Weekly Geeks have spent the week trading stories of their experiences with the classics. Many have detailed their reading experiences, their trepidation about certain authors or hefty tomes while others have reluctantly admitted to avoiding the classic read at every turn. Then lo and behold, today I come across an archive of original reviews on The Atlantic website. Curious to see how Great Expectations was received in September 1861? The Bostonians in June 1886? Lolita in September 1958? Well, I certainly was. And there went my free moments of today - well spent. Go ahead. Click away from me and start reading.
Jonathan Yardley's insights will now be found in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post. The erudite yet accessible words of Michael Dirda will grace the Style section. The rest of the Book World staff will continue to contribute to the paper in an as yet undefined way. The online presence of Book World will undoubtedly grow as the role of literary criticism makes its final shifts from print to digital expression. The words, the ideas will not disappear. They will just live elsewhere as the economic necessities of the time require. And yet, I find it very sad. And I will save that last edition when it appears on my doorstep on February 15.
While the news has not been confirmed by the Washington Post yet, the New York Times released the news at lunch time today. One has to wonder how long before the dedicated book sections of both the Times and the San Francisco Chronicle can survive now. I enjoy them both but Book World was unique. Call it authority, gravitas, erudition but also call it accessible. The words from those pages have dictated my reading choices for years, and despite the fact that I know that the Post has committed (at least for the time being) to continue publishing book criticism, I won't know what section to reach for first on Sunday mornings anymore. Unless I subscribe to the New York Times Sunday paper.
First snow of the winter here in DC today. At home with the kids as most schools are closed and feeling like I should be doing something constructive. But I'm not. Kids running in and out of the house, ecstatic beyond description at their good fortune at having the day off. Hot beverages, lunches, and treats being doled out from the kitchen. Movie break to thaw out. Wet clothes and shoes scattered about. Wet floors to worry about later or not at all. Bit of reading and computer time here and there.
The mail carrier just dropped off the new edition of the New Yorker (see above) with a most appropriate cover for today. That should occupy some time that I should devote to chores. Some great photos of inaugural ball attendees and a fiction piece by George Saunders entitled "Al Roosten" looks promising.
And I did drop a note to myself to check out the pre-publication buzz about T. C. Boyle's upcoming The Women about the women in the life of self-absorbed genius Frank Lloyd Wright. Love Boyle's short stories. Recently enjoyed Loving Frank along a similar theme. Hmmm. Put it on my calendar to see Boyle at Politics and Prose on February 12.
And how else might I avoid the practical matters of life today? Been meaning to check out those superb customized steampunk keyboards I keep seeing. One creator getting a lot of press is featured in the new issue of Vanity Fair - where is that? (After short search) Richard Nagy who designs under the name Datamancer. Victorian inspirations for today's technology. Very cool. Now for those unfinished reviews... maybe.
The librarians let loose the screams this morning at the ALA conference in Denver as Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book was announced the winner of this year's Newbery Award. The Newbery has been under assault in the press of late for honoring books that are inaccessible to a large number of readers. In times of shrinking library budgets and sharply increased library usage, librarians have been particularly vocal about there being no wiggle room in the collection development plan for books kids won't read - Newbery medal upon their cover or not. Last year's Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was brilliant but lengthy with themes more attractive to adults than children. Gaiman's Newbery winner is also read by adults and children alike but in far greater numbers. The author's extreme popularity will certainly mute some of the critics questioning the relevancy of the award system. And the happy news for kiddie librarians? Gaiman's other books are an easy sell to many children, and next month's movie tie-in with the release of Coraline could potentially create a little Gaiman reading frenzy among the short set. Kids fighting over books at the library? Music to my ears!
The calendar may say that Virginia Woolf is 127 years old today, but many of you who commented here and emailed me today have confirmed that she is indeed timeless. Thank you all for your thoughtful, wonderful responses to today's party invitation. But... at the end of the day the prize settles on one lucky person - Sara from Libromancy. The rest of us will consider our contributions to be like flowers that Clarissa may have picked for the celebration.
What came across in emails and comments today is a great love and respect for Woolf's gift. It makes me wish we could have a great shared read of some of her works. Hmmmm... But for now, some very lovely people would like for you to know three things:
Many of Woolf's works are available to download from iTunes for very reasonable prices - high quality sound (beware the free alternative) and unabridged for those of you who really want more Woolf but need to get beyond the uber-serious intimidation factor.
Don't miss the 2009 Woolf and the City Conference this June 4-7 at Fordham University in New York. Check out the site for details including a call for papers. If you have never had the opportunity to attend a literary conference before and are a Woolf devotee, please consider this if for no other reason than to hear the great speakers.
Update, Monday 1/26: Browsing my referring addresses this morning, I came across a real find - Blogging Woolf, a site completely dedicated to the author. Warning: Allow yourself some time here. Awesome array of links and info.
Let's throw a little birthday celebration for Virginia Woolf here in the Sunday Salon this January 25. The lovely image you see above comes from the January/February issue of The Atlantic where the new book Mrs. Woolf and the Servants is reviewed. This book is an interesting look at both domestic life and class issues among the Bloomsbury set. As a special birthday present to you, I will mail out a copy of this new book to a winner randomly drawn at the end of the day from the comments on this post. You just need to comment with your favorite Woolf novel or a Woolf novel you have always meant to read. You can even pick the edition you would like - US version on the left and UK version on the right.
What are some of your favorite words from Virginia Woolf? Some of mine shared here:
"But then anyone who's worth anything reads just what he likes, as the mood takes him, and with extravagant enthusiasm."
