Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

“Consideration & Esteem as surely follow command of Language, as Admiration waits on Beauty.”
---Jane Austen, in Lady Susan


“History is most responsibly understood as a mosaic of probabilities or as something like a babble of voices from which emerges a fallible consensus of opinion. Narratives give us focused, if varied, points of view, and storytellers elide, forget and filter whatever facts they believe they possess. About the best you can hope for in a movie’s presentation of history is that it is not an overt lie.”
---Philip Martin, columnist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, in his article “Defiance Is Riveting Drama; Is It History, or Its Shadow?” 1/20/09


“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the sad feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”
---Andrew Wyeth, American artist


“There is, of course, a cognitive disconnect to reading poetry to an audience numbering in the millions, as Alexander did. Most poets never reach that many people in a lifetime, which may have something to do with the choice to keep her focus simple, her imagery direct. Even so, the crowd began dispersing well before she was finished, as if her words were little more than an afterthought. Partly, that has to do with her placement on the program—after the president; she had the misfortune of following the main event. But even more, it suggests the tangential role of poetry in our national conversation, which is unlikely to change no matter how seriously this president, or any other, takes the written word.”
---David L. Ulin, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, in his article “The Poem That Failed”


Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem:
“Praise Song for the Day”

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Happy Reading!

Friday, January 30, 2009


I love the way families have special words, usually coined by the children. We call a billfold a bofield thanks to our oldest son. He also gave us smell-good for cologne, as in “Dad, can I wear some of your smell-good?” Our daughter renamed the elbow the bowain. And, yes, we do still use these words, but we try not to do it in public.

Right now, I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and she shares a couple of her family’s special words:

In a few months we’d be drunk on the scent of Lizzie Webb’s mock oranges and lilacs, but the show begins modestly in April with her tiny Lenten roses, white–petaled snowdrops, and the wildish little daffodils called jonquils that have naturalized all over the grassy slopes. As Lily and I walked single file up the path to the greenhouse, I noticed these were up, poking their snub, yellow-tipped noses through a fringe of leaves.

“Oh, Mama,” Lily cried, “look what’s about to bloom—the tranquils.”

There went the last of the needles of ice around my heart, and I understood I’d be doomed to calling the jonquils tranquils for the rest of my days. Lily is my youngest. Maybe you know how these things go. In our family, those pink birds with the long necks are called flingmos because of how their real name was cutely jumbled by my brother’s youngest child—and that was, yikes, twenty years ago.
Ah, the joy of children and language.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Going Global

Here are the top 20 global bestselling authors:

1. Khaled Hosseini
2. Stieg Larsson
3. Ken Follett
4. Stephenie Meyer
5. Muriel Barbery
6. Carlos Ruiz Zafón
7. Anna Gavalda
8. John Grisham
9. J K Rowling
10. Henning Mankell
11. Alan Bennett
12. Jodi Picoult
13. Christopher Paolini
14. David Baldacci
15. Nicholas Sparks
16. Elizabeth George
17. Lauren Weisberger
18. Michael Connelly
19. Patricia D. Cornwell
20. Paulo Coelho

A couple of these authors—Hosseini and Cornwell-- are favorites of mine. I’ve read works by Grisham, Baldacci, Sparks, and George, there’s a Jodi Picoult novel on my nightstand, and as I mentioned on an earlier post, I plan on reading a series this summer. Perhaps it will be Meyers’ or Rowling’s. Ken Follett’s on my “must-read” list, but I have no plans for the rest of those guys. Maybe later?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hearts and Flowers

I’m one of a group of women who were asked to teach a fifth-and-sixth grade girls class on Wednesday nights. We each were to take a turn, and last week was mine. My topic? “Being Cool and Popular.”

After recovering from the emotional trauma of recalling now not cool and popular I was, I began to plan my lesson. I decided to begin by getting them to define “popular” for me, to give me some characteristics of popular people.

Good looking. Lots of friends. Good at sports. Likes to be the center of attention. Great clothes. Has all the up-to-date gadgets. Mean sometimes. Has a cool car.

So far so good. I write these on the board.

Then one girl shyly says, “They have good handwriting.”

What? I pause for a minute, wondering what to do with this seemingly random contribution.

Then I remember. Way back before cool cars or football or iphones even mattered. I remembered girls who crossed their t’s at a jaunty angle, who looped the end of letters just so, who dotted i’s with hearts and flowers while the rest of us valiantly attempted to do a passable imitation of their artistic embellishments on the standard cursive script that marched around the room on top of the blackboard.

