The Electronic Age: Where Have All the Columnists Gone?

I have tried. I do not succeed, but I try. I sporadically attempt to interpret the nuances of social media. The deterioration of the language in tweets so annoyed me that I canceled the account, but I do “like” the beautiful if meaningless photos on Bookstagram. I also “like” blogs–for the reason that “likes” have become more common than comments.

Veronica Cartwright in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

Sometimes I feel like Nancy (played by Veronica Carter) in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Nancy is the sole survivor of a cadre of four resisters because she learns to imitate the man-eating-plant body snatchers’ walk and to repress human emotions. I may elude the Body Snatchers of Walking Smart Phones by pressing a tablet to my ear and pretending to have a call.

Jean Kerr, author of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Snake Has All the Lines, & Penny Candy.

No, really, I do not belong to this era. I would have preferred the age of domestic satire (the 1930s-1960s) – and then, thank God, I would have missed out on the pandemic. But where have all the domestic columnists gone? I love the Provincial Lady, Mrs. Tim, Betty MacDonald, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Emily Kimbrough, Shirley Jackson, and Jean Kerr. There are no such writers in the 21st century.

I also miss the era of book columns. There used to be a book column on every newspaper’s book page. I was startled last year when J.C. (James Campbell) contributed his last N.B. column to the TLS. I still miss it: it was a cozy weekly ritual to read it with a cup of tea. His replacement, M.C., works hard but lacks charm. He/she is improving. The past is past.

There are very few book columnists left. Here are three of the best of the last.

  1. The novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby is still penning “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” for the Believer. So much fun to read, and his latest column will make you desperate to read Kevin Wilson.
  2. If you’re not familiar with John Warner, the Biblioracle columnist at the Chicago Tribune, do what you can to get through the paywall. He was inspired by seeing a copy of Leon Uris’s Trinity in a Little Free Library to write the following witty column: “We’re not reading as much Leon Uris and James A. Michener — and that’s a good thing.”

He writes, “When I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, writers like Uris, John Jakes (“North and South”), James Michener, and James Clavell (‘Shogun”), reliably pumped out epic historical novels that served as definitive texts of a particular time and culture. Uris was also my main source of information on the state of Israel, via another best-seller from the ’50s, “Exodus,” that endured as a strong selling book well into my childhood.”

  1. Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post Book World, writes a weekly column (billed as a review, but actually a wonderful column that will introduce you to books you’ve never heard of).

Do you have any favorite columnists? Perhaps there are some in women’s magazines… It’s a strange world.

After the Vaccine

I’m sure this Canadian cartoon is applicable almost everywhere..

Our Bodies, Ourselves, written by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and published in 1970 by the New England Free Press, changed the lives and attitudes of American women. It disseminated crucial information about women’s bodies, sexuality, birth control, menopause, and medical care. We learned to navigate a health care system that often treated women as hysterical beings in need of Valium (some became addicts) and hysterectomies.

I wonder, Do we need a similar handbook for the Covid years, perhaps a small-press book with the title Our Covid, Our Corpses? (Sorry, morbidity is unhelpful.) But is it not surreal to continue to live in a state of emergency after getting a vaccine that is 95% effective? When you get a flu shot, you do not wait until everybody gets the vaccine. You would wait forever. I do not mind wearing a mask and I am the social-distancing queen of the grocery store, but do we vaccinated people need our masks or are we expected to be role models for the unvaccinated (so they don’t rip off their masks and infect everybody – their dream)?

Yes, the world is in a state of emergency, in and out of lockdown. Yes, this is a grave time, but we are are becoming demented. How long can people stand lockdown? Regardless of lockdown, the young will be out protesting this summer. Regardless of lockdown, some of us will have to go out for pizza. I do not care to participate in a protest, but we vaccinated ones should be encouraged to live normal lives–if the thing works!

As for our personal lives during the pandemic: it turns out that the Rooms of Our Own are not nearly as private as Virginia Woolf hoped. Nowadays we are all home together, working, making toast, turning on the radio, asking where the hummus is. You might have liked your family once… before the pandemic!

Ovid’s Prayer for Corinna, “Amores, II.13”

Roman wall painting.

You may well know his epic poem, Metamorphoses, a collection of myths linked by the theme of change, and undoubtedly the most renowned Latin poem after Virgil’s Aeneid. Ovid wrote many delightful poems, including the silly didactic Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), and his eclectic Amores (Loves).

