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!


Filed under Books, Lists

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

The best of 2009

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve now, so I guess it’s time to do my final wrapping-up post and list my favorite reads of the year. As always, this list is not about books published in 2009, although one or two from this year may appear here, but it’s about what I liked best and what stands out most in everything I read regardless of when it was published. Links are to my post on the book.

First, the stand-out books in fiction, the absolutely top-notch, amazingly wonderful books:

  1. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.
  2. Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist.
  3. Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone.
  4. Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night.

Then other novels I really, really liked:

  1. Bernard Malamud, The Assistant.
  2. Ann Patchett, Bel Canto.
  3. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
  4. Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude.

And now some great nonfiction:

  1. Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions.
  2. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father.
  3. Anne Fadiman, At Large and at Small.

And one quirky, odd book I really liked: David Cecil, The Stricken Deer, a biography of William Cowper from 1930.

Happy New Year everyone!


Filed under Books, Lists, Reading

New Books

Did I say I was slowly emerging from the end-of-semester fog? Not sure what I was thinking there. My work load is beginning to decrease, true, but the stress of end-of-semester doings is still there and it’s significant. But I should be finished with everything by the end of the day tomorrow, so that’s something to look forward to.

So since I’m not feeling up to writing a book review tonight, I’ll post on what new books I’ve acquired or am about to acquire very soon. Did I write a post earlier on the possibility of not acquiring any new books for a while? Yeah, that didn’t work out. So here’s what I have:

  • Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness. Verbivore reviewed this one at The Quarterly Conversation, and when it appeared on Book Mooch, I grabbed it.
  • Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams. Finally I will get around to reading something by Lorrie Moore. I know she is most famous for her short stories, but I thought I’d start with a novel anyway and move on from there.
  • Joyce Cary’s Herself Surprised. A friend sent this one to me. It’s the first volume of a trilogy and was published in 1941.
  • And now on to some nonfiction. The same friend also sent me P.D. James’s Talking about Detective Fiction, which is “a personal, lively, illuminating exploration of the human appetite for mystery and mayhem, and of those writers who have satisfied it,” as the book jacket says. It will be perfect after all the mysteries I’ve read over the last couple years.
  • Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. I’ll be reading this one with a group of people at work, and I have no idea if it will be good or not. It’s subtitled “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.” We shall see.
  • And then there are some books I was able to get a great deal on thanks to Musings, including Hermione Lee’s Biography: A Very Short Introduction. A long introduction I wouldn’t want, but a very short introduction sounds perfect, as I do like to read biographies and I like to read about how they get written even more.
  • Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals. I already have the Grasmere journals, but I don’t have an edition with both.
  • John Keats, The Major Works. I already own quite a lot of Keats’s work, but I don’t have many of the letters, and this edition has some.
  • And finally, Jane Austen’s Selected Letters. Being the Austen fan I am, I should own this.

I’m guessing I may be back in a week or so with another list of new books …


Filed under Books, Lists, Reading

The TBR challenge

It’s December 1st, which means it’s time to plan what books I want to read for Emily’s TBR challenge. These are books I already own that I am going to try to read over the next year and one month (finishing up on December 31st, 2010). I will try to stick to this list as much as possible, but I reserve the right to make substitutions as I feel like it.

First, there are books I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time. These are books that are near the beginning of my TBR list, since I add new ones to the end.

  1. Balzac, Cousin Bette. I’ve never read Balzac, and it’s time I rectified that situation.
  2. Samuel Beckett, Molloy. I’ve never read Beckett’s fiction either, and I’ve owned this book for perhaps a decade, or at least a lot of years.
  3. Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. I think this is the first book I got from Book Mooch — the first of many.
  4. The Bhagavad Gita. Seriously, I’ve wanted to read this book forever. It’s about damn time.
  5. Lawrence Weschler, Vermeer in Bosnia. This is an essay collection I’ve had my eye on ever since hearing an interview with him on NPR. At least, I think I heard an interview with him. It was so long ago. I do remember buying the book at a Barnes and Noble near my parents’ place one Christmas, but I can’t remember which Christmas that was.

