Posts Tagged ‘Books about Books’

What kind of fool buys a book like this?  A romantic fool.  A fool in love with books.  Me.

My Ideal Bookshelf collects brief essays and interviews from dozens of readers and pairs them with painted portraits of the books the subjects chose for their ideal bookshelf.  Jane Mount’s paintings of the books are beautiful to behold.  I know that there is this great current of fear out there that we are fetishizing the book and that we do books and publishing no great service by over-emphasizing the book-as-object.  But we do, and we collect and we covet and it’s a delicious indulgence.   You know that thrill of scanning a person’s bookshelves to see what’s on there?  With this book, you get to do that with the slight twist of looking at those books through the veil of art.  The spines are all hand-lettered, the Penguin Classics get the added beauty of the uneven line, the imperfect reproduction.  You recognize immediately the red and cream of the spine of The Catcher in the Rye, but it’s slightly off; mine, but not mine.

As interesting as the mix of subjects who share their ideal books (lawyers, chefs, designers, writers, dancers) is the mixed approach they took to the task: some made a desert island selection, some chose books that captured their childhood, some chose books that would make a good introduction to their field.  Haruki Murakami’s Wind Up Bird Chronicle appeared on a startlingly high number of shelves.

This is not the best book about books you will ever read, this is not the most moving selection of praises sung to the book.  The selection of people who contributed their ideal bookshelves was an odd collection (vampire lit’s Stephenie Meyer and cookbook author Mark Bittman; novelist Dave Eggers and fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy; picture-book writer Oliver Jeffers and essayist Malcolm Gladwell), and the essays are often annoyingly brief, cut short.  But the book had some great moments.  Did you know that there is a book out there that is a collection of photographs of junkyard dogs paired with quotations from William Shakespeare?  It’s called Junkyard Dogs and William Shakespeare.  It will, apparently, make you cry.

Coralie Bickford-Smith, a book designer for Penguin, wrote one of my favourite entries.  She describes the design for Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

The pattern I created for Dracula is composed of garlic flowers.  In the book, the heroine wears garlic flowers around her neck to stop Dracula from biting her in her sleep.  So the idea is that they’re wreathed around the book, too, to keep in the evil.

I love the fact that I get to repackage amazing literature that has stood the test of time.  I really couldn’t be designing anything more important.  (22)


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Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

London: Vintage, 2011.

This collection of essays about reading, with a forward authored by “Vintage Books” and not a named editor, is a self-proclaimed manifesto to, well, make you read this book and to make reading part of your daily life.  The editors seem to have been pushed into action by a study of British schoolchildren and falling literacy rates.  Here’s the thing:  If you are in a bookstore or the library and you are in the literary essays section and you see and take home this book, you probably don’t need a manifesto about the joys of reading.  I get a bit annoyed with the doomsday prophesies about the end of the book and of reading.

One in three teenagers reads only two books a year, or fewer, and one in six children rarely reads books outside of the classroom.

But that means that five out of six children do read outside of the classroom, right?

Stories and poems, for these thousands of children, are not a source of enchantment or excitement.  Books are associated with school, or worse–they are associated with acute feelings of shame and frustration.

While this is certainly pitiable, I don’t particularly feel welcomed into the text by this kind of approach.  The tone of the introduction to this collection of essays was thoroughly off-putting.  Aside from the fact that they are preaching to the converted, the kind of rhetoric that relies on fear-mongering about the death of reading just does not work for me as a means to encourage more reading.

So, if you, fellow book-lover, are in the literary essays section of bookstore or library, and you take home this book, I suggest you skip the introduction because lots of great essays lie ahead.  Zadie Smith writes about the enormous impact living 100 yards from Willesden Green Library had on her life.  I love the kind of autobiographical detail she provides in bringing that library to life: bits of information to tether a writer to her world.  Tim Parks waxes lyrical about the importance of enchantment, perfectly describing the holiday books often give me from my own racing mind:

It’s a wonderful thing to let go of your own way of telling yourself the world and allow someone else to do it for you.  (69)

