Alas, the Polar Vortex is cruel. It was 20 below zero yesterday. And now I have a sinus infection. Well, it is supposed to warm up tomorrow and be in the forties this weekend. I’ll take it.
Meanwhile, distract yourself from the Polar Vortex with bookish news.
I’m no speed reader, but I’m no slouch. Writing insta-reviews of political bestsellers on the day they were released has upped my game. I took an online test that clocks your reading speed and predicts how long you could read various classic books. For Lord of the Rings, its estimate was 11 hours and 9 minutes — 21 minutes under Jackson’s total [film time]. Bags of time!
He says he read it in 21 hours, 57 minutes.
Is there a point?
2. I was enthralled by Mary Norris’s essay in The New Yorker, “Greek to Me.” She loves the alien mysteries of ancient Greek, which she did not begin to study till she was in her thirties, after her first trip to Greece. And she is awed by the attempts to translate words that have no equivalent in English or context in our culture.
Here’s her first paragraph:
A few years ago, in the Frankfurt airport on the way home from Greece, I bought a copy of Virginia Woolf’s “The Common Reader,” which includes her essay “On Not Knowing Greek.” I already had the book at home, but I was impressed that anything by Woolf was considered airport reading. When I was about ten years old, my father, a pragmatic man, had refused to let me study Latin, and for some reason I assumed that “On Not Knowing Greek” was about how Woolf’s father, too, had prevented his daughter from studying a dead language. I pictured young Virginia Stephen sulking in a room of her own, an indecipherable alphabet streaming through her consciousness, while her father and her brother, downstairs in the library, feasted on Plato and Aristotle.
This article is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Greek to Me: Adventures of a Comma Queen.
3. Deborah Levy at The Guardian unravels the reasons for the recent Twitter war over Marie Kondo’s book-weeding methods.
The backlash to Marie Kondo’s suggestion that we chuck out books that don’t “bring joy” shows how attached we are to physical books, even in a digital age. I think Kondo is very impressive. I like how she advises us to fold a shirt with love in our hands. Why not? All the same, I’m not going to give it a go because I believed Virginia Woolf when she advised female writers to kill the angel in the house. Hopefully, we did that with love in our hands. (Actually, I thought it was quite exhilarating when Kondo experimented with ripping books apart so they fit better on shelves. Perhaps it’s even a bit dada.)
I am fascinated by Levy’s dada theory. Levy says she’ll hang on to Colette and Kerouac forever, but she has weeded many, many books in recent years.