And now for some books I’ve acquired more recently and won’t want to wait long to pick up:

  1. Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt. Since I never see this book in bookstores, I decided to order it online, and I found a cheap copy at Better World Books.
  2. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I now have a signed copy of the book. I’m curious to see what I think of her when I read her writing on the page instead of listening to an audio book.
  3. Jane Gardam’s Old Filth. Like Rosalind Belben, this is an author I wouldn’t have known of if it weren’t for blogs, and I remember hearing about her from bloggers I admire, so I’m looking forward to it.
  4. Maureen Corrigan, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading. I know one of these days I’m going to get the urge to pick up the kind of nonfiction book that’s highly entertaining and where the pages fly by. This will be perfect.
  5. David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Why have I not yet read this book? I have no idea.
  6. Jane Carlyle, I Too Am Here. This book is selections of Carlyle’s letters. I came across Carlyle in an Elizabeth Hardwick essay and have heard a couple references to her recently, so I think it’s time to try this one out.

And now for some books I would like to get to for various reasons including book groups or because they are part of a series:

  1. Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper. This is the next Slaves of Golconda selection. My edition, very fittingly, has yellow paper.
  2. Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Yellow Room. This is the next selection for my mystery book group, chosen by Emily.
  3. Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Darker Reflections. This is part 2 of Holmes’s Coleridge biography. I read part 1 last summer and have wanted to continue on ever since.
  4. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island. I’m on a small Montgomery kick these days and want to continue my reread of the Anne series.
  5. Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. I’m slowly rereading Woolf’s major works, and this one is up next.
  6. Elizabeth George’s Payment in Blood. This is the second Elizabeth George book in the series; I read the first at some point this past year.

And now for a few random books:

  1. Miklos Vamos’s The Book of Fathers. I have a review copy of this one I need to get to fairly soon.
  2. Louise Gluck’s Proofs and Theories. I like her poetry, and I’ll probably like this essay collection as well.
  3. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Hobgoblin bought this one a while back, and we both hope to get to it next summer. A nice, light summer reading, right?

As I wrote the list, I tried to find a balance between heavier books and lighter ones, although my tendency when coming up with challenge lists is to go for the heavier books — the challenging ones. But a mix is better.

I’m looking forward to diving into these!


Filed under Books, Lists

Dreaming about books

You will be relieved to know, I’m sure, that I took your advice seriously about not feeling guilty when I acquire books, and I will be acquiring a bunch more of them soon. I’ll tell you about that later. As I don’t have a whole lot of time to read right now, the next best thing is to think about what I will read soon, when I get the chance. So here’s what’s looking most interesting right now:

  • Richard Powers, The Echo Maker. I’ve heard lots of good things about Powers over the last couple years, and have heard about him recently from a friend, and I’m intrigued. He writes about science a lot, and I think I’d like that.
  • Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy/Tacy books. I just received a lovely edition of Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself in one volume from Kate, and the book is too lovely to let sit on my shelves for too long. I loved these books as a kid, and I want to see how I like them now.
  • Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I really loved Abide with Me when I listened to it recently, and so now I want to get to this one. Plus, a friend recently gave me a signed copy of the book, and that feels like a reason to read the book right there.
  • Wilkie Collins’s Armadale. With all the Collins posts appearing around the book blog world, he has been on my mind a lot. This is the book of his I have waiting on my shelves.
  • Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist. I’ve said I want this book enough times in enough places, that if it doesn’t appear under the Christmas tree, well, I’ll rush out and buy myself a copy the day after. Baker is one of my favorite writers, and this book is about a guy trying to write an introduction to a poetry anthology, so of course I will like it.
  • Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance. I’ve been hearing about Davis for a while and am intrigued. This is a book of short stories, a genre I haven’t read in a while and would like to get back to. Two very good reasons to read this book. I’m curious about the extreme shortness of many of these stories, and also about their poetic quality. I guess since I don’t read many short stories and have been known to complain about overly-poetic prose, this book feels like a challenge, and I wonder if I will like it in spite of my biases.
  • Anything by Lorrie Moore and Margaret Atwood, two writers I have never read, and really should.
  • Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. I’m slowly reading through Woolf’s major works in chronological order (at the rate of a book or two a year), and here is where I’m at, into the more experimental work.
  • Louise Gluck’s Proofs and Theories. I love Gluck’s poetry, and this is a book of essays. I hope I like them as much.
  • Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt. I look for this one in every bookstore I go to and haven’t found it yet. From what I remember hearing about it, it’s a good novel that does really interesting things with the writing. It seems to fit into the category “experimental, but not too much so” that I like a lot.
  • John Keats’s letters. I’ve heard these are great, and I need to find out for myself.

