interesting question; I find myself curious about people’s responses and wanting to hear more. I’m particularly interested in how much time those people who manage to read a lot of books a year (for me, “a lot of books” means something closer to 100 books or more rather than the 50 or so I’m capable of) spend reading each day. Those of you who can read that much, do you read super fast, or do you read a lot of hours a day?

For me, I manage about a 1-2 hours a day during the week in the middle of the semester (sometimes less, sometimes more), maybe 2 or 3 hours on the weekends, and then when school isn’t in session, probably 2-5 hours a day. What limits my reading time, besides work (which for me includes grading and prepping classes on the weekends), are the hours I spend riding my bike and the hours I spend on the internet (dare I even ask how much time people spend on the internet? I’m not going to admit my number …). Also, I find that I can’t read for too many hours in a day (over 5, say) before I find my brain is fatigued and I’m getting restless. I sometimes have trouble sitting still for long periods of time, so if a book isn’t super-high interest, I may jump up a lot and run an errand or check something online. I’m enjoying my book, but I also feel the need to take a lot of breaks. Writing blog posts cuts into reading time too. But I can’t imagine what those of you with children do to find reading time, and having more of a social life would cut down on the reading too.

How much time do you spend reading?


Filed under Reading

The Groves of Academe

11476363.gifA couple days ago I finished Mary McCarthy’s novel The Groves of Academe, and found it just the thing I needed back when I needed something fun to read. I must say that I’m fonder of her essays than I am of her fiction; her fiction is good but her essays are great. That said, I recommend this book, especially if you like academic satire. This book didn’t make me laugh out loud in quite the same way Richard Russo’s Straight Man did and it’s not as comprehensive a picture of college life as Jane Smiley’s Moo, but the writing is smarter than in either of those two novels, and more wicked. McCarthy is someone that, if I knew her when she was alive, I’d make sure I stayed on the good side of. She’s got one of the sharpest wits of any writer I know.

The story is about English professor Henry Mulcahy, who, we learn on the novel’s first page, has just been fired. He immediately jumps into action to get his job back, dragging his department into a controversy that soon engulfs the whole school. At issue here is Henry’s communist past (was he a member of the party earlier in his life and might he still be today? The novel was published in 1951 to give you some idea of why this is such a big deal) and his sick wife whose health might be irreparably harmed if she found out about the firing — a fact Henry claims the college President was fully aware of when he wrote the letter of dismissal. But most of all it is Henry’s personality that becomes the focus of the novel’s controversy.

For Henry truly is an awful human being. One of the chief pleasures of this book is the way McCarthy presents Henry to us; she recounts his thoughts with little editorializing, so that we get Henry’s self-justifications directly and can see the extent of his selfishness by watching his mind at work. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a character as self-absorbed as this one. Other faculty members make great sacrifices for him to try to save his job, and rather than being grateful, he gets angry because they did not make the sacrifices in precisely the way he wanted them to, and he pouts because by making great sacrifices in their own particular ways these people are shifting the attention away from him, where it should properly be. He is incapable of recognizing that he has ever done something wrong or that he has flaws and has responsibilities to people that he often fails to meet; everything he does it right, or at least it deserves justification and defense.

But he doesn’t come across solely as an awful human being; he also comes across as someone with great energy and great intelligence — admittedly, the sole use of which is to make life more comfortable for himself. But what makes the book so enjoyable is watching the characters respond to these positive things in Henry — the energy, the life, the color — and then watching them recover as they realize that he hasn’t told them the complete truth about his life. Henry is the riddle the book offers to the other characters and to readers: How come he has succeeded as much as he has in academia and what does it say about academia that he has done so? Is he worth defending? Should he stay at their school? Just when, if ever, is he telling the truth?

McCarthy’s portrait of college life is delicious, complete with academic in-fighting, competition, gossip, lying, and betrayal, and also intelligence, loyalty, great conversations, and, sometimes, the sincere desire to educate young people.


