Category Archives: Links

For the TBR pile

Which theologian are you?
created with
You scored as Paul TillichPaul Tillich sought to express Christian truth in an existentialist way. Our primary problem is alienation from the ground of our being, so that our life is meaningless. Great for psychotherapy, but no longer very influential.

Paul Tillich
Friedrich Schleiermacher
Jürgen Moltmann
Charles Finney
John Calvin
Jonathan Edwards
Martin Luther
Karl Barth

Thanks to Emily.


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For those of you worried about the demise of the book

Check this out.



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Another blog

I don’t want to bury my post below, which I finished only a few minutes ago, but I do want to post a link to my new blog, inspired by Jenny D’s Triaspirational, which will be about my triathlon training. I’m writing it on an experimental basis, just to see how it goes. I reserve the right to delete it the minute I get bored (or the minute I quit triathlon training, which is still a possibility). The purpose will be to keep track of my training, so I don’t expect it will be of much interest to others, unless you’d like to know just how hard I’m working.


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Judging the Booker

If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s an interesting article at the Guardian by Giles Foden on what it was like to sit on the panel of judges that chose the Booker prize winner this year (via). It sounds like the process was messy. One disagreement he describes was between those who “wanted to apply comparative principles across the range of books” and those who “wanted to voice their subjective preferences novel by novel.” As I read the list of comparative principles the first group wanted, I felt a twinge of horror:

The comparative principles, out of which it might be hoped measures of objectivity could be drawn, were not very sophisticated. It was just a simple taxonomy including the following: plot and structure; theme; language, tone and style; characterisation; impact and readability. But even these basic foundations to judging a novel could not be adequately established.

It seems that this approach was quickly abandoned and the judges turned to the more subjective method, judging the novels one by one on their own merits.

I think this “simple taxonomy” is dreadful. Can you really break a novel down into its parts in this way and expect to arrive at a valid judgment of which novel is the best? (Or perhaps the better question is whether it is possible to decide on a “best” novel at all.) Of course, you can break a novel down into its parts and analyze it; this is something I do in my writing and in my classroom. It’s a valuable way to understand how a novel works, to understand it on its own terms. But to use this method as a way to judge a contest or to award a literary prize? To use it to compare one novel to another? It seems like a recipe for choosing mediocrity.

I do not think it’s possible to be objective when making this kind of judgment. This method implies that there’s one correct way of doing things — one correct format for a plot, one best way to create characters, one theme that is inherently better than another, one style that is preferable to another. And “readability”? I’m not sure what that means, first of all, but secondly, is the more “readable” novel better or worse than the less “readable” one?

These criteria remind me of rubrics some teachers use to grade student writing, lists of the qualities of “good writing” that we are looking for, for example, structure, coherence, logical argumentation, correct grammar, etc. I’m not arguing against rubrics for grading here, and someday I may come to use one myself, but I worry that they miss the most interesting thing about student writing, which is some undefinable quality that has to do with originality and voice. Rubrics are useful to judge whether writing is competent or not, but to judge if it is interesting and worth my time to read? Then they don’t work.

A quotation I just came across in The New Yorker is relevant here; in an article on abridging classic novels, Adam Gopnik writes:

… masterpieces are inherently a little loony. They run on the engine of their own accumulated habits and weirdnesses and self-indulgent excesses. They have to, since originality is, necessarily, something still strange to us, rather than something that we already know about and approve.

Is there any rubric that can give this kind of originality its due?


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Booker news and a meme

Well, I see that McEwan did not win the Booker after all; Anne Enright did, for her book The Gathering. The NYTimes describes it as “a family epic set in England and Ireland, in which a brother’s suicide prompts 39-year-old Veronica Hegarty to probe her family’s troubled, tangled history.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But what I really wanted to post on is a book meme, one I’ve seen floating around for a while and finally feel the time has come to do my own version of it. So here goes:

How many books do you own? I have no idea, actually. If I were to list them on Library Thing, I guess I’d have a number? But I haven’t ever gotten into that site, and so I just don’t know. Hobgoblin and I together have 3 1/2 full, large bookcases in our living room, I have two large bookcases and one small one in my study, and Hobgoblin two large ones and two small ones in his. Plus I have some stacked on the floor and a few more in my office. How many that adds up to I have no idea. Not that many, probably, compared to what some book bloggers have!