I haven’t had much time to read, but I did finish Brideshead Revisited recently, and I hope to write up my thoughts soon.


Filed under Books, Lists

Categories of reading

So I’ve been feeling a little … frustrated might be too strong a word, but something along those lines, maybe more like overwhelmed … at the fact that there are so many different types of books I’d like to read right now, and I can’t do it, even though I’ve got more reading time than usual at the moment. I’m not even talking about individual books; I’m talking about categories, within which there are dozens if not hundreds of individual books I want to read.

This is partly an issue of feeling pulled between reading widely and reading deeply, both of which I’d like to do, of course. But if I read widely, I will only read occasionally within each category, and if I read deeply, a lot of categories will get ignored. So what do I do?

I thought I’d compile a list of the categories that interest me at the moment, just for fun. This list might look entirely different on another day though. I won’t even try to make these categories mutually exclusive.

  • Eighteenth-century and Romantic novels, such as the Mary Brunton one I read recently, and also Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith, and Elizabeth Inchbald, plus earlier novelists like Eliza Haywood and Sarah Fielding;
  • Victorian novelists — more Trollope, Eliot, and Gaskell, plus Harriet Martineau, Margaret Oliphant and late Victorians such as Galsworthy and Gissing;
  • Contemporary fiction of all sorts, whatever strikes my fancy;
  • Lesser-known modernists, particularly modernist women of the sort discussed here (especially Stein, Larsen, Mansfield, and Smith);
  • Persephone and Virago books, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Antonia White, Radclyffe Hall, plus tons more;
  • Mysteries — for my book group, but also just for myself, including finding good series and reading them all the way through;
  • Random classics I’ve missed, such as Russians like Oblomov, Turgenev and more Chekhov, French writers such as Balzac and Zola;
  • Okay, nonfiction. Good literary criticism, especially of the novel. More books like Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, critical essays by people like D. H. Lawrence or Forster, and more contemporary criticism by people like Nancy Armstrong or Michael McKeon, also more philosophical stuff by people like Elaine Scarry;
  • Essays and more essays — Montaigne, Bacon, Lamb, Hazlitt, Woolf, Orwell, McCarthy, Wallace, etc. etc.;
  • Books on theology and spirituality, particularly ones that look at the subject from a comparative perspective;
  • Science books — Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, and others;
  • Biographies, particularly of writers, and most especially those by great biographers such as Richard Holmes and Claire Tomalin;
  • Quirky, unclassifiable nonfiction, such as the kind of thing Geoff Dyer and Jenny Diski write;
  • Poetry — Romantic and Victorian poets among the older things I’d like to read, and also contemporary poetry by writers such as Louise Gluck and Mary Oliver.

What would your own list look like?


Filed under Books, Lists, Reading

The 25 influential writers meme

I saw this over at Reassigned Time and thought it would be fun to do here. The instructions are to “name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. Then you tag 25 people.” I won’t be tagging 25 people, so if you want to do this, please do! I’m going to list names roughly chronologically (following my life).