Filed under Books, Fiction

Blogging and the body follow-up

The author of the article on blogging and the body I posted about a few days ago, danah boyd, has found my blog and left a couple comments. As they are interesting ones, and ones that clarify what she was getting at in the article, I thought I’d link to them and encourage you to read them, but then I thought I could just copy them here to make it easier on you. I’m encouraging you to read them because she said she’s interested in the comments people left on my post and would like to hear more. So here’s our exchange; first, danah’s comment (she blogs under the name zephoria):

I want to clarify what i meant when i talk about blogs as bodies. It’s not that i think that people see their blogs as bodies per say. It’s that the properties that we take for granted as embodied creatures are lacking when we go online, namely presence. For example, i walk into the room and my body signals my presence to others around. Had i not posted a comment here, you wouldn’t know that i was lurking. You may get an IP address, but what’s that mean? Part of my presence though is not just my comment on your post – it’s the link back to my own blog where my identity resides in many ways. In this way, i reference my blog in my comments on your blog to create a culture of presence. I do think that the spatial metaphor is a lot easier for thinking of your own blog directly. You can think of decorating your blog like decorating your house. Yet, when people visit your blog, it’s a mixed view. They don’t just see the space you’ve created – they see a facet of you. In this way, the decorations serve as fashion accessories to a body as well as decorations on a room. I do think it’s complicated and sticky but it’s presence that connects things deeply to bodies. And the fact that you have to write yourself into being online… you don’t just exist by appearing and reading… your presence goes unnoticed.

Anyhow, i hope that helps in some way.

Here’s what I said:

Hi Zephoria — thanks so much for stopping by and commenting; this is the first time an author I’ve written about has commented back, and I’m pleased to hear your explanation (and also to hear another aspect of your voice, outside of the academic article — I was wishing to discuss this stuff as bloggers rather than in an academic context, after all). Thinking of the blog as a way to create presence when the body is absent makes sense to me. It’s interesting to me the way other commenters felt uncomfortable thinking of the blog as a body or as the thing that creates presence — as though that metaphor is too revealing and intimate. And I wonder what image people have of me from reading the blog — I guess we’re all sorting out this new way of presenting ourselves that’s very different from the usual way of being physically present, and so things like posting pictures and revealing names and choosing blog templates can sometimes be anxiety-inducing.

And her response:

No doubt there’s a lot of anxiety-producing effects. This is why a lot of folks try to play ostrich. If you pretend like you don’t have an audience, you can just keep writing. Or if you imagine that you have an audience of people exactly like you want, you can keep writing. If you are told that everyone who has ever met you is reading your blog, it’s paralyzing. This is the problem with unknown audiences – we have to envision who our audience is to write… it’s an imagined community rather than a defined or bounded one like a room. (I still want an invisibility potion though for meatspace.)

I read your commenters and i’m curious to know more. I wonder if the concern about it being too intimate has to do with the assumption that we are revealing everything. It’s not a naked body unless you choose it to be. My digital body is cloaked in professional wear with the occasional goofy accessory. Why? Because i have to face that audience. It’s not that this is not me but there’s another “me” on LiveJournal that is far different because that’s the me wimpering about life with my friends while my blog is me musing about things that the professionals who read my blog want to see.

Further thoughts anyone?


Filed under Blogging

Currently Reading

I have begun reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson (which you may have noticed over in the “currently reading” section of the sidebar — I feel conflicted over those book lists, the “Currently Reading” one and the “Books Read” one because they feel so pooterish, but I like looking at other people’s lists and figured you might like to look at mine; they do give a quick way of judging if one’s reading tastes match those of the blogger). I tried to read this book a few years ago and got to page 340 out of the 1243 pages in my edition. I don’t remember what made me stop, but it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it; it must have been that I got caught up in a busy semester or something and never returned to it.

Now that I think about it, this could possibly happen again, as I’m heading into what will probably be a busy semester, but I’m planning to finish this time — and I do enjoy the experience of reading it, don’t get me wrong. I want to know more about Johnson and also about Boswell; he’s got such a lively, energetic voice and his London journal, which I read a few years ago, was quite entertaining. I’m expecting to take a few months to make it through the entire Life of Johnson, but that’s okay; it’ll be a long-term project like Proust is. And I have another long book I want to read, Don Quixote, which I hope to get to this summer, so we’ll see if I can finish the Boswell by the beginning of summer or so. We’ll see.

Here are a couple passages about Johnson and reading; this first one is about his schooling:

He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?