And Mark Haddon, in one of my favourite essays, adds a very measured message:

because the passion we feel about reading is so strong, and because we are good people, we sometimes fall into the trap of believing that books made us good people and that they can do the same things for others.  This, I think, does a disservice to both readers and to the books themselves.  Partly because of the snobbery implicit in the phrase “good books”–meaning, of course, the ones that you and I enjoy reading.  Partly because there are so many things that can change lives: boxing, learning to play the piano, tending an allotment. … Talking about reading as the cause of anything is to get things back to front.  It exists in the valley of its own making.  It gives us pleasure; and our embarrassment about pleasure, our fear that reading is fundamentally no different from sex or sport, tempts us into claiming that reading improves us.  But pleasure is a very broad church indeed, and we do literature no great service if we try to sell it as a kind of moral calisthenics. (90)

And, this, I think gets at my annoyance with the tone of the introduction.  Reading will cause feelings of shame and frustration if it is prescribed, forced or served with a side of self-righteousness.  Much better to approach a book with love than with duty, and that goes for book lovers and reluctant readers, however many there are.

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Among Others

Jo Walton

New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2011.

My husband observed, not long ago, that the reading material I have been choosing to read aloud with the eldest two boys has been largely fantasy (boy magicians, hobbits, mythological creatures, both ancient and contemporary).  I was really taken aback because I had not made those choices deliberately or out of a preference from my own childhood reading.  I would never have called myself a fan of fantasy.   I did not read fantasy much at all as a child, but in my second childhood it seems to be what my boys and I are gravitating towards.

Perhaps it’s a gendered thing.  As Mor, the tweenaged protagonist of Jo Walton’s Among Others, notes, the only other girl her age at her science fiction book club was introduced to sci fi by her boyfriend, and most of the people are male.  Most, but not all.  And that’s it.  It’s a passing reference to the demographics of the group, and gender will come up again in her observations about who leads the weekly discussions, but for Mor, science fiction is a way to bring her into a community, not to divide her from one.

Mor’s story is written as a journal, and begins very much in medias res, with Mor trying (not very successfully) to settle in at a boarding school where she’s been sent by her father’s family, after having run away from her (unfit) mother and been put in an orphanage.  In the space of a few pages, she meets her father for the first time and then meets his extensive library, which contains many fantasy and sci fi titles and authors she has already come to love.  A bookworm of the first order, and, again, in a very short span of time, she discovers, to her great delight and to her social salvation, that there is such a thing as book clubs and makes friends and meets a beautiful boy at her book club.  A boy so beautiful, she is afraid she has conjured him by magic.

Magic is the fantasy element of this novel, and it is so deftly handled that you could read Mor’s engagement with magic either as genre fantasy or as a psychological puzzle.  In fact, she invites you to question her over and over (and over and over) again.  Plausible deniability is a catchphrase, and she comes back again and again to the loopholes in magic that make it possible to, well, wave a wand, and make all things magical appear perfectly normal.  She sees fairies, and so does her twin, but her twin is dead so there’s no one to corroborate her story.  She casts protective spells and makes other kinds of magic that may or may not have enormous repercussions.  Having just read and very much enjoyed Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, which is a contemporary retelling of a Russian fairy tale that keeps a graceful balance between fairy tale and realism, I felt perfectly at home in the liminal space of this book.  I neither wanted to believe nor disbelieve Mor.  I just wanted more and more and more of her story, which makes me a victim to its magic after all, I guess.

If ever there was a book designed to bring me out of books-about-books blogging hibernation, this is it.  I don’t know when I’ve ever read a novel with so many loving references to other books in it.  It was delightful.  And I haven’t even read most of the books she refers to.  I imagine that the pleasure factor is exponentially higher if you can relish with her the discovery and love of books you have also loved.  Fantasy may not have been what I pulled off the shelves as a child, but it connects me so blissfully to my boys now.  I don’t feel like an imposter in the world of fantasy that they love any more than Mor feels like an imposter in her book club (she has plenty of other places from which to feel excluded and plenty of other reasons to feel like an impostor).  What comes through so clearly is this girl’s immersion in a body of literature that has kept life and limb together for her.   And who could fail to love a narrator who so clearly lives for (and in) books?  That the book also feaures three very lovable librarians is icing on the cake.

Jenny, at Jenny’ Books, was the first whose recommendation I came across, then Kerry, at Pickle Me This, also recommended it.  Now, when Kerry or Jenny rave about a book, I generally go out and get it.  When they both rave, I know it’s  A Sure Thing.  It is.