  1. Authors of the Bible
  2. Laura Ingalls Wilder
  3. Maud Hart Lovelace
  4. Lucy Maud Montgomery
  5. Louisa May Alcott
  6. Jane Austen
  7. Charles Dickens
  8. George Eliot
  9. Virginia Woolf
  10. Mary Shelley
  11. Flannery O’Connor
  12. Michel de Montaigne
  13. Fyodor Dostoyevky
  14. Mary McCarthy
  15. Samuel Richardson
  16. Laurence Sterne
  17. Henry Fielding
  18. Sarah Fielding
  19. Mary Wollstonecraft
  20. Olaudah Equiano
  21. Dorothy Wordsworth
  22. Nicholson Baker
  23. David Foster Wallace
  24. Jenny Diski
  25. Janet Malcolm

#1-5 are about my childhood, pretty clearly, and then I read a lot of #6-8 in high school, which formed my taste for the Victorian novel (and the novel itself — this list is very novel-heavy).  #9-14 were college discoveries, and you can see the turn to the eighteenth-century I took in grad school in #15-21.  I could easily have added more authors here, including Boswell and Johnson. After that, I tried to think of authors I’ve been most excited about over the last few years; these ones I could possibly change up a bit, depending on my mood. The last few reflect my increasing enjoyment of nonfiction, which is why I like their presence there. I could also put Philip Lopate on the list, not because his writing has influenced me, but because the book he edited, The Art of the Personal Essay, has been so important.

It’s a pretty canonical list, isn’t it? But I suppose at heart I’m a pretty canonical kind of reader. Maybe it’s also true that people’s reading is often from the canon when they’re younger (at least English major types) and branches out afterward.  I haven’t read all of the canon, by any means, but I’ve read enough to feel that I’m ready to branch out more.

Anyone else want to try this?


Filed under Books, Lists, Memes, Reading

In lieu of a post requiring thought …

It’s Tuesday night, which means I’m exhausted.  So here’s a meme:

BBC Book List

1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen X+
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (totally not interested)
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte X+
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (read the first one, won’t continue)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee X
6 The Bible X (I’ve never read it straight through, but I’m sure I’ve covered it all at some point)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte X+
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman X+
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott X+
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy X
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller *
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Only some — maybe a dozen plays and some sonnets, and would like to read the rest)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier *
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger – X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger X
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot X+
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell X
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald – X
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens X
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy X
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh *
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky X+
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck X
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (can’t remember, maybe)
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy X
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis X
34 Emma – Jane Austen X+
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen X+
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis X
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden (these last few don’t seem to fit in.  Probably won’t read them)
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne X
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown (listened to it on audio)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez X
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving X
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins X+
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery – X+ (read multiple times!)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy X
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood *
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding X
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan (Listened to on audio)
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel (Audio)
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen X+
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley X
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon X+
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck – X
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov X+
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt *
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (Hobgoblin may convince me to read this some day)
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac X
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy X
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding (Audio)
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie X
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville X
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – X+
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce X
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath X
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome (Never heard of it)
78 Germinal – Emile Zola *
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray X
80 Possession – AS Byatt X+
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell X
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro X+
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert – X
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (Audio)
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White X+
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (highly unlikely I’ll read this …)
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Some of them)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams X+
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole * (maybe)
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare – X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl X
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


Filed under Books, Lists, Memes

Recent Acquisitions

I’ve gone on a bit of a Book Mooch spree over the last couple days, something I haven’t done in a long time.  But I can only let those points sit there for so long before the fact that each point can get me a book for free (or for “free,” since I earned points by mailing books to other people) becomes too much to contemplate, and I break down and use them.  I requested seven books recently, and that still leaves me with nine points — plenty left in case some really cool books become available.  Here’s what I got:

  • Henry Green’s Loving, Living, Party Going.  These are three separate novels, collected into one volume.  I’ve never read Green, but he’s someone I hear of now and then, not frequently, but just enough to keep him in mind.  I believe Francine Prose praised him in her book Reading Like a Writer, which brought him to my attention once again.  I could love him or hate him — I have no idea.  It will be interesting to find out.
  • Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments: A Memoir.  Here is another author I have never read and don’t know much about, so I am taking a bit of a risk with her.  It’s a memoir of her relationship with her mother.
  • Maria Edgeworth’s Helen.  I’ve read one Edgeworth novel (Belinda) and am looking forward to reading more.  She is an early 19C novelist; she sometimes writes about Ireland and Irish/English relations and was also known in her day for her children’s writing as well as her adult novels.  Helen was published in 1837.
  • Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault. I enjoyed Shriver’s novel The Post-Birthday World, and this one looks fun — it’s about a tennis-playing couple who become rivals and suffer from competitiveness and jealousy.  I’m not suggesting, let me be clear, that this is at all parallel to the experience Hobgoblin and I have racing bikes together!
  • Emile Zola’s Germinal. I’ve never read Balzac, and I’ve never read Zola, and this book seems like a good place to start.  I’ve been saying I’m going to read those two for years — maybe I’ll actually get around to it this year.
  • Jonathan Raban’s Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings. I like reading travel writing now and then.  Here’s a description: “In a 35-foot sailboat Raban traverses over 1,000 miles of often treacherous waters … Passage to Juneau is a lesson in comparative literature, the history of the Northwest’s Indians and the first European explorers, and a sociological treatise on class and technology. But most of all, Passage to Juneau is a fascinating navigation through Raban’s psyche — a brave interior exploration of family, relationship, and mourning.”
  • Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence.  I do already have one unread Pym novel on hand (No Fond Return of Love), but Pym is so good, it’s impossible to have too many of her books around.  And I’ve heard such good things about this one.

Now that my Book Mooch spree is over, maybe I can let my remaining points sit for a while …


Filed under Books, Lists

Longing for Summer: A Thursday Thirteen

Summer is so close, and yet not nearly close enough — 3 weeks until the end of classes, and then another two weeks after that of final exams, grading, and a school retreat, at which I have to take on some responsibility instead of just whining and moaning my way through it like I did last year. (Ummm … this retreat is purely voluntary, so I really have nothing to complain about, except my inability to say no when people at work ask me to do things.)

So, inspired by Danielle’s regular (or semi-regular) Thursday Thirteens, I thought I’d spend some time thinking about what I might read this summer. I am by no means holding myself to this list; rather, it’s what I would want to read if my summer began today:

  1. Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, which I just this minute mooched from Book Mooch. I remember reading The Crimson Petal and the Black last summer and loving it, so a return to some Victorian-era fiction sounds perfect for this summer.
  2. Rosy Thornton’s Hearts and Minds. The author graciously offered to send me a copy and I instantly accepted. I’ve heard such good things about this book, and I do love campus novels. Yes, this might be a strange thing to read over the summer, when I’m wanting to escape from school, but reading a novel about campus life is not at all like living it.
  3. Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I’ve been meaning to read this one forever, and after my great Wuthering Heights experience, I’m excited to read more of the Brontes. I also have Agnes Grey and Shirley on hand.
  4. Antonia White’s Frost in May. I can’t get enough of those Viragos, and this one I’ve heard mentioned quite a few times.
  5. Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop and/or The Blue Flower. I keep mixing up Penelope Fitzgerald and Penelope Lively. Perhaps once I’ve read them both I’ll stop doing that.
  6. Shalom Auslander’s The Foreskin’s Lament. Bitter, angry religious memoir? Sounds like my kind of book.
  7. Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter. This is about women’s lives around Jane Austen’s time. I’d love to know more. In fact, I might begin this one before summer.
  8. Gabriel Josipovici’s Moo Pak. Anything by Josipovici, fiction or nonfiction, would be just fine.
  9. Mary Brunton’s Discipline. This was published in 1814, so she’s a contemporary of Jane Austen. I’ve heard very good things about her, and I do love novels from this time period.
  10. Roland Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, or perhaps A Lover’s Discourse or anything else of his that strikes my fancy. Barthes is a theorist I’d like to read more of.
  11. William St. Clair’s The Godwins and the Shelleys: A Biography of a Family. A number of books on my list either come from or are about the Romantic period — such a fascinating time, isn’t it? I also want to read St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period.
  12. Louise Gluck’s Proofs and Theories. A collection of essays by one of my favorite poets. Some more of her poetry would be wonderful to read as well.
  13. W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants. Sebald is such a fascinating writer; I loved The Rings of Saturn and am looking forward to reading more.