And another on his reading habits:

… we may be absolutely certain, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject once observed to me, that “Johnson knew more books than any man alive.” He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end. He had, from the irritability of his constitution, at all times, an impatience and hurry when he either read or wrote. A certain apprehension arising from novelty, made him write his first exercise at College twice over; but he never took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion.


Filed under Books, Nonfiction, Reading

New books

9706722.gifWhile I hate shopping — loathe and despise it — especially when it’s shopping at the mall, it’s made more bearable if I can stop by a bookstore when I’m finished. So the Hobgoblin and I went our separate ways to get the shopping done and decided when we were finished to meet at the mall bookstore, a Walden’s, which is, actually, a sorry excuse for a bookstore. But we had to make do.

And it turns out that that Walden’s is closing (is the entire chain closing?) and all books were 40% off. Yippee! I was happy about the prospect of cheap books, although uncertain what to think about the store closing — I guess it doesn’t matter much, except that it’s the only bookstore in the mall, although a Barnes and Noble is just up the street. Does it matter much when crappy bookstore chains close? Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

The store was crowded with people excitedly looking for cheap books; I’ve rarely seen a bookstore that crowded, and the feeling of excitement was fun. The only problem was that I really couldn’t find a lot that caught my attention. What’s the use of having a great sale when the book selection is miserable? I did find a few things, however, including the 2006 Best American Essays collection; I’ve gotten that series in the past and I’ve loved it, although I found that I’d already read many of the essays in the magazines that originally published them. This one doesn’t appear to have too many repeats. I also found Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth. Armstrong is one of my favorite nonfiction writers — her book A History of God is great, so I’m looking forward to the myth book. Finally, I found Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, which I swear I read about on somebody’s blog, but now I can’t remember whose. But it looks like a fun novel. Although I was willing to spend more money if anything else irresistible appeared, it didn’t. Maybe that’ll be the last time I shop at a Walden’s.


Filed under Books, Lists

The blog as a body?

I didn’t get through many of the articles on blogging I linked to the other day, but the one by danah boyd I quoted from I did read thoroughly, and it had some interesting ideas (if you check out the articles, you’ll find they are rather dry but you might find them worthwhile to look at anyway) — particularly about how we shouldn’t define blogs by the nature of their content (I hate that word but I can’t think of another right now); instead we should consider them as a medium, like radio or TV. The author says blogs are better understood as being like paper rather than like diaries or journals or journalism or whatever. Just as you can write anything on paper, so you can write anything on a blog. Now that strikes me as obvious, but I also know I’ve spent a good bit of time thinking about how blogs are like diaries and journals and personal essays. It makes sense to me that it’s better to stop thinking that way — thinking that bloggers produce a particular type of writing — and to think more about the nature of the blog as a way of communicating whatever it is bloggers want to communicate.

Once you’ve begun to think about blogs as a medium, boyd says, you can think about the particular ways blogs allow people to communicate, and blogs do a number of unique things, including blurring spatiality and corporeality. They are like spaces, and they are also like bodies. Blogs are spaces in the sense that they are a location for people to gather, but, unlike chatrooms, blogs are owned by the blogger, so they are more like rooms in the blogger’s home. The blogger invites people in and hopes that they will be polite and not say mean things. Of course, that analogy doesn’t quite work because not everyone is there all at once. But it strikes me as a better one than the cafe metaphor, because cafes are neutral spaces, not owned by anybody participating in the conversation, whereas a blogger can exclude a nasty commenter, just as a host might kick out a violent guest.

But boyd also says that bloggers think of their blogs as being like their bodies, or even as their online face. Now that’s interesting. Those of you who blog, do you think of your blog as an extension of your body, or perhaps as your face? I realized as I was thinking about switching from Blogger to WordPress that finding the right look for my blog is important to me, but I tend to think of setting up the blog as analogous to decorating my house (a process that makes me quite anxious just as changing the blog did) rather than, say, choosing clothes or a hairstyle.