One of the Amores (Loves) is of particular interest, a prayer for his girlfriend Corinna, who has an abortion and lies between life and death. It is, as far as I know, one of only two Latin poems to treat this controversial subject in detail, the second also being by Ovid. Ovidians say the word onus (burden) is used of the fetus for the first time in Latin here; and gravidus venter (swollen belly) the first time for “pregnant womb.” Fascinated by the odd juxtaposition of Ovid’s examination of his love and anger and the formal prayer to Isis, I decided to translate this. You can find the Latin poem below my translation.

My translation of Amores, II.13

When she rashly shook the burden from her womb,
Corinna lay weakened, in doubt of her life.
Having borne such peril without my knowledge
She deserved my anger, but anger died from fear.
She had conceived by me, or so I trust:
But that could be my theory, not fact.
I pray to you, Isis, dweller of Paraetoneum
and the fertile plains of Canopus,
Memphis and palm-bearing Pharon,
And where the swift Nile, having fallen
In a wide bed, travels through seven mouths
Into the waters of the sea;
I pray by your Isis-rattles,
by the revered head of Anubis,
may pious Osiris love your sacred rites,
May the slow serpent slink around the altar
And may horn-bearing Apis, sacred bull,
accompany you in procession.
Turn your face hither and spare two in one:
You will give my mistress life, she to me.
Having honored you often, she sits on certain days
when the crowd of priests waters your laurel.
And you, Ilithyia, having pitied the pregnant girls
Whose hidden burden distends their bodies,
Be gentle here and well-disposed to my prayers.
She is worthy whom you command to your service.
I myself, in white robes, will burn incense on
your smoky altars. I myself will bear gifts
to your feet and prayers. Let me add
the title, “Ovid for your saving Corinna”:
Just make a place for the inscription and gifts.
and if it is lawful to have given warning in such fear, let it be enough
for you to have fought on this side in the battle.

Ovid’s poem in Latin


Dum labefactat onus gravidi temeraria ventris,
    in dubio vitae lassa Corinna iacet.
illa quidem clam me tantum molita pericli
    ira digna mea; sed cadit ira metu.
sed tamen aut ex me conceperat—aut ego credo;
     est mihi pro facto saepe, quod esse potest.
Isi, Paraetonium genialiaque arva Canopi
    quae colis et Memphin palmiferamque Pharon,
quaque celer Nilus lato delapsus in alveo
    per septem portus in maris exit aquas,
per tua sistra precor, per Anubidis ora verendi—
    sic tua sacra pius semper Osiris amet,
pigraque labatur circa donaria serpens,
    et comes in pompa corniger Apis eat!  
huc adhibe vultus, et in una parce duobus!
    nam vitam dominae tu dabis, illa mihi.
saepe tibi sedit certis operata diebus,
    qua cingit laurus Gallica turma tuas.
Tuque laborantes utero miserata puellas,
    quarum tarda latens corpora tendit onus,
lenis ades precibusque meis fave, Ilithyia!
    digna est, quam iubeas muneris esse tui.
ipse ego tura dabo fumosis candidus aris,
    ipse feram ante tuos munera vota pedes.
adiciam titulum: ‘servata Naso Corinna!’
    tu modo fac titulo muneribusque locum.
Si tamen in tanto fas est monuisse timore,
    hac tibi sit pugna dimicuisse satis!

Emily Dickinson: We talked as Girls do – (392)

This is one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson. I love the short stanzas, including the dash as her favorite punctuation mark, but the meaning, as so often, is cryptic. She can admittedly be ironic, morbid, witty, dark, and a bit saucy. I was intrigued by the concept of 19th-century girl talk, and “identified myself” with the “We” of the poem. Oh, this is light Emily, I thought gratefully – but then she mentions “the Grave” in the third line – And then all the dashes disappear in the last stanza, which seems very dark.

I will post a short, very slightly more serious piece on her poetry soon. I must think and compose myself first. Meanwhile, enjoy!

We talked as Girls do – (392)

We talked as Girls do— 
Fond, and late— 
We speculated fair, on every subject, but the Grave— 
Of ours, none affair— 

We handled Destinies, as cool— 
As we—Disposers—be— 
And God, a Quiet Party 
To our Authority— 

But fondest, dwelt upon Ourself 
As we eventual—be— 
When Girls to Women, softly raised 

We parted with a contract 
To cherish, and to write 
But Heaven made both, impossible 
Before another night.

