Too Many Library Books? & Literary Links

Widener Library at Harvard University

Libraries shape our lives.

At libraries I’ve found the little-known novels of Anna Kavan; Rhys Davies’s Honeysuckle Girl, a novel about Kavan ; Lilian Pizzichini’s The Blue Hour:  A Life of Jean Rhys; Vita Sackville-West’s out-of-print novel, The Easter Party; and a Welsh duology about coal miners. (Can’t remember the title, and it’s not How Green Was My Valley!)  Where else would I have found these books?

If, like me, you’re a library enthusiast, I recommend Christine Thompson’s amusing essay at The American Scholar, “The Ritual of Renewal.” After finishing a writing project, Thompson realized she has 200 books checked out from Harvard University Library.

2.  How do you feel about the suburbs?  I have spent most of my life in towns and cities, because it’s more convenient and the mass transit is better. But at NPR,  Etelka Lehoczky reviews a new book by Amanda Kolson Hurley, Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City.  And it sounds fascinating:  a few suburbs were founded as radical communities.

3.  At The Guardian, Marcel Theroux reviews Ian McEwan’s new book, Machines Like Me,” a dystopian vision of humanoid robots in a counterfactual 1982 Britain.”  I can’t wait to read it.

4.  Do you know the work of Iowa writer Margaret Wilson, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for The Able McLaughlins? I was pleased to see that Library of America has published this neglected classic as an e-book.  Wilson also wrote a sequel, The Law and the McLaughlins.

Marilynne Robinson (left) at Ruth Suckow’s home.

5.  Marilynne Robinson recently visited Ruth Suckow’s birthplace home in Hawarden, Iowa. (I’ve been there; it’s charming and simple .)  For more information about Ruth Suckow (1892-1960), a novelist and chronicler of small-town life in Iowa, visit the Ruth Suckow Memorial Association Website.

Bookish News: Lord of the Rings, Greek to Me, & the Konmar Book Method

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.

1. Chris Taylor at Mashable set out to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 24 hours.  Why?  Unclear.  But in “Lord of the Binges,” he says,

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.