But then when I think about the photo I’ve got up on the blog, I realize that I’m hiding my face in such a way that either the book I’m holding becomes a substitute for my face or the blog itself does. My body is behind the book and the bicycle, the two subjects I write all the words on this blog about, which are another way of representing myself, a substitute body. And I create a picture of what I think bloggers look like based on their blogs and I remember other bloggers writing about that too, so the blog is a body in the sense that we use it to create images in our minds of other people. This is what boyd says about it:

Bloggers see their blog as a reflection of their interests and values. They also contend that the blog does not show them in entirely, but only what they choose to perform in that context. This corporeal relationship deeply affects the way in which people choose to manage their blogs. There is a sense of ownership, a sense that a blogger has the right to control what acts and speech are acceptable and to dictate the norms in general. Part of this stems from the sense that whatever others write affects the representation of the blogger, not simply of the blog. In other words, people’s additions are like graffiti on one’s body.

Both these metaphors — blogs as spaces and as bodies — are ways of saying that a blog is important to the blogger’s identity, the body metaphor implying that blogs are a closer, more intimate way of shaping identity than the space metaphor. Attacking one’s house — analogous to leaving a nasty comment — is an invasion and a threat, but attacking one’s body is much worse. The point boyd is making about how these metaphors get blurred is that a tension can arise when the blogger sees the blog as part of his/her body and the reader sees it as a space for conversation. In that case, the blogger and the reader might interpret the comments the reader leaves in very different ways.

This article is interesting, and perhaps the others are too, but I realized as I read it that I’d prefer to hear all this discussed in the more informal voices of bloggers than the formal voice of an academic writing in a purely academic mode. Reading the article is like being lectured to; if a blogger wrote it in more informal blogging voice (not that blogging voices have to be informal), it would be more like a brief presentation meant to get a conversation going.


Filed under Blogging

Articles on blogging

Thanks to The Reading Experience, I just spent an hour or so reading through some of the articles in the latest issue of Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture; they’ve got an issue on blogging. Here’s one excerpt, from danah boyd’s essay “A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium”:

The blurring of spatiality and corporeality introduces the blurring between the public and the private. While outsiders are frequently horrified by what bloggers say under the impression that they don’t realize they are speaking in public, most bloggers are quite aware of the public nature of their performance. The difference is that this conception of the public in an embodied one. Everyday, people walk into public and talk about what is on their mind, what they are passionate about to their friends. Intimate conversations can be overheard on buses, philosophical ones in cafes, and playful ones in the park. The target audience is not the public at large, but those for whom the topics of discussion matter. For most people, the idea of speaking to a constructed audience in public is not a fearful one because a conception of public does not mean all people over all time and space.

In the physical world, there’s a desire to attract those of like minds by talking in public. There is often something joyful about having a person at a neighboring table join in an intellectual conversation or getting support, even in the form of knowing eyes, from a stranger on a bus. These kinds of interactions can introduce us to new friends. The practice of adorning oneself with fashion markers is often a call for potential like minds to come forward. We perform in public to see and be seen.

In the digital world, we use search to seek out strangers with similar conceptions of the world. We decorate our corporeal blogs and wander out amongst other blogs as digital flâneurs. The blogosphere is the imagined public sphere, the space inhabited by all of the public digital bodies.


Filed under Links

Buddenbrooks (and other things)

I finished Buddenbrooks yesterday, and now when it’s time to begin another book, I’m wishing I were already in the middle of one. I’m feeling tired and anxious about the new job, and in these circumstances I find it difficult to begin something. There’s something about the effort it takes to orient myself in a new book that’s hard when I don’t have much energy. Actually, I am in the middle of two books, but I’m talking about wanting to be in the middle of a novel and not Proust or anything like Proust.

I’m guessing I won’t finish the From the Stacks challenge, at least not by the deadline (end of January I think), and at least not in the form I’d originally planned. Samuel Beckett’s Molloy is next, and while I’d really like to read it, now doesn’t seem like the right time. It’s not quite the thing to follow Buddenbrooks — I’d prefer something lighter and easier. I’m consider pulling Mary McCarthy’s Groves of Academe off my TBR-shelves, which would fulfill the challenge in a slightly different way.

Anyway, Buddenbrooks. I sort of knew what this book was about going into it — a story of the Buddenbrook family over the course of several generations, and specifically the story of that family’s decline. I read The Magic Mountain a few years ago, and found that Buddenbrooks is quite different — more about the plot and less about ideas, although the ideas are there, just integrated into the story more. If you’ve read The Magic Mountain, you’ll know about the long philosophical passages — those aren’t to be found in Buddenbrooks.