National Poetry Month: A New Translation of Virgil’s “Aeneid”

There is a smart new translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, by Shadi Bartsch, a classics professor at the University of Chicago. We have seen a number of translations of Virgil in the twenty-first century; and at first I wondered if we needed another. But Bartsch’s spirited, readable translation is a worthy addition to to the Virgil canon. It is a labor of love by a scholar-poet who has examined every nuance, matched each line of English translation to the Latin lines, and attended to problematic lines that continue to stump scholars.

Readers at Thornfield Hall know my love of Latin poetry. I am fond of Virgil, whom I first met through Rolfe Humphries’s lively translation of the Aeneid in an undergraduate class. Hypnotized by the brilliant, nerdy world of classicists, I did a crash course in Latin, and three years later was teaching Virgil in Latin as a T.A. And not for the last time.

The problems of translation are manifold. Latin is an inflected language, unlike English, and the sense does not depend on word order, but on word endings that cue the reader to the relationship of words in the sentence. We are not only reading but deciphering a puzzle that can seem jumbled until you understand the elegant effect of separation.

Bartsch addresses many such problems in the Translator’s Note, including the challenge of Latin vocabulary.

Bartsch explains,

Latin words do not map cleanly onto English words, and this gives every translator a choice of which term brings the most appropriate nuances for the situation…. Consider the verb condo. Condo basically has the sense of “to put x in y” (including in one’s memory). It also means to bury, to hide, to plunge a weapon into a body, to found or establish (as a city)–and to compose verse!

I am a fan of comparing English translations, and have decided to share the fun with you. Below are two translations of Aeneid, Book XII, vv. 595-603, the first by Bartsch, and the second by Rolfe Humphries.

First, let me explain the context. Queen Amata, who opposed a marriage between her daughter Lavinia and Aeneas, a Trojan refugee fated to found Rome, stirred up a civil war in Italy. Amata is half in love with Turnus, the Italian prince who was the favored suitor of Lavinia. Now, when Amata sees the Trojans attacking the walls, and no sign of Turnus, she believes he is dead, and decides to commit suicide herself. There are similarities between suicidal Amata and suicidal Dido (Book IV), and yet the parallels are strange: Amata is a married middle-aged queen with a thing for her daughter’s aspiring fiance; Dido a young widowed queen in love with Aeneas, then deserted by him.

From Shadi Bartsch’s new translation, vv. 595-603 in Book XII of the Aeneid

When the queen, at home, saw the enemy
approach, saw the walls attacked, torches flying
at the roofs, no Rutulians defending,
none of Turnus’ troops, the unhappy woman
thought he’d died in combat. Pierced by sudden grief,
she cried she was the cause and culmination
of their pain. Speaking wildly, in despair,
and set on death, she tore her purple robe
and hung a noose around a beam–an ugly end.

From Rolfe Humphries, lines 595-603 in Book XII of the Aeneid

…the queen
Had seen the Trojans coming and the walls
Under attack and fire under the gables
And no Rutulian column, nowhere Turnus
Coming to help. He had been killed, her hero,
She knew at last. Her mind was gone; she cried
Over and over:–I am the guilty one,
I am the cause, the source of all these evils!”
And other wilder words. And then she tore
Her crimson robes, and slung a noose and fastened
The knot of ugly death to the high rafter.

Here is the Latin:

regina ut tectis venientem prospicit hostem,               595
incessi muros, ignis ad tecta volare,
nusquam acies contra Rutulas, nulla agmina Turni,
infelix pugnae iuvenem in certamine credit
exstinctum et subito mentem turbata dolore
se causam clamat crimenque caputque malorum,               600
multaque per maestum demens effata furorem
purpureos moritura manu discindit amictus
et nodum informis leti trabe nectit ab alta.

Which translation do you prefer?

Changing the Sky & Reading Tea Leaves

I have tried meditation, yoga, and herbal teas to treat anxiety. When a vaccinated friend dropped in the other day, the tension vanished.

We chatted about our year of fear and then turned to the future and read each other’s tea leaves. She foretells a long journey (I wish!). I foretell that she will come into money and take me on a journey.

“It’s the travel I miss,” she said.