Last book you bought? I mooch books so much, I’ve stopped buying books very often; it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a bookstore — too long, in fact. I need to go soon. Amazon tells me (yes, I had to look it up) that the last book I ordered from them is Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic.

Last book someone bought you? Well, the last book someone gave me is Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, which Stefanie gave to me for doing well in a contest. I’m not sure how she got it, but does the actual buying matter for the purposes of the meme? I doubt it. Thank you Stefanie!

Last book read? On Chesil Beach, and before that Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively, and before that, Waverley, by Walter Scott. But if you follow this blog regularly, you know that already.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

1. Believe it or not, Pamela, by Samuel Richardson. This book matters because it’s largely what got me interested in the 18C, this book and other wonderful novels like Robinson Crusoe and Tristram Shandy and The Female Quixote. But Pamela is the weirdest, most fascinating of a weird and fascinating lot. And it’s epistolary! I love epistolary novels. Although I may love epistolary novels because Pamela made me love them. I’m not sure where it began.

2. The Little House on the Prairie series. I could mention a number of young adult books for this meme, but I’ll stick with these ones. It’s a series that utterly captivated me; I read them over and over and over again, I don’t know how many times. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls so badly! I learned to love reading with these books, and I also learned how to read closely and carefully — I wanted to know as much as I could about her life, so I scoured them looking for every significant detail.

3. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’ve read this book several times and each time I’m captivated. I read it first for an undergrad class and enjoyed writing a paper on it so much it confirmed my sense that I should go to graduate school. And I used this essay for my grad school applications. It’s the beauty of Woolf’s writing that draws me to it, but even more so, it’s what she says about women and men and communication and language and art — the combination of all these things — that makes me love it.

4. I’m going to be a bit of a copy-cat and use one of Verbivore’s answers: Montaigne’s essays. I haven’t read them all yet, but I’ve read many, and I hope to read and re-read all of them soon. I studied the essay in college and it was a formative experience — I learned to love the genre, and, of course, Montaigne is the master. He writes so openly and courageously and with such curiosity. I love the wandering, meandering style he has, and the way he uses the essay as a means to discover what he thinks, rather than as a means of presenting a conclusions he’s already thought his way to.

5. I can think of a lot of possibilities for this last book, but I can’t settle on one, so I’ll list a few: The Bible (the book that has shaped my life the most, surely); Philip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay (which deepened my love of the essay genre — a truly fabulous book); Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (a book important to my dissertation); Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (because you know I can’t do a meme like this without mentioning Austen!); Nicholson Baker’s U & I (a book that taught me to love quirky, unclassifiable nonfiction books); and anything by George Eliot (because the Victorian novel is one of my earliest loves and Eliot is my favorite from the time).


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Book sale!

Awhile back I made the mistake of signing up to work during the first shift of my library’s book sale. I discovered today why it was a mistake — I had to keep busy straightening books and answering questions (or trying to) while other people snatched up the good stuff. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the woman organizing things hadn’t assigned me to the travel, science, computers, reference, and children’s book sections; if I’d been over in fiction, I probably could have set books aside to buy later. Next time I’ll remember — sign up to work at the library sale by all means, but not during the first shift!

But I did come home with some good things (as did Hobgoblin):

  • John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga. I found an old hardcover edition, which will make pleasant reading when I get there, I think. I’ve been hearing about Galsworthy a lot lately because of the Outmoded Authors challenge. I suspect I won’t be reading this as part of the challenge, however.
  • Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John. As much as I felt ambivalently about Jane Smiley’s book about the novel (13 Ways), she does have a good reading list. I learned about this one there.
  • Arthur Phillips, Prague. I should get in the habit of noting why I put things on my list of books I’d like to read; some things are on there and I have no idea why. I’m not sure why this book has stuck in my mind, but it has, and now I own it. Has anybody else read it?
  • Pat Conroy’s Beach Music. Courtney has written so eloquently about this book, how could I resist?
  • Ivy Compton-Burnett, Manservant and Maidservant. Oh, shoot, I just learned that NYRB Classics has published this book — if I’d known that I might have waited to get that edition. Perhaps it’s silly to care about editions like that, but I do like to hold a nicely-made book in my hands … this is another Outmoded Authors author.
  • Andrew O’Hagan, Personality. I read a good review of O’Hagan’s latest novel and so thought I might like an earlier one.
  • Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton. I’ve decided it’s impossible to own too much Gaskell!

