Category Archives: Lists

New books!

It’s library sale season here in Connecticut, and today Hobgoblin and I checked out one of the local ones. There are many more that we could go to, if we wanted to, as every library in the area seems to have a sale, but we will probably hit only a couple at most. No need to go crazy. We have run into a bit of a problem with bookshelf space, after all. We were very fortunate to be able to get some new bookcases from Becky — yay! — but of the four she had available, only one would fit up our narrow stairs (old house) and we have space downstairs for only one more. So, believe it or not, we had to leave two bookcases behind. As of now, we have some empty shelves available, but that won’t last long, of course.

So, here’s what I got:

  • Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That. An autobiography of the first few decades of his life, including his experiences in World War I.
  • The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq. Michelle’s posts on Houellebecq got me interested in giving him a try. Perhaps once I read this, I will remember how to spell his name!
  • Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. I know nothing about this book, but it’s a Persephone, and they always look so nice.
  • Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire. After reading The Transit of Venus with the Slaves of Golconda last winter, I decided I wanted to read more by her.
  • Kate Atkinson, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I didn’t love Case Histories as much as most people I know did, but I want to give her another try. This one sounds intriguing.

I could have gotten so many more! Hobgoblin came home with a couple Ross Macdonalds, a Sebastian Barry, a few other things I’m forgetting, plus a complete set, a dozen or so books, of mystery stories. The set was published in 1929. I haven’t looked through the volumes yet, but he said there are lots of authors included that he’d never heard of before. It should be fun to explore.

And then there are the books I brought home from the library recently, including Jo Walton’s Among Others, which I’m reading right now and enjoying very much, and The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. I might start that one tonight. Lots of good books around here!


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Reading Updates

I mentioned visiting a bunch of bookstores in London, and I spent a good bit of time in the two bookstores in Dingle, so I’d better tell you what I bought:

  • Chet Raymo’s Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland’s Holy Mountain. Hobgoblin has already read this one, and he told me it’s good. Mt. Brandon is on the Dingle Peninsula, and I climbed it while we were there. We had a gorgeous view of the summit and surrounding area until about 3/4 of the way to the top, when the fog moved in and we could no longer see anything. Still, it was a great experience. We went up the back side of the mountain, and on the way down the front side, the most commonly-climbed side, we saw crosses through the mist at regularly paced intervals to mark the path religious pilgrims take. This book tells the story of how it became a religious site. I picked it up in the shop specializing in all things Irish.
  • At Dingle’s other shop, I bought Hermione Lee’s Body Parts: Essays on Life-writing. I already have the American version of this book, called Virginia Woolf’s Nose, but that one is a lot shorter than the British version, with many fewer essays. I liked the parts of Lee’s book I’ve read already, so I was glad to find the rest.
  • The rest of the books come from London. Since I never find books by Jenny Diski in American stores, I brought home three of them, including her new one, What I Don’t Know About Animals. This is one of those books that I wouldn’t be interested in at all if knew only the title, but with Diski writing it, I’ll read it happily.
  • Also, A View From the Bed and Other Observations, a collection of essays. I already read a few of them about moving to Cambridge that I thought were great.
  • And one Diski novel, Apology for the Woman Writing, about Marie de Gournay, friend of Montaigne.
  • Norma Clarke’s The Rise and Fall of the Woman of Letters, about eighteenth-century women writers and their changing fortunes throughout the century.
  • Travel Writing, by Carl Thompson, kind of an overview of the history of travel writing and current critical debates about it. This will be useful for my class on literature and the journey this fall.
  • Lila Azam Zanganeh’s The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness. I just heard an interview with Zanganeh on the radio yesterday, and it was great. This is a personal meditation on Nabokov and his writing.
  • Daisy Hay’s Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation. It’s about Byron and the Shelleys and other people in their circle. It will make a good addition to my collection of Romantic biographies, and it’s particularly appealing as a group biography.
  • Monica Dickens’s Mariana. This was my selection from the Persephone shop. The only thing that kept me from buying more was fear that my suitcase would be too heavy.
  • The Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Selection. I’ve been reading this one slowly since the plane trip home. It’s fun to learn about her life and to get her perspective on what her brother William and his friends were up to.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to write detailed posts on what I read while I was traveling, but in case you’re curious, I started out with Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country (read on my Nook), which was great. I loved returning to her; she is such a great chronicler of social ambition. Then I read the second Mary Russell novel, which I liked quite a lot, after not particularly liking the first one. A Monstrous Regiment of Women was much more focused and coherent than her first, and I liked the London setting. The Mary Russell put me in the mood to read a Dorothy Sayers, so I read Clouds of Witness, also on my Nook. Dorothy Sayers is so much fun! I suspect my favorite will remain Gaudy Night, but I liked this one a lot too.