Me. too. We can guard our health with the vacccine, masks, etc., but we cannot travel away from the pandemic. And the most important way to stay calm, I have discovered, is not only avoiding the crowd but avoiding the news.

There has been much drama lately about whether or not rare blood clots in women are caused by one of the vaccines. I am very sorry for those women, but the scientific data isn’t in yet, so I am not jumping to conclusions. My advice? Get vaccinated. You will feel safer. Make an appointment for another vaccine if you’re afraid of the brand on pause. I don’t know anyone who has had any problems, except for a few normal side effects. And how I wish I hadn’t read the news!

Speaking of shots, our vacation is shot because of the pandemic. I read an article in The Washington Post about the possibility of international travel this summer. The writer interviewed people in their sixties and seventies who had postponed international trips last year and hoped to travel this summer. They have canceled their trips again. It is common sense, but I do feel sorry for them. Time is ticking by…

I have not given up entirely on travel. Every day I receive emails about cheap flights and cheap stays in luxury hotels. I fantasize about going, but what I would do when I got there? Stay in the hotel?

I am trying to change my way of thinking about the slow pace of life in 2021. I think of my mother and grandmother, who lived in the same place all their lives and seldom traveled. Their lives were in the moment, defined by routine and small pleasures. I moved away and occasionally traveled, but as Horace says, When you travel you only change your sky.

This is how I imagine the 1950’s, only with internet.

Weekend Reading for Everyone: An Environmental Whodunit, a Retold Myth, & Clubbing in the 1980’s

First things first.

I love my weekend reading. Really, I do. And I want you to love yours, too. We humans are not designed to curl up in a ball during infinite lockdown; and yet that is the way we live now. As an intermittent psychic, inspired by the coming of spring, I foresee that we all need a good genre read this weekend!

Here are three I’ve recently read: Jeff VanderMeer’s environmental SF novel, Hummingbird Salamander; Jennifer Saint’s retold myth, Ariadne; and Natalie Standiford’s Astrid Sees All, a female answer to Jay McInerney’s ’80’s clubbing novel, Bright Lights, Big City.

And please add your book recommendations!

  1. Jeff VanderMeer’s environmental whodunit, Hummingbird Salamander, is a hybrid of genre and literary fiction. It has everything I look for in environmental SF: a lucid style, quirky characters, speculations about climate change and the future of Earth, allusions to pandemics, and observations about the tragic extinction of birds and animals. The narrator, Jane, struggles to decipher the meaning of an extinct taxidermic hummingbird, which she finds in a storage unit after a barista hands her a note and key from a stranger.

This smart novel is almost insanely breathtaking, accentuated by Jane’s witty tough-gal musings. At six feet tall and 220 pounds, Jane is a former bodybuilder and wrestler, a force to be reckoned with, as well as a sympathetic wife and supportive mother. But home is not the center of her attention. As a cybersecurity expert, paranoid Jane knows the ins and outs of corporate culture and more than you want to know about how we are tracked on computers and phones. When she learns that the stranger, Silvina, is the daughter of a particularly dangerous CEO, that she was allegedly a bioterrorist, and is probably now dead, Jane embarks on amateur detective work and dangerous conversations with criminals. Things get dicey–Jane and her family are being watched–and pretty soon she’s on the road, running from danger and searching for answers.

Oh, and occasionally VanderMeer waxes poetic:

The internet was a colander. You were the water. The metaphor changed by the week. It didn’t always make sense.

2. In her feminist debut novel Ariadne, Jennifer Saint relates an empowering tale of two mythic sisters, Ariadne and Phaedra. In case you need a quick family tree (and who doesn’t?), here is a little background: their mother Pasiphaë fall sin love in love with a bull (a god’s cruel trick), and gives birth to the Minotaur, half human, half bull. Shut up in a maze, the savage Minotaur is paid tribute once a year by seven Athenian men and seven Athenian women, whom he devours. King Minos takes pleasure in terrorizing the subject Athenians and in embarrassing his own family. (He is the only one not related to the Minotaur.).

And then Theseus, the handsome prince of Athens, arrives with the other 13 Athenians who will be the tributes. He claims he will kill the Minotaur and save the Athenians. Ariadne and Phaedra are so mesmerized by his charisma they help him with the killing of their monstrous brother. In fact, without these two he could not have done it, but afterwards he boasts that he did it all himself and deserts both girls, leaving Ariadne on an uninhabited island, and having misdirected Phaedra. I don’t want to give away the plot, but I will tell you that the two sister’s lives are entwined with Theseus. Poor things!