The worrying thing is that there’s another local library sale next weekend, and I really don’t need more books, but I’m sure I’ll go …

And, finally, thanks to Jenny D. for the link to this fabulous article on walking by Nicole Krauss. A small taste:

My idea of a walk, influenced by Kazin and honed over these last nine years that I’ve lived in New York, involves a freewheeling thoughtfulness powered by the legs but fed by observation, a physical and mental stream of consciousness nudged this way and that by an infinite number of human variables: an old man doing his esoteric exercises, a lone glove dropped in the middle of a snowy sidewalk, an Orthodox Jew in a shtreimel.

A detail — Chinese lantern flowers in the window of a brownstone — leads to an association, and then another; a thought forms, expands, breaks apart into subsidiary thoughts, which in turn briskly scatter with the sudden appearance of a balloon floating down Seventh Avenue. All the while, on another level of the mind, decisions are being made about direction: a right here, now a left, straight until the river.

There is no destination. Ideally, the afternoon is wide open. Time is limitless. The streets taken on the way out are never the ones taken on the way back. The walk unfurls according to mood, physical endurance and visual appetite.


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A few random things

I have a few short things to write about this Friday evening. The first is this article about Percy Shelley from The New Yorker; it’s about a new book called Being Shelley by Ann Wroe. According to the article:

Wroe tries to see as Shelley saw—to inhabit his consciousness and capture its every movement. This is, as she frankly says, ‘an experiment,’ and any reader who opens the book expecting a conventional biography is in for a surprise.

I do love unconventional biographies! And I’ve enjoyed reading Keats and now De Quincey so much that I’m considering reading more of the Romantics and could turn to Shelley at some point. I remember having to read Prometheus Unbound in college, though, and being a bit bewildered by it — I liked it, it was just something … strange. He’s a writer who intimidates me a bit. Perhaps I’ll turn to Coleridge first.

Then I was pleased to see this list of “The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time” (link via The Literary Saloon), but saddened to note that I’ve read only 4 of them — Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, and Tobias Smollett’s Travels Through France and Italy. Clearly I need to read more travel writing, as I do enjoy the genre. Perhaps I’ll read some Bruce Chatwin next; I’ve been meaning to for ages.

Then I thought insomniacs or people whose thoughts trouble them at night might like this Keats poem, which I thought beautiful, particularly the last six lines:

Sonnet to Sleep

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the Amen ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like the mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

Finally, a health update. Muttboy is healing very well, and has his full appetite and energy back. He has to wear a t-shirt much of the time, though, to keep him from scratching or licking his belly where the stitches are, so he looks undignified and undog-like. Poor thing.

I am healing quite well also; when I saw the endocrinologist yesterday and mentioned that I have been riding some, in spite of her orders not to, she said “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that” and then told me to take it easy, which I’m taking as permission to ride as much as I’d like. Yay! When I talked to my mother about this, telling her about the early riding, she said she would have done the same thing. You see why I am the way I am??


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What American accent do you have? (Best version so far)Northern You have a Northern accent. That could either be the Chicago/Detroit/Cleveland/Buffalo accent (easily recognizable) or the Western New England accent that news networks go for.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

This quiz got it totally right: it names the city of my birth and also the region where I now live.


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I finished Don Quixote yesterday, and today I completed In Search of Lost Time.  Woo-hoo!

This opened up so much free time today that I ended up filling it by mopping my kitchen floor.  This is quite a rare occurrence, let me assure you.

I’ll write my thoughts on completing these books soon, but I think I’ve spent enough time staring at the computer today and my eyes are tired.