Boy, those were the days.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dissertation Decor

Since our children are all out of the house, I've taken over the second story as a work area for writing my dissertation.

Everything may look nice and neat downstairs, but believe me, upstairs it looks as if a book and notecard factory has exploded. Piles of books. Books in the chair, books on the bed, books on the floor, books on the table. Open books, closed books, books with papers sticking out of them. Blue notecards, yellow notecards, green notecards, orange notecards. Paper-clipped notecards, rubber-banded notecards, stacks of notecards turned in alternate directions. Notebooks, legal pads, three-ring binders full of photocopied journal articles. You get the picture.

If you come for a visit before I'm finished, I'm warning you: Upstairs is off limits. Don't even ask. Of course, it's not a bad as it looks. Order might not be discernable to the untrained eye, but I promise, there's method in my madness.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Booking It--Generosity

Do you give books as gifts?


To everyone? Or only to select people?

I love to give books to children. But as far as adults go, I only give books to ones I know appreciate and want them. And I do try to match the book to their interests—genre, favorite authors, hobbies, interests, etc.

How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?

Oh, give me a break! Is that a rhetorical question?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

"We do not look in our great cities for our best morality."
---Jane Austen


“Nearly all of us . . . are offended by violations of some kinds of linguistic taboos. Political conservatives tend to be more offended by profanities and obscenities, whereas liberals tend to be more offended by racial and ethnic slurs as well as by slurs against homosexuals. Pinker says that words are arbitrary labels and that linguistic taboos embody a kind of magical misconception about language. In fact, though, speakers within a linguistic community typically show widespread agreement about the relative offensiveness of words. Linguistic taboos are real, then, not magical.”
---Gilbert Youmans, Emeritus Professor of English, University of Missouri, in a letter to the editor of The Atlantic (Jan/Feb 2009)


“[Both my mother and the librarian] taught me that if you insist on having a destination when you come into a library, you’re shortchanging yourself. . . . I have found sanctuary in libraries my whole life, and there is sanctuary there now, from the war, from the storms of our families and our own minds. Libraries are like mountains or meadows or creeks: sacred space.”
---Anne Lamott, in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”
---William Hazlitt, in his essay “On Wit and Humour”


“Language is to some extent tendentious. This is what we have to work with. Think of words in terms of foodstuffs: whatever we cook up won’t be composed of pure nutrients: it will derive from odd life-forms that breathe underwater of grow in the ground. But we can use fresh, organic ingredients, we can wash contaminants off them, and we can avoid globbing them up with heavy batter and frying them in oils that clog our arteries. Actually, it’s a lot harder to do that with words than with trout or carrots, but it’s the goal for an honest writer to aspire to.”
---Roy Blount, Jr., in Alphabet Juice


Happy Reading!

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's the Adverb's Fault!

Steven Pinker of the New York Times explains HERE why Roberts flubbed while administering of the presidential Oath of Office. It's a grammar thing, folks.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Presidential Reading

So, what does our new president read? If you’re interested, here’s an article from the New York Times about his reading habits.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Silly Old Bear

Pooh lovers rejoice! On October 5th of this year, we can again enjoy the bear of very little brain. Publishers have announced a new book of Winnie the Pooh Adventures titled Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, the first authorized sequel to A. A. Milne’s 1920’s classics.

The book will be written by David Benedictus, a novelist and playwright, and illustrated by Mark Burgess, a British artist.

No plot details are being released.

A spokesman for the estate assures fans that Benedictus and Burgess “capture the spirit and quality of those original books.” I sure hope so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Poem for the President

Inaugural Poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander

Disagreeing with Dr. Johnson

I admire Samuel Johnson. I really do. A man who can compile a Dictionary of the English Language in seven years with exacting precision is hardly to be argued with. But I am today.

Dr. Johnson wrote:

Contemplative piety, or the intercourse between God and the human soul, cannot be poetical. Man admitted to implore the mercy of his Creator, and plead the merits of his Redeemer, is already in a higher state than poetry can confer.

