Saturday, October 30, 2010

Books as Art 2

I was browsing through one of my favorite websites today and was horrified to see this version of "books as art." In this case books are decorations alone and obviously not loved and handled on a regular basis. The spines are hidden. How in tarnation are you supposed to find your favorite titles?! Makes me feel sad and chilly all over.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What Literary Villains are Reading

I read several books this week, but since none were worthy of a post of their own, I thought I'd share some thoughts I wrote down last year about several "bad guys" in classic literature who liked the classics.

First, Chapter 15 in Frankenstein shows the "monster" reading to educate himself. The books listed were Plutarch's Lives  and Paradise Lost.

Second, was the reference to several titles being read by the bandit in The Count of Monte Cristo. Luigi Vampa had these literary gems stashed away in his underground hideout: Caesar's Commentaries and Plutarch's Lives. A later villain in CMC has read Don Quixote
I'm ashamed to say that these villains are more well-read than I am!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris came highly recommended by fellow bibliophiles because of its witty and incisive essays about books. And there was a lot to love about this book. Fadiman grew up in a bookish family (She used her father’s set of Trollope novels as building blocks) and both of her parents were writers.

In her preface she writes, “Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves. How could it be otherwise? Later she adds, “Between them, our parents had about seven thousand books. Whenever we moved to a new house, a carpenter would build a quarter of a mile of shelves… Other people’s walls looked naked to me.” (p. 125)

Bibliophiles can be a quirky lot and I chuckled with understanding over her confession of being a compulsive proofreader. If you are a compulsive proofreader, you know it, since for the afflicted it is a reflex no more avoidable than a sneeze…” (p.82) She differentiates between readers who keep their books in pristine condition as “courtly” lovers from those who devour (i.e., dog ear, underline, love to pieces) their books in “carnal” fashion.

For years I collected lists of “must read” classics, but after a few decades I realized I could never read them all and had to choose those which really interested me. Fadiman assuaged my guilt with her essay on her parents’ diverse home library. She compares it to the library of another writer’s parents by telling of Diana Trilling “who had to wash her hands before she extracted a book from her parents’ glass-fronted bookcase. Trilling’s parents are chided for this cold, calculating treatment of books. But “by buying his set of leather-bound classics en bloc from a door-to-door salesman, Trilling’s father committed the additional heresy, unimaginable to us, of believing that a library could be one-size-fits-all.” (p. 124) Hooray, I can finally justify my eclectic library!

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand Fadiman is an eloquent writer. And funny too. I loved it when she wrote, “I’d rather have a book, but in a pinch I’ll settle for set of Water Pik instructions.” (p. 113) On the other hand she’s indiscreet about her personal life which interfered with my enjoyment of the book. I know it’s hard to believe, but I managed to be inspired by her father’s books without one single reference to his paramours.

If you love books about books, don’t miss this one.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Books as Art

I spent last week in the home of my brother and his wife. They are both artists and book lovers so it was fun to see how they combine those two interests.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shoulder the Sky by D. E. Stevenson

Wikipedia describes Stevenson as “a Scottish novelist of light romances”. Since I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, I felt the description failed to give a complete picture of the author’s work. Yes, it is lighter reading than Shakespeare. But the characters and storyline are more complex than those found in your average Harlequin. Not only do the characters grow and develop, but the writing is beautiful.

Shoulder the Sky is the third book in a trilogy (but stood alone quite well) and takes place in the years just after the Second World War. During the war many children were evacuated from London and sent to other parts of Britain. Lizzie and her two children, Duggie and Greta, arrive in Scotland and make a new life for themselves. Stevenson describes them as “flotsam cast up by the storm of war.” (p.61)

Later Stevenson refers to Duggie’s insatiable appetite for books. “Duggie was eleven years old when he discovered the joys of reading. Before then he imagined that reading was an exercise performed at school – you did as little of it as you could, it was dull and troublesome – but when he started reading for pleasure it became a positive mania… Needless to say Duggie did not understand one half of what he read. He took his reading like a drug; he absorbed it as a drunkard absorbs whisky, and the everyday world became dream-like and unreal.” (p. 63)

Stevenson’s reference to my favorite book on page 184 sealed her as a new author friend. She must have liked Jane Eyre a lot because she wrote a book called Rochester’s Wife. My only regret is that for everyone to “live happily ever after” one of the book’s couples had to get a divorce. I don’t mind books whose characters make tough decisions, but somehow this left me feeling unsettled. My online search for more of Stevenson’s books shows that they are pricey – probably because they are out of print. So it was fun to find one at a library book sale for 20 cents last week. Thank you to Sarah for introducing me to this author.