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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

Wendy McClure

New York: Riverhead, 2011.

(reviewed from a review copy)

This summer, after our annual two-day drive from Ontario to Nova Scotia, I climbed out of our mini-van and into a flu.  In the roof-top carrier of the mini-van was a banker’s box full of books I’d brought on holiday (because it’s just not a vacation unless you bring along enough reading material to last until the apocalypse), but on our first night at the cottage, we did not unpack that box, and I was left without bedtime reading material.  I went, instead, to the cottage’s shelves and found an old Dell paperback copy of The Little House on the Prairie.  Perfect.  In spite of my exhaustion, I read late into the night, and when I woke up feeling less than well the next morning, I put it down to the long drive and the short sleep.

Not long after, I was back in bed and there I would stay for a few days.  The banker’s box sat in the corner, untouched.  Not one of the books was suitable for flu reading, but Laura Ingalls Wilder was, and I made my way through two of the Little House books while shivering and sweating and coughing it out.  (Not to be too melodramatic here, but I could identify when the family all had malaria.)

As I read, I was paying as much attention to the books as I was to my response to them: attraction and repulsion.  Ma’s racism was something I had not remembered at all, and it disgusted me.  It’s always an odd sensation to revisit a book from childhood, but this was particularly jarring.  I found the narrator a tad cold, too.  But then there was the wonderful catalogue of things and deeds, of blessings and curses, of a world contained and enumerable.

How delightful, then, to read Wendy McClure’s book and find my ambivalence so precisely and humourously mirrored.  I am nowhere near the Little House fan McClure is, but her book is so well written, so amusing and richly textured, that she takes us along on her own (re)discovery of the world of the books without our having to match her level of devotion to them.

McClure, who is a children’s book editor and who tweets as HalfPintIngalls, begins by describing the appeal of the books:

Since I edit children’s books for a living, I get asked a lot about my favorite books as a kid.  When I tell people I loved the Little House books, I know it’s a perfectly respectable answer, the sort of thing folks expect me to say.  Then sometimes they go on and ask me whether I also loved various other Important Children’s Books, like Where the Wild Things Are and The Little Prince and The House at Pooh Corner, and I’ll do my best for a while, trying to play along, and then at some point I have to hem and haw and shrug because, well, you know what I really liked?  I liked books that had pictures of toast in them.

Well, not just toast, but, you know, cups and ladles and baskets and hats, lovingly rendered, all in their places in a room or even just in little vignettes, but at any rate, things, in all their thinginess.  (3-4)

I do know!  Things in all their thinginess is my thing too!

She re-reads the whole set of Little House books, researches the biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and begins to plan trips to the creeks, sod houses and towns in which her fictionalized biographies are set.  She buys calico sun bonnets.  She buys a butter churn.  And makes butter with it.  Her boyfriend, bless him, puts horehound candy in her stocking.

I flipped through the pages of [The Little House Guidebook] and mentally subtitled it Everything You Wanted to Know About Driving Out to Remote Locations in the Upper Midwest to Find Your Childhood Imaginary Friend but Were Afraid to Ask.  And I was still afraid to ask: what kind of a person would I become if I just went with this, let my calico-sunbonnet freak flag fly? (26)

What happens when she lets her freak flag fly is a wonderful book, full of humour.  Equal parts memoir, biography, picaresque and cultural studies, McClure’s book attempts to reconcile her childhood love of the books with some of their darker undercurrents.

As part of her attempt to live “La Vida Laura,” McClure and her boyfriend go on a homesteading weekend, encouraged by the host’s mention of the Little House books on her website.   She is encouraged to bring her butter churn so that she can show the other participants how to churn butter.  The other participants turn out to be Christians preparing for the apocalypse.

I was keeping an open mind.  And I had gotten used to encountering people of a somewhat more evangelical bent in the Laura Ingalls Wilder fan world—plenty of homeschooling moms blogged about the Little House books, for example, and I’d noticed more than a couple fish symbols on the cars in the museum parking lot in Mansfield, Missouri.  They were all nice folks who shared my love of Laura but maybe not my support for legalizing gay marriage. …

From everything I’d read, End Timers were waiting for the collapse of the civilization the way fans of the Twilight series awaited the trailer for Breaking Dawn.  They were bracing themselves to endure the myriad destructive ordeals that would wipe out infidels, atheists, unrepentant sinners, industrialists, government officials, and Salon.com readers, with the expectation that they, the prepared ones, would be among the worthy few who would be raptured to Heaven….  (191, 194) 

This wonderfully humourous clashing of worlds is an opportunity for McClure to investigate the darker side to the homey nostalgia of the books:

I had been searching for Laura Ingalls Wilder and I’d gotten Hippie Half-Pint instead, half full of her crazy, crazy Kool-Aid made from foraged berries.