The essence of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing something unexpected, surprises and delights. The topicks of devotion are few, and being few are universally known; but few as they are, they can be made no more; they can receive no grace from novelty of sentiment, and very little from novelty of expression. Of sentiments purely religious, it will be found that the most simple expression is the most sublime. Poetry loses its lustre and its power, because it is applied to the decoration of something more excellent than itself. All that verse can do is to help the memory, and delight the ear, and for these purposes it may be very useful; but it supplies nothing to the mind. The ideas of Christian Theology are too simple for fiction, and too majestick for ornament; to recommend them by tropes and figures, is to magnify by a concave mirror the sidereal hemisphere.

I don’t claim to have the analytical powers of Dr. Johnson, but I do have a few things to say in rebuttal: John Donne. George Herbert. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Christina Rosetti.

Have anything to add to the argument?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Booking It--Wintery Books

What I want to know today is … what are the most “wintery” books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

The first book that came to mind for me was Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. This was her last novel and the only one published under her own name. And, I promise, I’d already thought of this book as a “wintery” book before it hit me that the main character’s name is Lucy Snowe!

The reason this book seems “wintery” to me is because of the sense of alienation, repression, and even pessimism that permeates the entire book. The mood is undeniably bleak and cold. Don’t get me wrong. It’s one of my favorite novels of all time; it’s beautifully written, and right now it’s on my “re-read” list. But even Brontë’s best friend said the novel was “almost unbearably painful” to read. (A comment that cost her Brontë’s friendship, by the way.)

“Sleep went quite away. I used to rise in the night, look round for her, beseech her earnestly to return. A rattle of the window, a cry of the blast only replied---Sleep never came!”
Jane Eyre is also a wintry book, again probably for the isolation and loneliness of the main character. I remember loving this book in Junior High, thinking it was so romantic (in the teenage way, not the literary one), then re-reading it as a grown woman and feeling so angry at the ending. It was not the same novel at 34 that is was at 14. Then throw Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea into the mix and the picture gets really bleak.

"Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt? May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agonized as in that hour left my lips; for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love."
Finally, I think Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, at least parts of it, could be described as a “wintery” book. I know that seems odd, to call a book set mostly in Africa “wintery,” but the despair, the loneliness, the guilt, and even the physical hunger of these women—mother and daughters—can be felt physically by the reader. If you have not read this book, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a masterpiece.

“I felt the breath of God go cold on my skin.”

What books mean Winter to you?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!”
---Jane Austen, in Persuasion


NEW WORD: orthorexics—people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating

“...nutritionist thinking has become so pervasive as to be invisible. We forget that, historically, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than biological necessity. Food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity. As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology.”
---Michael Pollan, from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto


“There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”
---Aldous Huxley, novelist


“To me the mark of a great book is that it can move a variety of people, even though each person is connecting in a different way. The purpose of a story is to be a crowbar that slides under your skin and, with luck, cracks your mind wide open.”
---Jodi Picoult, novelist


From Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress”:

“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
[. . .]
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.”


From Henry Vaughan’s poem “The World”:

“I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres
Like a vast shadow moved; in which the world
And all her train were hurled . . .”


Happy Reading!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fooling Oprah

I like to read memoirs, and I’ve read several lately—Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s, Larry McMurtry’s, Azar Nafisi’s, Susan Campbell's, and more. And I’ve always approached memoirs with a level of trust. I realize that a memoir is an author’s presentation of herself/himself and therefore subject to a little slanting, some careful word selections, a few choice omissions, and I expect that. What I don’t expect is to be outright lied to, but I guess Oprah must be getting used to it.

First, it was James Frey. Next it was Herman Rosenblatt. Wonder who’s next?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

For Shame, Mr. Pepys!

Among my Christmas gifts last year was a daily calendar titled Forgotten English, which defines words that have fallen out of common usage and relates amusing anecdotes about linguistics and/or literature. The entry for January 13 made me laugh out loud, and I thought I’d share it here:

Hochle—to tumble lewdly with women in open day

On this day in 1668, diarist Samuel Pepys jotted what may be the earliest English reference to pornography, saying, “Stopped at Martin’s my bookseller, where I saw the French book which I did think to have for my wife to translate, called L’escholle des filles [The School of Girls, 1655]. But when I come to look at it, it is the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw, rather worse than Putana errante, so that I was ashamed of reading in it.” But on February 8 he returned to Martin’s “and there staid an hour and bought the idle, rogueish book, which I have bought in plain binding, avoiding the buying of it better bound because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it.” The next morning, Pepys rationalized his purchase as “a mighty lewd book, but not yet amiss for a sober man once to read over the inform himself of
the villany of the world.” That evening, after a “mighty good store of wine,” he carried out his plan: “I to my chamber, where I did read through L’escholle des filles . . . and after I had done it I burned it, that it might not be among my books to my shame.”