Filed under Books, Fiction, Lists, Reading

Wasting time

Alan Lightman’s closing essay “Prisoner of the Wired World,” from his book A Sense of the Mysterious, is interesting, although not entirely original in its argument. But it has made me think a lot over the week or so since I finished it, which surely is the mark of a good essay. Lightman opens the essay this way:

Not long ago, while sitting at my desk at home, I suddenly had the horrifying realization that I no longer waste time.

He goes on to describe how connected we all are, through our computers and our cell phones and other forms of technology, and how all this connectivity means that the pace of life is faster and we spend more and more of our time working, at the expense of enjoying the kind of down time that nourishes our souls. He lists what he sees as the unpleasant effects of the wired world (developing each item in a paragraph or so):

1. An obsession with speed and an accompanying impatience for all that does not move faster and faster… 2. A sense of overload with information and other stimulation… 3. A mounting obsession with consumption and material wealth… 4. Accommodation to the virtual world… 5. Loss of silence… 6. Loss of privacy…

The essay is a call to resist this speed and unthinking acceptance of technology; Lightman argues passionately for taking time to be still, doing nothing, and letting our spirits flourish.

I’m drawn by this argument, although suspicious of it at the same time. I find that people who criticize modern technology, especially the internet, rarely take the time to acknowledge sufficiently all the good it can do people. The internet can be a distraction and it can be a way to keep us chained to our jobs (answering student emails, for example) so that we rarely enjoy true leisure, but can’t it also be a place where that leisure can happen, where we can explore our minds and spirits, express our thoughts, and find people who think the same way we do? I find the internet to be an exciting, freeing place, a place where I can take risks with writing and read people doing the same thing. At the same time as I’m writing my blog posts, though, I’m sometimes checking my work email. I suspect tons of people have this complicated relationship to technology, and I wish I found it reflected in the writing on technology I encounter.

That said, I believe strongly in doing nothing and think I should do more of it. I suspect, also, that I should spend less time on the internet, hard as that may be. There’s a restful quality to time spent goofing off outdoors, for example, that I don’t experience goofing off online. But however I decide to do nothing, I hope to be able to keep doing it.

So I’ve been thinking about Lightman’s essay and have been more conscious of moments I allow my mind to drift. One of my favorite moments is in the morning when I have a chance to linger in bed after I’ve woken up. I think about my day, but I also think about … nothing. My mind works this way when I’m walking or riding my bike too. These things don’t feel like work to me; they feel like an escape from work.  A friend asked me today what I think about when I’m riding, and I had a hard time answering her. Sometimes I think about things I’m working on or plans for when I get home, but other times — a lot of the time — I can’t even say what’s on my mind. I like this. I like riding for all kinds of reasons, but one of them is that it gives my mind a break.

So even if I don’t fully agree with him, I’m grateful to Lightman for making me think of all this — for reminding me of the value of doing nothing and wasting time.