But that wasn’t the only thing that was making me uneasy.  Deep down, I was starting to wonder if the Little House books had more to do with this sort of worldview than I’d been willing to admit.  Not the end-of-the-world stuff, of course, but that “simple life” mind-set and all that it rejected.  … I thought about the moms who bragged online that their homeschooled kids were not only reading the Little House books but were learning from reprinted editions of the same McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers that Laura and Carrie used, as if all of twentieth-century pedagogy simply didn’t exist.  (196)

It is this layered approach that I most liked about McClure’s book.  Memoir and biography, nostalgia and honest examinations of the racism in the book, humour and skepticism about the commercialization of Laura world.

On the banks of the real Plum Creek, McClure has a moment of clarity:

I was going to wade in the creek.  Others were doing it—both adults and kids were seeking out clear spots along the bank where it was easy to step into the water.  I found a place where the dirt was smooth from the feet of other visitors.  I took off my flip-flops and stepped awkwardly down the slope of the bank.  The water felt nice.  A little cloud of silt rose up with each step, just like On the Banks of Plum Creek had described.  Or it was just like each step I’d taken in the creek at the campground where my family spent weekends when I was a kid.  I don’t know which had come first, my own experience or the book, but either way, that smokelike swirl that wavered in the water was how I know the book was true. (232)

I love this passage.  The visceral layering of here and there, now and then, experience lived and experience read; the sudden awareness of truth.  Isn’t that what the complexity and clarity of re-reading old loves is all about?

This book was a joy to read, and I recommend it highly, not just for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but for any book lover who loves a good read.

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Book Ends: A Year Between the Covers

Naomi Beth Wakan

Hamilton: Poplar Press, 2010

Read from a review copy.


This book is deceptively simple.  Organized in 12 chapters named for each of the twelve months that the book covers, Wakan’s book strolls through a year of reading, but also of gardening, hosting, teaching, running errands,  and minding the world.  Her narrative pace is slow and her essays meander, but they belie a breakneck reading pace.  I don’t know how the library on Gabriola Island keeps her stocked because she and her husband go through 20 books a week.  The island, its library and her book box, the old milk crate in which she keeps her books to be read, become characters in their own right, and the books she reads are always firmly tethered to the context in which she reads them.  These are familiar essays, and while the pace of the individual chapters may be easy, Wakan, in her late seventies, has more than 30 books of poetry and non-fiction to her credit.  She reads and writes at a fantastic pace, but none of that urgency appears here.  On the pages of this book, she is relaxed company.

What I like best about Wakan’s book is that she knows that there are more prolific writers, more voracious and up-to-date readers out there, and, after acknowledging that there are other ways of being, she is unapologetic about the kind of writer and reader that she is. 

I have been reading a book entitled 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (general editor–Peter Boxall) and, of course, it filled me with guilt and remorse.  What have I been doing with my life that I have probably not read more than one third of the books included? …  Reading [it] left me with the feeling that I would like to have written a novel. … But that is not to be, for here I am, yet once more, turning out yet one more little essay about books and writers and, do you know, having recovered from reading the summaries of one thousand and one books by triumphant (and often alcoholic and suicidal) authors, I am quite content to have my life running this way.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many books about books she discusses.  My beloved Ex Libris  and 84 Charing Cross Road are among more than 30 books about books and author biographies and autobiographies.  It’s a veritable goldmine of bibliophilic reading.  I had seen the title of Pierre Bayard’s book, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, and dismissed it as flippant, but she calls it the best book of her reading year.  I’m sold.  I am doing a reading challenge based on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, the 1% well-read challenge, so Wakan’s book also had the added bonus of being a book about my reading challenges. 