I found the first part of Ariadne rather lacklustre, but it is intriguing by the time you reach Part II, when Saint begins to alternate the narrative of Ariadne with that of her fiery sister Phaedra. A little uneven, but lots of fun to read!

Natalie Standiford’s Astrid Sees All is a comical, poignant, compulsively readable novel about two fragile young women struggling to survive in New York City. Phoebe, the narrator, idolized her friend Carmen at Brown University, and still tries to get her attention now that she is in New York. The two eventually move into Carmen’s junkie boyfriend’s trashed apartment in the East Village; and he is so grotesque, constantly oozing with infection or overdosing, that Phoebe cannot imagine how Carmen can love him. The two young women are out every night clubbing, getting drunk, taking drugs, and getting laid, and keeping up the pace can be exhausting. The creative Carmen comes up with a way for Phoebe to make a living: telling fortunes at a club, using her collection of old movie ticket stubs to make prognostications. And with her new persona of Astrid (Carmen suggested the prophecies be made under the sign “Astrid sees all”), Phoebe finally becomes hip and popular. But both women are deeply self-destructive, and Phoebe/Astrid’s imitation of her friend’s loose behavior causes devastation. An entertaining, if uneven novel.

I am reminded of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City-which is a better novel –but his much preppier narrator also went clubbing every night and snorted too many drugs. Here’s what I want to know: was your 1980s like that? Mine was not. Coffee was my beverage and books my vice.

I Don’t Want to Hear It: Let Me In!

The other day I was puzzling over how to get access to a friend’s mother’s thesis. I learned that it is in storage at a university library. No worries, you think, just request it at the desk. But that is a late-lamented custom. The problem is Covid: you can no longer enter this library without a student ID card, which you apparently insert into a robotic machine that has the power to approve or deny.

I desperately want to read her thesis, which is an analysis of the role of women in 19th-century literature, in a political context, and let’s face it, it may also shed light light on my literary education. My friend and I frequently borrowed books from her mother’s shelves, including 20th-century classics like Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. One of my best T.A.’s also wrote a thesis on women in 19th-century novels, which I would love to read. And I imagine there are other brilliant dissertations there by former T.A.’s, the unsung heroes and heroines propping up university life.

And so I can’t get into the library. How has it come to this, I wonder. How very, very tired we are of all the Covid rules. Here we are, the gray-hairs and white-hairs, vaccinated and rule-abiding, but now too tired NOT to sit down in the cafe for a cup of tea. (It is the most exciting thing I’ve done in a year.) And the voice of reason asserts, If the vaccine is not adequate protection for drinking a cup of tea in an empty cafe, what is it good for? Naturally, I put on my mask after I finished. To the end we must be good role models, even after vaccination!

I am doing all the things I’ve done for a year–washing hands, wearing masks, and social-distancing-and I’ve lost the feeling of panic, which is a good thing. The number of cases is down here, perhaps because of the smooth roll-out of the vaccine. When I read about lockdown in other places, I am sad. Is the lockdown the only way to control the virus? I suppose it is. And so in and out of lockdown everyone goes. Think of it as a time to be peacefully at home…

Rest in Peace: The Loss of a Latin Dictionary

This woman seems to be reading a reference book.

In the year 2001, I acquired a Mac iBook clamshell laptop, and my work habits changed forever. I no longer felt the need to spread out Latin reference books reverently on the dining-room table. The nomadic laptop culture had made it possible to convert the bed into a home office, and there was plenty of room for Latin books as well. I frequently moved “the office” to various comfy pieces of furniture, depending on whim. Sometimes it was the couch, other times the comfortable chair, still other times the Cafe Diem (a perfect place to work or read Latin).

And so the other night was completely ordinary. I was reading Virgil, balancing the Latin dictionary against my scrunched-up knees in bed. The dictionary had looked a little worn lately, but it was not, I believed, beyond duct tape. I was looking up the word pecten in the dictionary, “comb,” but in this case it means “the sley of the loom,” when the dictionary made a popping sound.

And then the cover fell off.

Oh no! I was ineffably sad.

The replacement came with a book jacket, which I immediately threw out. My original didn’t HAVE a dust jacket.