At the same time, I was reading Geoff Dyer’s collection of essays Otherwise Known As the Human Condition (the first book I bought for my Nook), which was fabulous. This is one it would be worth writing more about, but in case I don’t, I was surprised at how much I loved the essays on photography with which the book begins. I know very little about photography, so these essays taught me a lot, and Dyer’s voice is so fabulously entertaining. His essays on literature were good, but I was less taken with those, perhaps because the subject matter was more familiar. The book ends with personal essays, almost all of which I loved.

I didn’t read much while we were in London, but I started Monique Roffey’s White Woman on the Green Bicycle, and I finished it on the plane home. That one I do want to write a full post on, so more on that later.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve had a little trouble concentrating on reading, but I did finish up the Dyer collection and read Willa Cather’s novel The Professor’s House. Perhaps more on that later. Just today I started Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time for my mystery book group meeting next week, and I’m still reading the Dorothy Wordsworth letters now and then.

And I think that catches you up on my bookish news. Have a great weekend everyone!


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Reading list question

So I’m teaching a new course next fall, and I’m thinking about what books I should put on the syllabus. I would prefer to think about this sort of thing during the summer, but my school requires that we submit our book orders sometime around March or April, so I don’t have that luxury. The course needs to do a number of things: it’s a “Great Books” course, so we are supposed to cover canonical works, mostly, although there is some room for other things as well. It’s also interdisciplinary. While my instinct would be to assign all literature, we are supposed to cover at least two or three different disciplines. Finally, each instructor picks a theme for the course, which is supposed to be phrased as a Socratic question, such as “What is justice?” This theme will organize the readings/assignments/discussions for the whole semester.

My idea is to use the question “What is a journey?” and to read books that deal with travel in some way. We’ll talk about various types of journeys (physical, mental, spiritual) and how they relate, and about what happens when people travel and when people from different cultures interact. I have some books in mind to teach, but I’m wondering if you all have other ideas. Books that come from a discipline other than English are especially welcome (although English departments end up “colonizing” texts from other disciplines for study all the time, so to me just about everything seems like a “literature” text). Here’s what I’m thinking about:

  • Some basic Postcolonial theory such as Edward Said and Mary Louise Pratt,
  • Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe,
  • Some Montaigne essays, including possibly “Of Coaches,” “Of Cannibals,” and “Of Vanity,”
  • Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative,
  • Mary Wortley Montague’s Turkish Embassy Letters,
  • E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India,
  • Claude Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques,
  • Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy (for something a little lighter and contemporary).

Any other ideas? I’ve thought about de Tocqueville, but I’m not sure I want to read him! (Maybe I should?)


Filed under Books, Lists, Teaching

New books for the new year

Fellow cyclists, readers, and bloggers Suitcase of Courage and She Knits by the Seashore joined Hobgoblin and me on a now time-honored tradition of taking a trip somewhere interesting and buying lots of books. This time we went to Whitlock’s Book Barn, in Bethany, Connecticut, 20 minutes or so north of New Haven. I love used book shops in barns, and this one had two of them, one of them, as the woman working there explained, for books $5 and up, and the other for books under $5. They had a very interesting selection in both barns, with unusually large sections of literary criticism. I found lots of good books, of which I brought home the following:

  • Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace of Desire. I read and enjoyed the first book in the Cairo trilogy, Palace Walk, but hadn’t yet gotten inspired to acquire the second one. I taught a Mahfouz short story last semester, “Zaabalawi,” and that has put me in the mood for more.
  • Lilian Nattel’s The River Midnight. I’ve been enjoying Lilian’s blog for a while now, so it’s high time I read one of her books.
  • Marion Meade’s Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties. The book focuses on Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edna Ferber and everything they were up to in the 1920s. I’ve collected a couple group biographies now, and I’m looking forward to all of them.
  • William Hazlitt’s The Spirit of the Age. This is a collection of essays on various figures of Hazlett’s time, including Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, Scott, and lots of others. Knowing Hazlitt, I’m expecting it to be mean-spirited and fun.
  • Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I’ve read about this book on someone’s blog recently, but I can’t remember where. It’s a slim book of nonfiction and is about loss, love, and the color blue.
  • Douglas Atkins’s Reading Essays: An Invitation. I’ve never read any Atkins, but I’ve seen his name around the essay world. This book contains his close readings of 25 different essays, and an exploration of the artistic elements of the genre. The idea is to study the art of the essay in the same way we do for poetry, drama, and the novel.