Human nature never changes, does it?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cause for Celebration

Each summer when I teach Honors Symposium, I begin my first class by sharing the results of an NEA survey called “Reading at Risk.” Then I start a discussion by asking them why they believe fewer and fewer people are reading and what they think the consequences of this will be.

Well, this year I’ll have new information to share. According to an article posted Monday on the New York Times web site, for the first time since 1982 the number of adults who’ve read at least one novel, short story, poem, or play in the last year has gone up. Bring out the party hats!

You can read the article HERE.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Slow Going

I didn't get quite as much read last week as I'd hoped. Totally unnecessary things like dentist appointments and departmental meetings got in my way. Oh, and grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, exercise . . .

I did finish three of the novels--Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey, so it's not like I didn't get anything done. That leaves Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion for this week.

It's funny. I'm anxious to finish reading through the novels so that I can start writing, yet I have a suspicion that reading through them is partly a delaying tactic so I don't have to start writing yet.

I guess, when it comes to writing, there's a little bit of a procrastinator in us all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Booking It--Five for Favorites

1. Do you have a favorite author?

My favorite “literary” author is, (surprise, surprise!), Jane Austen. My favorite “escape/entertainment” authors are Patricia Cornwell and Daniel Silva.

2. Have you read everything he or she has written?

Yes for all.

3. Did you LIKE everything?

Jane Austen—yes, but I could rank her novels from most to least favorite if I had to. Patricia Cornwell—I love all the Kay Scarpetta novels, although some are a lot better than others. Her other works are okay, but they if they were all I’d read of her, she wouldn’t be a favorite author. Daniel Silva—yes.

4. How about a least favorite author?

That’s hard. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

5. An author you wanted to like, but didn’t?

Thomas Pynchon. But maybe one day I'll come to appreciate him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

Since I’ve been reading Jane Austen all week, I thought I’d share some witty quotes. Enjoy!

From a letter to her sister Cassandra:

“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”

From Sense and Sensibility:

“There are certainly not so many men of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them.”

From Pride and Prejudice:

“It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?”

From Northanger Abbey:

“A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

From Emma:

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

From Mansfield Park:

“Nobody minds having what is too good for them.”

From Persuasion:

“To flatter and follow others, without being flattered and followed in turn, is but a state of half enjoyment.”

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Book Lovers Dilemma

Christmas sales were down in book stores this year. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is not seeking new manuscripts (!!??!!), bookstores all over the country, of both new and used books, are struggling, asking workers to take unpaid leave, going bankrupt, closing their doors.

The economy is bad, of course, but according to an article by David Streitfeld in last Sunday’s edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, this is one we can’t blame on the current economic crisis. It’s all our fault. Yes, us.

We’ve changed the way we buy books, he explains. Although we love to go into book stores and browse, and we certainly want them to remain open, who wants to pay $29.95 for a book you can get for a buck-fifty used online?

Streitfeld includes himself in the group of transgressors. In theory, he admits, we really want to support these businesses, yet when it comes down to it, we decide cheaper is better. And not just cheaper—easier, too. Almost any book you want can be found online in just seconds. One former bookstore owner says that buying books online “was not morally dubious, but it is tragic. It has a lot of unintended consequences for communities.”

I found it really interesting that this article appeared just across the page from an article about Oxford, Mississippi’s Square Books, a nationally-known bookstore that receives real support from its community. When I was in Oxford doing my residency, hardly a week passed that I didn’t go to Square Books at least once. Sometimes I bought, sometimes I browsed, but I always enjoyed being there. I often attended readings and signings by visiting authors in their annex, Off Square Books. Even now, every trip to Oxford includes a visit to Square Books, and it was to their balcony overlooking the Square that I retreated with a cup of their pumpkin spice coffee last October to calm my nerves and prepare myself mentally for my oral comps later that afternoon. I’d hate for the world to be without places like Square Books.

But, not being able to buy used books online means that I’ll own fewer of the books I need and love. It’s truly a dilemma for book lovers.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Trusting My Instincts

I enjoy movies. I like to watch them, and I like to think about them. I even like to have discussions about them. But I’ve never written a movie review.