"That perhaps is your task--to find the relation between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity, to absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly and saturate it completely so that your poem is a whole, not a fragment; to re-think human life into poetry and so give us tragedy again and comedy by means of characters not spun out at length in the novelist's way, but condensed and synthesized in the poet's way--that is what we look to you to do now."
"For it would seem - her case proved it - that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver." (Orlando)
"For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life." (Mrs. Dalloway)
"...she took her hand and raised her brush. For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstacy in the air. Where to begin?--that was the question at what point to make the first mark? One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions. All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs, and foaming crests. Still the risk must run; the mark made." (To the Lighthouse)
As for me today, I have some librarian fun stuff to attend to but will leave a little time to read through Woolf's diaries a bit as well as attempt to finish up Pat Barker's most excellent Life Class.
How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it.
Not just one loaded question but a whole host of them. So much here depends upon how one defines "a classic." Is a classic a work that has simply stood the test of time? Does it have to be well known? Is a classic something that sits only in the hallowed halls of academia or could it have been the New York Times bestseller of its day? If an author has written a number of works commonly acknowledged to be classics does that author's entire body of work then become identified as classic. For instance, are all of Hemingway's books classics? Sorry to complicate today's fun, but one could write all day to address the queries posed above.
Of course I love classic literature in whatever way we choose to look at what that may comprise. I grew up in a house full of books, many of them the classics of literature inherited from my grandfather's library. When this is the case, kids just read with little need to make the same distinctions of quality that adults love to make. Kids read what interests them. And I read and read and read until I developed a very clear idea of what interested me in a book or in life in general. Classics played a huge role in this development most likely because classics, or books that have stood the test of time, endure because they travel the entire expanse of human experience. So they represent not only what is familiar to you but the possibilities that you had never conceived of prior to picking up that book. Or in today's politically correct language, an education or reading life well-versed in classics lends an appreciation for "the other" that may have otherwise been lacking. Or if you are a child, they may very well point the way to everything you might become.
Obviously, I need to put the brakes on this line of thought because any conclusion (if indeed possible to conclude such a line of thought) is hundreds of pages away from this point. What I would like to suggest (and plug as the questions encourage) is that we all seek out a "classic" that has endured the test of time but out of the spotlight. The mosaic I placed at the top of today's post is comprised of four different cover designs for the same book - The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic. All four are current editions and yes, that is a Penguin Classics edition in the second spot. This book has remained in print here and in the UK (where it was published under the title Illumination) since its original publication date in 1896. It's popularity has come and gone in small quiet bursts but here it is today introduced by noted academics and Joyce Carol Oates as one of the most worthy additions to the American canon, a gem of American literary realism.
This is one of my favorite books and maybe I will blog about it soon, but for now, just know that this story of a young Methodist minister that loses his way addresses questions of the reconciliation of faith and intellect, the role of organized faith, and the perils of self-deception that still resonate today. Check it out for free at Project Gutenberg.
What unheralded classic is among your favorite reads?
Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any reading done! What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?
Going with the "books that have stood the test of time" idea here, I would say that A.S. Byatt, Umberto Eco, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will live on in their words long past their lifetimes. Safe bets for dear cousin Myrtle.
I can still hear Ted's voice. Finished with The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd for over a week now and the protagonist's unique viewpoint stays with me. Ted is a child with Aspergers who attempts to piece through the mystery of his missing cousin Salim as the adults around him fall apart a bit. His brain is a different type of processor than most, and his ability to see past the emotional content of life that often leaves him baffled puts him in the unique position of seeing the material facts of the mystery stripped bare. It is easy to lose track of the fact that Ted is a child as his thoughts are occasionally profound.
That's when I realized that there are two kinds of knowledge: shallow and deep. You can know something in theory but not know it in practice. You can know part of something but not all of it. Knowledge can be like the skin on the surface of the water in a pond, or it can go all the way down into the mud. It can be the tiny tip of the iceberg or the whole hundred percent.
This mystery may not be satisfying for all ages. All is tidily wrapped up at the end but the reader would have been hard pressed to solve this puzzle based upon the evidence presented. It is the process of looking at the evidence that is interesting here, the thought processes behind the conclusions. Interesting that the minds of children sometimes possess greater clarity than those of adults.
For all of you that enjoyed Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, you will most certainly enjoy this as well. Haddon's protagonist was a gifted mathematician whereas Ted's interest lies in meteorology, but there are more similarities between the two novels than not. Rumor has it that the books were originally scheduled for release at approximately the same time, but then it was decided that The London Eye Mystery's release would be postponed given the stark likenesses.
Fast and interesting read for everyone, adult or child, that explores both the life of a particular mind and some telling and insightfully presented family interactions as well.
Since “Inspiration” is (or should be) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?
People have been known to white knuckle it while riding in a car that I am driving. I freely admit to arriving places that I have only faint recall about how I got there. My mind is always all over the place. And so is my reading. I simply arrive at some point or book or another, ready for the experience at hand. What inspires me to pick up a certain book? I could make something up, but truly, I do not have the foggiest most times. Just fly by the seat of my pants wherever the moment takes me. It is like being in the food hall at Harrods. How can one possibly choose? Appetite. Subjective.
On the other hand, I do find beautiful libraries to be inspirational places. Temples of knowledge, of belief. Always a bit awestruck at such assemblies of the written word. Trinity College Library in Dublin above. The Library of Congress reading room here in Washington DC below. Two personal favorites. Do you have a favorite library? Is it a source of inspiration for you?
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' 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 someone 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 thy self."
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 preempt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.