Before I go, though, I’ll point you to this interesting article from The Atlantic (link via Bookslut), described as “an attack on the growing pretentiousness of American literary prose.”  The argument in the article is basically that contemporary literary prose is sloppy and badly done, and we would be better off reading classics.  I have to say, though, as much as I didn’t like the author’s over-generalizations and all-around crankiness, I liked the part where he critiques Annie Proulx, whose novel Shipping News I didn’t like at all, and I found the Cormac McCarthy section amusing.  I wasn’t agreeing with him at all about Don Delillo, however.


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I needed something funny today

Via The Little Professor — check out limericks here and here. The idea is to write limericks based on famous poems. Some of the ones people have come up with are hilarious (especially in the second link).

It’s a gray, rainy, gloomy day, and I needed a laugh. I like rain, but not when I’m already inclined to be sleepy and I was hoping to take a walk and wake myself up …

Anybody want to try their own limerick?


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Check this out

The Hobgoblin has a new blog.  And I can’t stop playing around with new templates for mine.


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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.


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Too many novels!

Check out this article over at The New Yorker. It’s the latest Shouts and Murmurs, if you’re familiar with the magazine. If you’re not, Shouts and Murmurs is a humor column; I don’t always find it funny, but this time it’s great. The column starts off with this excerpt from an article on “Ten Sure Ways to Trim your Budget”:

Check books out of the library instead of buying them. . . New releases of hard-cover novels cost $25 and more these days. If you buy just two a month, that’s $600 a year.

The author, Ian Frazier, then gives a series of quotations from people who live in a made-up world where people are addicted to novels and waste tons of money on them and could turn their financial lives around if only they’d stop buying novels. Some highlights:

Mrs. Louise Rodgers, Eau Claire, Wisconsin: “I never owned brand-new hardcovers when I was a girl, and now I want my twin sixteen-year-old boys to enjoy opportunities I didn’t have. My boys are like any American teen-agers, in that they eat, sleep, and breathe novels. And they don’t want the three-dollar used paperback version, either. It’s got to be new, mint, original dust jacket, the works. How do you tell a youngster that he can’t have that just-released Modern Library edition of the complete Sinclair Lewis he’s been dreaming of? But I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do; I don’t see any other option.”

Jules Amthor, Torrance, California: “Let me give you a hypothetical situation: I’m walking down the street, I pass a bookstore, and they have a little table out front with some of the latest novels. I pick one up. The jacket says it’s about a male professor of writing who has an affair with a much younger female student. I leaf through the book, and I come across a sentence about the student, who is also very beautiful, sleeping in the passenger seat of a car that the narrator (the professor) is driving, and the student wakes, and stretches, and looks at the professor, and—here’s the part that gets me—the pattern of the car-seat upholstery is still imprinted on her cheek. Well, there’s simply no way I’m not going to buy that book. I can be dead broke, nothing left on the credit cards—doesn’t matter. And that’s what happens to me, over and over again.”

Mitch Gelman, West Hempstead, New York: “As an accountant, the first thing I tell my clients is ‘Get a library card!’ Otherwise, you’re too subject to temptation, and liable to find yourself in over your head. Few people know that the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is the ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ novels. You overspend on one, and, just when you begin to dig yourself out, the next installment comes along. Public libraries began during the Depression as a government measure against this very problem. They’re there for our protection, so we should use them.”

Melissa S., Manhattan: “Eventually, I was able to cut back on novels to one a month, then half a novel, then just a few pages. As of this week, I have not looked at a novel (except from the library) for eighteen months, knock wood. For the first time, I’m learning what it is to live within a budget. At the end of the month, I’m always surprised to find a positive balance in my checking account—it’s nice. Little by little, I’ve reacquainted myself with my TV. There have been some innovations in the formats of reality shows that I had known nothing about. Every morning now I make it a point to get dressed and go outside. I’m paying more attention to my hair. If I hadn’t happened to pick up that copy of the News that day, I don’t know where I’d be.”

I may have given you most of the article. Anyway — wouldn’t that be a very different world to live in?

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The REALLY dead women writers meme

I’ve linked to this before, but Bardiac has updated her list of early women writers. There are lots of great writers here!

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