Over the years I’ve written several book reviews, and I feel pretty comfortable doing so. After all, I’ve studied literature. I know what I like and what I don’t. I have opinions about what’s working and what’s not. I can speak the language. And if you disagree with me, that’s okay. I can handle it.

But film is different. I’ve always wanted to take a Film as Lit class, but every time one’s been offered during my time as a student, from undergrad to grad, it was always during the time of another class that I absolutely had to have. So, even though I do have opinions about the movies I watch, I’m reluctant to share my judgments. I don’t know film history, I haven’t studied the criticism, I don’t know the specialized vocabulary, and that makes me hesitant. I feel unqualified.

That hasn’t stopped me, though, from watching films, privately forming opinions, and reading film reviews. But I have the same procedure with film reviews that I do with book reviews—I don’t read them until afterwards. I don’t want to be told what to think; I want to experience the movie for myself, make my own discoveries, and form my own opinions.

Right after Thanksgiving I went to see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. (I promise, no spoilers.) I think it’s a really good movie, but there were a couple of things that bothered me about it, and something about the movie overall that I kept thinking about but couldn’t quite get to where the unease was leading. I came home and looked up one of my favorite movie critic’s review, and lo and behold, he brought up each of the negative things I’d noticed and answered the question I hadn’t even realized I’d been grappling with.

Our family went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Christmas night, and on the way home I mentioned that something about it reminded me of Forrest Gump. Later I read a review and discovered that both films were written by the same screenwriter. Ah-ha!

The same sort of thing has happened with several movies I’ve watched lately.

Now, I’m not saying that the film critics and I always agree or that I notice everything they do. Far from it—I have a long way to go. I still want to learn more about the field. But my confidence is growing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jane Austen (yes, again)

I'm spending this week reading Jane Austen's novels. Yes, again. I've read them all several times before, but, since I'm doing my dissertation on her novels, I need them all fresh in my mind as I actually begin to write. Another reason I'm rereading is that, now that I've settled on the theme of each of my chapters, I want to approach the novels as a whole with those lenses in place, to see what I can discover, to gather ideas. That's something that always amazes me about great literature--the layers and complexities that you can see if you take the time and put forth the effort to look.

So, Monday was Sense & Sensibility. Yesterday I began Pride & Prejudice, and so it goes . . .

I thought you might enjoy one of Connie Ogle’s posts on her blog Between the Covers for The Miami Herald. It’s titled "In Praise of Pride and Prejudice (yes, again).” It also talks about another of my favorite books, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran.
You can read it HERE.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Serial Reading

I love books that come in series. It’s fun to follow a character, or even a whole community of characters, through the years, to see them change, grow, and age. I wait and watch for the author’s next release, like anticipating a visit from an old friend.

I guess the two I’ve been following the longest are Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. These series are very different from each other, but both are based around a character who fascinates me.

One great thing about a series is that, unless the author abandons the character (which can seem like a death in the family to faithful readers), you’ve always got another read lined up, even if you have to wait for it.

But it’s fun too, to discover a series that’s already been written, or is at least well on its way. Then you can have a marathon reading session, buying them all at once and reading them straight through.

There are a couple of series that I’m planning on reading this way, in the distant, after-dissertation future. One is Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies Detective Agency, which has been recommended to me several times over the last couple of years by readers whose opinions I respect. Another is the (gasp) Harry Potter books. I know. I’m so out of touch. I may even read the Twilight series—not so much because I’m fascinated by teenagers and vampires but because of the impact these books have made on young readers, many of whom I’ll probably have in future classes.

Any suggestions for other series that I should check out?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Booking It--Resolutions

Any New Year’s Reading Resolutions? A certain number of books you want to read in 2009? Certain genres? Something from your TBR pile? Classics to read? Authors to try? Anything at all??

I’ve already posted about my own personal resolutions, but I just couldn’t pass up writing about book-related resolutions, could I?

My New Year’s Reading Resolutions are:

I resolve not to abandon my personal reading while writing my dissertation. Every day, in addition to whatever I read that’s dissertation-related, I want to read a little for my spirit, at least one poem, a little for recreation, and something (the newspaper, a magazine, an on-line news source) to keep me in touch with the world around me.

I know it probably won’t have a chance of happening until summer, but I resolve to read at least one book off my list of Books That I’m Embarrassed I Haven’t Read. Right now, I’m thinking the Doris Lessing one, but that could change by the time I actually get around to choosing.