After finishing at Whitlock’s, we headed down to New Haven where we ate lots of excellent food and checked out more shops. We went to one of my favorite new bookstores, Labyrinth Books, which has a truly great selection of really smart books, the kind of serious, intellectual tomes you aren’t likely to find in the chain stores. It also has a fabulous fiction section with tons of lesser-known works and books in translation. From here, I bought Truth in Nonfiction, a collection of essays edited by David Lazar. The essays are about the complicated nature of truth as captured, or not captured, in nonfiction. It contains pieces by writers such as Phyllis Rose, Vivian Gornick, Oliver Sacks, John D’Agata, and others. It looks fabulous.

We also checked out Book Trader Cafe, where I bought a copy of Colson Whitehead’s novel The Intuitionist. I bought this book solely because I find Whitehead’s tweets so amusing and I want to see what the fiction is like.

We also went to Atticus bookstore and cafe, where I had the most amazing and amazingly large slice of chocolate chip cookie pie ever. Doesn’t that sound great? It was the perfect way to finish a wonderfully decadent day.


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Favorite books, 2010

It’s time to make my list of favorite books from 2010 before we get too far into 2011. This time I will use categories rather than simply a top ten list, since my favorite books are all so different.

  • Book I enjoyed most of any genre: David Foster Wallace’s  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I love his essayistic style.Love it.
  • Favorite fiction: Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist. Yes, this book was on my favorites list from last year, but I liked the book so much I read it again, and the second time was in 2010. Yay! Also, Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies, Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, Rosamund Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, May Sarton’s A Small Room, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.
  • Favorite mystery/crime novels: Patricia Highsmith’sThe Talented Mr. Ripley. That book is still freaking me out. Also, Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, not for the plot (at all!) but for the writing. Best funny mystery novels: Sarah Caudwell’s Thus was Adonis Murdered and David Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat.
  • Biggest surprises in fiction: I didn’t expect to love Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as much as I did, but I really did love it. And Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars was good in a thoughtful way I didn’t expect.
  • Favorite classics: My reread of Emma was awesome, of course, and I really enjoyed The Perpetual Curate by Margaret Oliphant. It was great to finally read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as well.
  • Best nonfiction: For biography, Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Darker Reflections. I missed Coleridge when I finished reading. For essays, finishing Montaigne was great, of course, and Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia was wonderful. I enjoyed Emily Fox Gordon’s Book of Days: Personal Essays greatly as well. Also in nonfiction, Jenny Diski’s book The Sixties was really good.
  • Poetry: I read only two volumes of poetry this year, but they were both memorable: Faber’s 80th anniversary edition of Ted Hughes, and the poems of T’ao Ch’ien.
  • Other books I liked: Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy, I Too Am Here: Selections from the Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and John Williams’s Stoner.
  • Biggest challenge: Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A challenge indeed.
  • Biggest disappointments: I didn’t enjoy Balzac’s novel Cousin Bette at all, and I thought I would. Also, Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett’s Death Rites was a disappointment. I didn’t dislike it as much as my book group did, but still, I hoped to like it better.

I like doing my favorites this way, because I can name lots more books!

Now for a word about my year in cycling. I rode a grand total of 6,597 miles during 2010 and a total of 409 hours (more than an hour a day!). All those miles were outdoors. My mileage in 2009, which was a record at that time, was 5,097. The funny thing about this year is that I didn’t set out to ride a lot of miles. I would have been perfectly happy riding fewer than I did in 2009. I wanted to ride exactly what I felt like riding. That’s just what I did, but apparently what I wanted to do was to ride an awful, awful lot. It was training with my Ironman friend that made the difference; she needed to go on 3,4,5,6-hour rides, and I was happy to go along. She’s not training for an Ironman in the upcoming year, so I may ride less, although I do have two other friends who will be training for an Ironman, so maybe I need to do some rides with them!


Filed under Books, Cycling, Lists

Christmas books

I hope everyone is having a great weekend, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I’ve had a wonderful time lazing around, reading, eating, and watching The Thin Man (lots of fun, and After the Thin Man is up next). I got a short bike ride in yesterday, but now the ground is covered with snow, and tons more is on the way. Sigh. I love riding outdoors, even in winter, but deep snow is the one thing that keeps me inside. I’m eagerly awaiting the 40-degree temperatures promised for next weekend.