Perhaps “plot” isn’t the right word to use to describe the story in Buddenbrooks, since it seems less like a carefully-crafted tale that’s obviously shaped and created and more like a description of how life really is. Okay, that last phrase sounds naive, but what I’m getting at is that Buddenbrooks is episodic, and the point of all those episodes is pretty simple — to tell the story of decline. Some editions include a subtitle, “The Decline of a Family,” (although my edition does not — I’m not sure why), which gives away even that simple storyline. The pleasures of this book are not about following the storyline through to the end to see what happens, but are about appreciating the moments along the way.

I found this lack of narrative drive a bit dull at times, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience of reading overall, just to acknowledge that it’s not exactly a page-turner. Knowing what I know about Mann’s later novels, he will continue in this direction; The Magic Mountain, although wonderful, is even less of a page-turner. Buddenbrooks was published when Mann was 25 (in 1901), and I got the feeling as I read that it is Mann’s attempt at writing a Victorian novel, something, perhaps, he needed to do before he went off in a different direction.

What surprised me about Buddenbrooks is its obsession with business and with class. The Buddenbrooks are a mercantile family, and what makes them famous is their (in the beginning) hugely successful business. And their fame feels fairly small-scale; they are big fish in a small pond, but that small pond means so much to them. The characters make sacrifices for the sake of family tradition and reputation. Here is one character’s speech, to give you a taste of the Buddenbrook’s level of devotion to themselves:

To cherish the vision of an abstract good; to carry in your heart, like a hidden love, only far sweeter, the dream of preserving an ancient name, an old family, an old business, of carrying it on, and adding to it more and more honour and lustre — ah, that takes imagination, Uncle Gotthold, and imagination you didn’t have. The sense of poetry escaped you, though you were brave enough to love and marry against the will of your father. And you had no ambition, Uncle Gotthold. The old name is only a burgher name, it is true, and one cherishes it by making the grain business flouish, and oneself beloved and powerful in a little corner of the earth….Oh, we are travelled and educated enough to realize that the limits set to our ambition are small and petty enough, looked at from outside and above. But everything in this world is comparative, Uncle Gotthold. Did you know one can be a great man, even in a small place; a Caesar even in a little commercial town on the Baltic? But that takes imagination and idealism — and you didn’t have it, whatever you may have thought of yourself.

This effort to be great, even on a small scale, costs the characters a lot; part of the cause of their decline is simply the great effort it takes to live up to the old ideals. One of the main characters, Thomas, has a face that begins to look more and more like a mask, hiding the strain of being “a Caesar even in a little commercial town on the Baltic” — Thomas is the one who gives the speech above, which, from the perspective of the novel’s end, begins to look tragic.

In the effort to keep the family status intact, the characters obsess about their social interactions; much of the story is taken up with Buddenbrook family members analyzing who said what to whom and with what tone of voice and with what implications. And their personal choices are shaped by family concerns; several characters cannot marry whom they want or follow what career they want, and they suffer from this their whole lives. They may as well be part of a royal family with obligations to their country, for all the freedom they have.

There is also the problem of how art fits into this world of business and family status; young Johann, the only hope to keep the old ways going, is not interested in or competent in business; rather, he is a budding musician, a dreamy, introspective boy who feels terror at his father’s disapproval, but isn’t capable of following in his footsteps. Rather than allowing the new generations to follow their interests and letting the business die if need be, the younger people’s lives become sacrifices.


Filed under Books, Fiction, Reading

Book reviews

In light of Bloglily’s recent post on book reviews (if you go there, make sure to check out the comments too), I found this passage particularly interesting — it’s by H.L. Mencken and I found it in Michael Dirda’s book:

A book review, first and foremost, must be entertaining. By this I mean that it must be dexterously written, and show an interesting personality. The justice of the criticism embodied in it is a secondary matter. It is often, and perhaps usually, quite impossible to determine definitely whether a given book is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The notion to the contrary is a delusion of the defectively intelligent. It is almost always accompanied by moral passion. But a critic may at least justify himself by giving his readers civilized entertainment …. If he is a well-informed man and able to write decently, anything he writes about anything will divert his readers.