After finishing my dissertation, I resolve to read one of the series of books I will mention in Tuesday's (tomorrow's) post.

How ‘bout you?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
---Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice


“Fortunately, I enjoy fooling with letters, moving them around, going back and forth over them, over and over, screaming . . . The terrible thing about writing is also the great thing about it: you can keep on changing it. ‘We say that we perfect diction,’ wrote Wallace Stevens. ‘We simply grow tired.’ But it’s a good tired.”
---Ray Blount, Jr., in the Introduction to Alphabet Juice


“A powerful agent is the right word . . . Whenever we come upon one of these intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”
---Mark Twain


“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”
---William Faulkner


“She tried to remember that last time she’d tucked herself in to the pages of a good book or outsmarted a crossword puzzle or patronized the musicians in the park of been mindless in a movie theater or drunk on a poem.”
---Patricia Cornwell, in her latest novel Scarpetta


From Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”: (1648)

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.”


From Ben Jonson’s poem “To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author Mr. William Shakespeare”:

“He was not of an age, but for all time!”


Happy Reading!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Let the Flailing Begin

If you’ve been reading my “Gleanings from My Readings” posts lately, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve found Anne Lamott to be an especially quotable writer. In her book Plan B: More Thoughts on Faith, she observes, “I know that with writing, you start where you are, and you flail around for a while, and if you keep doing it, every day you get closer to something good.”

Well, I’m ready. I let myself have a couple of weeks off, for several reasons. One is that I haven’t really taken any time off from my studies since I began three years ago. Another is that I wanted to enjoy my family over the holidays. And the final reason is that I just can’t work in fits and spurts. When I write, it becomes my second religion—I have to do it with my whole heart, mind, and soul, and I knew I couldn’t devote that kind of uninterrupted time to my dissertation during the holiday season.

But it’s over now. This is the last lap. I’m ready. Let the flailing begin.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

So, What Else Did You Think I'd Write about on New Year's Day?

Resolutions. Everybody thinks about them as a new year rolls around. And I’ve made my share of traditional resolutions in the past: Lose ten pounds. Be more organized. Read my Bible every day. And those types of resolutions have their place.

But they are so straight forward. And, the longer I live, the more I realize that life is not. It can’t be put into neat little categories; it’s not always either/or. It’s about balance and paradox.

So, I thought my New Year’s Resolutions should reflect my realizations. Here goes:

My first resolution, of course, is to finish my dissertation as quickly as possible. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want to miss the pleasure inherent in the process. I’m being given the time to intensely study a subject that I find fascinating and to write about my findings. And, I don’t have to grade any papers while I’m doing it. How great is that?

A related resolution is not to put my life on hold while writing the dissertation. I’m one of those Type A personalities, and when I begin work on a major project, it tends to consume me. Even when I’m not physically working on it, I can’t turn it off mentally. My goal is to put in a good day’s work, and then leave it behind when I shut the office door. (Suggestions about how to do this cheerfully accepted!)

A problem with being a Type A personality is that I’m always working towards some goal, and, although I don’t actually articulate it, I believe that “life” will happen after I achieve it. One of my resolutions this year is to live more in the moment, enjoying all the little things that happen on the way to achieving the next goal—a great cup of coffee early in the morning, a good run, sitting on my front porch in the evening with my husband, getting a call from one of my children, lunch with a friend. Mindfulness, I think they call it.

Another of my resolutions is to make daily decisions that further my long-term goals rather than ones that just give me pleasure for a moment but leave me with regret. Here’s an example: One of my long-term goals is to be as healthy as possible. I’ve made a vow to my children, and to myself, that the day may come when they have to take care of me, but it won’t come because I’ve failed to do all I can to take care of myself. That goal is reached only by daily actions—exercising, eating healthfully, taking supplements, keeping mentally active—you get the picture. Deciding to skip a workout or ordering a double dip of Ben and Jerry’s might be fun for the moment, but it doesn’t fit with my overall goal. But here’s where one of those pesky paradoxes come in. As I said earlier, life is not an either/or proposition. I can’t have Ben & Jerry’s every day, but life’s not about skipping my birthday cake, either. I want to be steady over the long haul but indulge without guilt when the occasion calls for it.

I’m sure I’ll have to continually remind myself of these resolutions, but I think they are definitely worthy of my effort.

Happy New Year to you and yours!