Now, of course I have to tell you about my Christmas books, of which I got a nice stack:

  1. Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, sent to me by a friend. I’ve been hearing about Shirley Jackson on various blogs for a long time, but the only thing of hers I’ve read is her famous story “The Lottery.” I’m excited to read a novel of hers, and I’ve heard this one is great.
  2. Lynda Barry’s What It Is, also sent to me by a friend. I had never heard of this book before, and it looks fabulous, full of drawings and pictures, as well as text. The book’s pages are a lot like what you see on the cover. It’s about writing and creativity, and has some exercises that might be useful for my creativity class.
  3. From my parents, I got a copy of Orhan Pamuk’s The Naive and Sentimental Novelist. I wondered how they did such a great job picking out the perfect book for me, until I learned they found it on my Book Mooch wishlist. Oh, yeah. It’s useful having that list up!
  4. The rest of the list comes from Hobgoblin. Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer is the book for me this year, because shortly before Christmas, I found out I would be getting a copy to review, and then the gift-giving friend above told me she had a copy for me, and then Hobgoblin got me one. Clearly, I am destined to read this book.
  5. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I checked this one out from the library a while back but didn’t have time to read it, and so I’m glad to have it now to read at my leisure. I’ve heard such great things about it, and I just read a brief discussion of it in David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading, so I think I need to pick it up soon.
  6. David Markson’s The Ballad of Dingus Magee. I enjoyed Markson’s mystery novels so much that Hobgoblin thought I might like his other venture into genre fiction. This one is a western. Perhaps after this, I will have to try another of his experimental novels. What a range this guy has!
  7. David Foster Wallace’s Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will. This is one of Wallace’s undergraduate theses, and along with the thesis itself is included a number of essays by various philosophers on free will and a memoir about Wallace as a student. This is a great addition to my growing collection of Wallace’s work.

And now to get reading!


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Ten Random Books Meme

I saw this meme over at Danielle’s who got it from Simon, and it looked like fun, so here goes. Here are the rules:

1.) Go to your bookshelves…
2.) Close your eyes. If you’re feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or… basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself – where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc…..
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn’t matter if you’ve read them or not – be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to…

I went to all my main bookshelves in my study and my living room so I could get a variety of books. I did cheat a little bit when I chose books that belong to Hobgoblin or that … well, that bored me or that gave my list too much repetition. But for the most part, this is what I selected, with eyes closed:

  1. Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker. This is one of the books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. In fact, I included it on a list of books I want to read not too long ago, although it didn’t make it to the TBR challenge list (on my sidebar). It’s one of those books that by the time I read it, I will have been saying I’m going to read it for ages. Oh, well. That’s true for a lot of books.
  2. Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. This is one of the longest books I’ve read, if not the longest, period. This book was assigned for a grad class I was auditing; I didn’t finish it that semester, but the Christmas afterward I got to the end. It’s a great book and I wouldn’t mind reading it again one day — but my God, is it long. I just love epistolary novels, and this is one of the most important.
  3. David Richter, ed., Falling Into Theory: Conflicting Views of Reading Literature. This was a textbook for an undergrad class in literary theory, my first exposure to it. Now it’s a little dated, but looking through the table of contents, it still looks pretty good. I’m not sure why it’s called “falling” into theory, though.
  4. Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book. This book came from my essay shelves. I read it a year or two ago and loved it. Really, if you want to read some nonfiction and want to read something that’s really, really old (10th-11th century) and from another culture, this is perfect. It’s charming and fun.
  5. Maria Edgeworth’s Helen. This came from my TBR shelves. I’ve read Edgeworth’s novel Belinda and really liked it and have been meaning to read more of her work forever (of course). She’s a really good writer who gets overshadowed by Austen who lived around the same time. If you want more fiction from Austen’s time, Belinda is a great book to pick up.
  6. Alison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs. I was just thinking about this book because Zhiv wrote a post on academic novels that made me want to read more of them. I really liked this book and made a point of picking up another Lurie novel pretty soon after reading this one (The War Between the Tates). Lurie is someone I hope to return to again — before too, too long.
  7. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This one belongs to Hobgoblin, but I read his copy so I included it in this list. It was an incredibly powerful read, dark and scary, but difficult to put down. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I’m kind of scared of it. I don’t like scary movies, and this is bound to be terrifying. And yet it was such a good book, and I’m curious about the movie version. We’ll see.
  8. Colette’s My Mother’s House and Sido. I read this book a few years ago, but I first thought about reading it back in college when my Advanced Writing professor recommended it to me. That just goes to show that even though I do take forever to get around to reading something, I usually do get there eventually. I loved the book and am glad it stayed around in my mind for so long. Now I just need to get around to reading some of Colette’s fiction.
  9. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. I read this one in college, and I don’t think I’ve reread it since then, although it’s possible. I do know that I listened to it on audio during the time I had a 1 1/2 hour commute each way a few years ago, and it was a good companion on the way to work. It’s such a great novel. I love books about people who read, even when bad things happen to them because of it, and this is such an important example.
  10. Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds. Here’s another academic novel I really enjoyed. I read it a year or two ago and thought it was great fun — a good story, an interesting setting (Cambridge), good writing — it has everything.

Anybody else want to try this? My selections are fairly representative, I think. A decent number of classics, a few contemporary books, a couple essay collections — that sums up my reading pretty well.


Filed under Books, Lists, Memes