Filed under Books, Lists, Poetry

Nonfiction fantasy

Eva has written recently about learning to love nonfiction; I’ve loved certain forms of it for quite a while, although I still read many more novels than nonfiction books. Eva’s post caught my eye because I’ve had a longing lately to read some good nonfiction; alas, I don’t seem to be able to get to it, as my reading time has been limited and when I do have time to read I read novels for class or for book groups. So I thought I’d do a little a little fantasizing here about what nonfiction books I would read if I had the time and energy for them. I’m going to pretend for a few moments that I have nothing to do for the next couple months but read for fun. Here are some of the nonfiction books I’d pick up:

  • Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772 – 1804. Although I didn’t particularly like the Romantics when I studied them in college, I’ve changed my mind completely since then and have become a bit obsessed by them. I just received this biography of Coleridge from Book Mooch, and I’d love to dive in.
  • Also about the Romantic time period is Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. I so want to know what a woman’s life in Georgian England was like!
  • William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages, and it’s high time I get to it.
  • John Kelly’s The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. I’ve been interested in this book ever since reading Geraldine Brooks’s novel Year of Wonders, which is also about the plague. It would be great to have a nonfiction as well as a fictional perspective.
  • Helen Deutsch’s Loving Dr. Johnson. Here is what Amazon says about the book: “Loving Dr. Johnson uses the enormous popularity of Johnson to understand a singular case of author love and to reflect upon what the love of authors has to do with the love of literature.” That sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
  • Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. NYRB has an attractive-looking edition of this 17C classic. Amazon says this: “Dr. Johnson, Boswell reports, said it was the only book that he rose early in the morning to read with pleasure.” That intrigues me …
  • William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. The Romantics again. You can see what kind of nonfiction I am most attracted to — the literary history and biography kind. The title is self-explanatory — about reading habits in the Romantic period, based on quantitative research.
  • Jenny Diski’s On Trying to Keep Still, or any of her work, actually. I fell in love with her blog (although she doesn’t post much) and must now read her books.

That would keep me busy for a while, wouldn’t it? Are there any nonfiction books you’ve been longing to read?


Filed under Books, Lists, Nonfiction

A brief post on new books

I had a gift card to use at Barnes and Noble and needed some other things as well, so last Saturday, Hobgoblin and I used this as an excuse to head to Manhattan to go on a shopping spree (which included getting me a new pair of running shoes, so now I consider myself officially a runner). I really, really will stop accumulating books, very soon, I promise, but in addition to the Barnes and Noble trip, I did order a couple other books online that I can’t do without and I mooched one that looked irresistible. So here’s the last “new books” post I’m going to do for a while (seriously!):

  • Javier Marias’s All Souls. Marias looks like an interesting new (new to me) author, and Litlove’s intriguing review made me pick this one up. There’s also this article from the NYRB if you’d like to know more.
  • Rosamund Lehmann’s The Echoing Grove. I loved Lehmann’s A Note in Music, which I read last year, and I wanted to find The Echoing Grove in particular as a follow-up because it inspired the Jonathan Coe novel I’ve got, The House of Sleep, so perhaps I’ll read the two back to back.
  • Elaine Scarry’s Dreaming by the Book. I loved Scarry’s book On Beauty and Being Just, and this one looks fabulous too. One of the Amazon reviews says that Scarry “wonders how the best writing enables us to produce images and scenes in our minds that carry something of the force of reality. She deftly unfolds an answer by identifying and explicating several general principles and five formal practices by which authors invisibly command us to manipulate the objects of our imagination.”
  • Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel is on its way to my house right now; it’s the next Slaves of Golconda book, the discussion of which will be held at the end of February.
  • Plutarch’s Selected Essays on Love, the Family, and the Good Life. Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay recommends this one as follow-up reading for Plutarch.
  • Gabriel Josipovici’s Moo Pak. This one is coming to me from Book Mooch. I know very little about it, but I’m sure it’s going to be good!
  • Amanda Vickery’s The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. I love reading about this time period!


Filed under Books, Lists

Reading, 2007, continued

So now I’ll post some of my favorite books of the year. First, considering the stats I posted yesterday, I was surprised that I’d read books by men and women in almost equal numbers, 33 and 34 respectively. I didn’t plan it that way! This ratio is much more even than the previous year’s, which was 24 and 32 in favor of women. I couldn’t tell you why this changed because I rarely think about gender when I pick up a book. Then, to get completely dorky for a moment, 83% of the books I read were from the 20th or 21st century in 2007, a number I wish were a little lower. The number is similar to that of 2006, which is 80%. I wish I had numbers from previous years because doing this kind of analysis is fun! It satisfies the math geek in me.