Lewis and Short is an old, old friend. We refer to it as Lewis and Short, though properly that appellation applies to the larger edition of the dictionary, and the small one bears only Lewis’s name. The Elementary Latin Dictionary was first published in 1889. Charlton T. Lewis writes in the preface: “The vocabulary has been extended to include all words used by Catullus, Tibullus, and Tacitus (in his larger works), as well as those used by Terence, Caesar, Sallust, Cicero, Livy, Nepos, Vergil, Horace, Ovid, Juvenal, Phaedrus, and Curtius.” So many writers, so many examples from literature. I am always impressed.

My new copy of Lewis and Short arrived this week, but I cannot bring myself to throw out the old one.

I have a long history with my original copy. First, I wrote my name on the endpage, in my messy handwriting, in case I lost the book. What If I left it in the library? I carried so many books in my bag; it could happen. None of us could afford phones in those days, but I could go to a phone booth and make a call for 25 cents. And of course no one steals a Latin dictionary, so the librarian would have it waiting for me at the desk.

The Latin dictionary has lived in seven cities. In graduate school when my boyfriend visited for a weekend, we would get up early Sunday morning and drag ourselves and our classical paraphernalia to an enclosed-porch 24-hour library smoking lounge. It was always full, and God, did it stink of smoke. But there we sat, doing our work intensely, because he had a long drive home, and there was so much to do.

Classics has been a lifetime personal commitment. There have been many, many, many years when I have read Latin literature on my own. It is a quiet kind of fun, but I love it. And there is so much to read. The true classics I read again and again, but, of course, some are better than others. I do not recommend Lucan’s Pharasalia. Spare yourself.

The loss of my dictionary has made me appreciate the toils of Victorian lexicographers. More than a century later, Lewis’s Elementary Latin Dictionary is still an essential work.

And now I have two copies. Eventually, I’ll throw out the old one.

But until then…

What Was Holden Caulfield Reading? & Other Books I Learned about from Characters in Books

We are always looking for a good book. We read reviews, browse in bookstores, chat to friends, and join Goodreads groups. The critics reputedly have the best taste, but I also note what characters in novels read and books mentioned in poetry.

I have been racking my brain to remember what Jane Eyre and Dorothea Brooke read but alas! I don’t remember. Here is a short list of specific books I learned about from bibliophile characters in books. Please add any you can think of!

1 The Oxford Book of English Verse. Manya, an actress in Madeleine L’Engle’s The Small Rain, reads aloud an anonymous 16th-century quatrain from The Oxford Book of English Verse to Katherine, her ward and the heroine of the novel.

There seem to be different versions of this poem, but here is one I found online.

O Western wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

Yes, I own a copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse.

2 The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. The March sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women not only read this allegory but act it out. I admit, I was more interested in the fact that Jo March reads and writes “blood-and-thunder stories,” but I don’t recall whether her favorite trashy reads are mentioned by title.

3 Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in Rye is not only a rebel but a reader, and he he has a thing for Eustacia Vye, a dark, brooding, voluptuous character in The Return of the Native. This was the first Hardy novel I read.

4 Ivanhoe by Walter Scott. In Maud Hart Lovelace’s Heaven to Betsy, Betsy dutifully completes the freshman summer reading, Ivanhoe, and loves it. Some of her friends, i.e., the boys, never got around to it, though. After she tells them the enthralling plot, they get better grades on their papers than she does. The irony of being nice!

5 Chapman’s Homer. In John Keats’s sonnet, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” the narrator realizes the power of Homer when he discovers George Chapman’s translations.

Here is Keats’s sonnet:

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold, 
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; 
Round many western islands have I been 
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. 
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told 
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne; 
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene 
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: 
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 
When a new planet swims into his ken; 
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes 
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men 
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise— 
Silent, upon a peak in Darien. 

6 George Gissing’s The Odd Women. I discovered this 19th-century classic when I read Gail Godwin’s 1974 novel, The Odd Woman. The heroine, Jane Clifford, an English professor, is a George Eliot expert but is also preparing to teach a class on Gissing’s The Odd Woman. Both of these “Odd” novels are brilliant.

7 Mrs. Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho.The heroine Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey reads Gothic novels and starts to imagine spooky things. Catherine introduced me to the work of Mrs. Radcliffe. Unfortunately, i am not a fan!

What books have you learned about from characters in novels or poets?