I agree — if I like a writer, I’m willing to read him or her on any subject whatsoever, and I also agree that it’s impossible to pronounce for certain whether something’s good or not, so perhaps that shouldn’t be the point. A much more interesting point, as far as I’m concerned, is how the reviewer has made sense of the book from a personal point of view. I don’t mean the review has to be personally revealing, but rather what I find most interesting is watching a reviewer’s mind grapple with someone else’s words and ideas.  When this happens, the “this is good” or “this is bad”-type pronouncements don’t matter as much. That, in my opinion, is good entertainment.


Filed under Books, Writing

Book by Book

10612367.gifI finished Michael Dirda’s Book by Book yesterday and have mixed feelings about it. When Dirda sticks to discussing specific books and giving book lists, he’s quite interesting and the book is a pleasure to read. When he begins to wax philosophical about life, he becomes banal and cliche.

The book is organized by topics such as “Work and Leisure,” “The Book of Love,” and “Matters of the Spirit,” and within each chapter he discusses his ideas about the topic and books that shed light on it. Typically, he’ll give a book list with a short discussion of each item on it, a lot of quotations on the subject he’s gathered through his reading, his own views and advice on the subject, and maybe a more extended analysis of a few relevant books. The book would have been stronger if he’d either omitted the philosophizing entirely or, well, been a better philosopher. He should have highlighted the books more.

But I did find a few chapters very interesting and full of good recommendations. (For a discussion of one of these lists, see Stefanie’s post from a while back.) “The Interior Library” is especially good — here are some passages I liked; this first one is about reading as a love affair:

The rapport between a reader and his or her book is almost like that between lovers. The relationship grows, envelops a life, lays out new prospects and ways of seeing oneself and the future, is filled with moments of joy and sorrow; when it’s over, even its memory enriches as few experiences can. But just as one cannot psychically afford to fall in love too many times, suffer its gantlet of emotions too often and still remain whole, so the novel-reader cannot read too many books of high purpose and harrowing dimension or do so too often. Burnout, a failure to respond with the intensity literature demands, is the result. As with a love affair, the battered heart needs time to recover from a good work of fiction.

Here’s a passage on poetry:

To read a volume of poetry is to enter the world of the mesmerist. In a serious artist’s collected poems, the single constant is usually his or her distinctive, increasingly hyponotic voice. Without relying on plot, dramatic action, or a cast of characters, lyric poets, especially, must entrance us with their words until we cannot choose but hear. Eager for more, we turn page after page because we find ourselves in thrall to a particular diction.

This makes me wonder if I’m not reading my current book of poems, Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise, in the best way; I’ve been reading through it very slowly, a couple of poems at a time, and reading each one several times, trying to look for poetic elements such as metaphor and alliteration, which I see sometimes, but just as often don’t. I wonder if I shouldn’t read more for the voice — in this instance, not necessarily with every book of poems — and read faster, letting the “poetic” elements strike me or not, but mostly concentrating on the voice, because Kenyon does have a distinctive one that I like. I tend to think that I should read all poetry in the same way — slowly and carefully, letting the words really soak in — and that’s definitely a good way to read poetry, but perhaps some books are better read differently.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite lists from the book, a list of creative nonfiction Dirda recommends, “some of which should be better known.” He’s narrowed down the list by focusing on 20C writers in English:

  • Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians
  • A.J.A. Symons, The Quest for Corvo
  • Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana
  • Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel
  • Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
  • M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
  • Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave
  • Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism
  • Ivan Morris, The World of the Shining Prince
  • S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives
  • Richard Ellmann, James Joyce
  • Alison Lurie, V.R. Lang: A Memoir
  • Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
  • Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
  • Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination
  • The Paris Review “Writers at Work” collections

I put the Symons, Byron, and Morris books on my TBR list right away, the Symons because it’s a biography but also about the process of writing biography much like Footsteps was, the Byron because I’d like to read more travel writing, and Morris’s The World of the Shining Prince, because it’s about Japan during the time of The Tale of Genji and would help me understand that book better. On Eminent Victorians, make sure to read Bloglily.  I’ve read only the Dinesen book; the others I will need to look into eventually.


Filed under Books, Lists, Nonfiction