Oooh, and another interesting fact: the amount of fiction I read stayed the same from 2006 to 2007, at about 66% of the whole. Most of the rest was nonfiction with a small percentage of poetry thrown in there. Also, Stefanie correctly noted that the number of books I read went up from last year to this one — I went from 56 books to 70. There’s a good reason for that: I didn’t start blogging until March of 2006, at which point my reading rate started to increase. It took me a while to get the momentum going, though, hence the lower number for 2006. You see how blogging has changed my life?

Okay, now to my book list. I’m a little uncertain how to handle the big books I read: In Search of Lost Time, Don Quixote, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Obviously, those are wonderful books, they were very important ones for me to read, and they deserve a spot on my list of top books of the year. How could they not belong there? But they are also fairly boring, obvious choices. So I think I’ll just acknowledge that they are wonderful, and then choose my best books from among the other ones I read. Maybe I can limit my list of favorites to seven, which would be the top 10%.

  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro is wonderful, and I should read everything he’s written. It’s hard to believe that someone could write so movingly about clones. This book was powerful, at least as much for its psychological insights as for its exploration of a scientific dystopia. I made several people read this book, I liked it so much (they liked it too).
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Apparently everyone else loves this book too — my posts on it get more hits than anything else, by a long shot. Gilbert’s courage comes through clearly — her courage to take risks, travel, and explore new ways of living and being, and also her courage to write about what she experienced. I started off slightly irritated by her writing voice, but quickly gave in and fell in love with the book.
  • W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. I’m never sure whether to call this fiction or nonfiction; I counted it as fiction for my year-end stats, but it could as easily have gone the other way. This was beautiful and moving, an example of a new favorite genre of mine: the walking book. Sebald covers so much ground, so to speak, telling stories about the places his narrator walks through, connecting geography and history and evoking a somber, thoughtful mood as he contemplates the traces of past events on the landscape.
  • Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk. This was a long and satisfying novel, one that slowly accumulates detail about its characters and its place so that you feel you are living in its world. It leaves you with a sense of loss when you are finished. It draws you into a familial story in the beginning, and then slowly turns its attention to politics, so that you begin to see how large and small events converge and how the domestic and the political affect one another.
  • Frances Willard’s A Wheel Within a Wheel. I loved this book so much I gave a copy to a non-cycling friend of mine, who I hope will appreciate the author’s unique voice as much as I did. The book isn’t interesting solely for the cycling, anyway; it’s the author’s personality that holds your attention, her funny turns of phrase, her willingness to entertain ideas others might find shocking, and the odd combination of old-fashioned, moralistic radicalism.
  • Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Perhaps I should read more science fiction. I loved the way the characters developed over the course of the novel. I found the ending tremendously exciting, and I thought the way LeGuin explored gender roles was fascinating. The book started off a bit slowly, but soon enough I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down.
  • Gabriel Josipovici’s Goldberg: Variations. I haven’t posted on this one yet, as I just finished it a couple days ago. But I should clarify that I finished a second reading a couple days ago; as soon as I finished, I started over again, to try to understand it better and to ensure that the rather odd experience of reading it didn’t end so soon. I’m still gathering my thoughts about it, but I can say that I loved the way Josipovici gathered together different stories and threads of thought and turned them into something lovely and wise.

A few others I loved: Richard Holmes’s Footsteps, Geoff Dyer’s Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, Rosamund Lehmann’s A Note in Music, Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women, and Thomas DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. I’m noticing how much nonfiction I liked; I’m not sure if this means I should read more of it, or if it’s something I need to read at a fairly slow pace. Nonfiction tends to stand out more than the novels I read, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I should read significantly more of them.


Filed under Books, Lists, Reading