Wakan gently points me to the truth that not all the books we bring home have to be fiction or bibliophilic.  She reads books about math and makes them sound compelling.  This is not an easy thing to do.  Lots of books about gardening, too, as she and her husband attempt a zero-mile diet by growing almost all of their own food.  Also not an easy thing to do. 

As you will have noticed from my April entries, I often prefer reading about gardening to actually doing it, so while making my garden to-do list, I began to once more think about garden writing and folks who do it.

Michael Pollan points out so nicely that writing and gardening are both ways of rendering the world in rows.

I’ve just wandered home from the bookstore with Merilyn Simond’s A New Leaf: Growing with My Garden tucked under my arm and am looking forward to its rows on rows.

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The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

Alice Ozma

New York: Hachette, 2011.

Most of the time, when I go to the literary criticism or essay section of a bookstore, my first instinct is to look for books I already have or know about.  It’s a kind of settling in ritual, scanning the shelves for familiar colours and fonts, seeking similarity to my bookshelves at home or to the very bookshelf I’m looking at as it appeared the last time I was looking at it.  Was that book here last time?  Do they keep a good supply of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris in stock?  I want to see my interests and erudition reflected back to me.  It is rare that I feel a surge of joy at a new discovery, because, let’s face it, books about books are not published every day.  Last week I found two new books that made my heart beat faster: The Reading Promise and A Jane Austen Education (more about which soon).

Alice Ozma was named after two characters from children’s literature: Alice, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and Ozma, the ruler of L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz.  Her father, Jim Brozina, a children’s librarian, chose them as her middle names.  She has adopted them as her first and last names, an apt decision for a girl who was brought up on books.

When she was in Grade 4, Alice and her father made a pledge: they would read for 100 consecutive nights.   While celebrating the accomplishment, Alice upped the ante: what about going for 1000?  They got much further than that.  From Grade 4 until her first day at university, Jim Brozina read aloud to his daughter every single night.  Including prom night.  They called it The Streak.

I read this book in one sitting tonight, my own version of a streak, as I am not often alert enough to read for so long, no matter how much I may want to.  But this book had me hooked.  It’s a book about books, it’s a book about children’s books, it’s a book about a committed teacher (cue the tears), it’s a book about the enormous value of libraries in schools (cue more tears), and it’s engagingly written.  

The book has its rough spots; it is Alice Ozma’s first book, and it gets off to rather a mushy start.  But it was also a page-turner.  I wanted to know what challenges the pair would face and how they would overcome them.  Aside from the fact of their amazing streak, this is also an engaging memoir structured around reading.  There are chapters on her parents’ divorce, on book sales and sick days, on funerals and date nights, on car crashes and suicide.  The chapters are timed and structured well, and each ends with a punch line.  Ozma’s humour is dry and self-deprecating, and she tells her story well.  The final chapter on her father’s beloved school libraries being turned into computer labs and emptied of books had me on the edge of my seat.  That chapter should be required reading for every school administrator.

After being asked by a slightly bemused friend if the routine did not get boring after a while, she realizes

We were already good at routines, but The Streak was anything but.  Every night was different because every story was different.  Even when a book started to drag, as some did late in the second half, there was still the thrill of getting closer to our goal to make things a little more interesting.  But as my father told him, and as anyone who reads regularly might agree, the only thing that has to be similar from night to night is the act of turning pages.  Everything else changed as soon as we picked up a new book, plunging us deep into a new landscape with unfamiliar faces.  The Streak was routine, yet it was as far from routine as anything a parent and daughter could do together.

Reading to my boys at bedtime is my favourite time of day, but there are days, lots of them, when it just does not happen.  (This is because I’m a stickler about bed time.  Jim Brozina was not.)  Nevertheless, this book made me want to enlist the boys in a big poster-making project: a huge 10 by 10 calendar to mark off our own unbroken streak of 100 days of reading.  As her father says in his preface to the book, “Nothing that lasts has been accomplished without effort.  The things that we are most proud of took quite a lot to achieve.”  This book makes me want to pull out the stops and make no excuses.

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The Poetry Lesson

by Andrei Codrescu

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Poetry month has come and gone, and the stack of books I wanted to write about for this blog still sits here staring at me.  Tempus fugit, memento mori.

How apt to find a skeleton on the cover of The Poetry Lesson and inside its covers, the first thing that the narrating professor of creative writing assigns to his students is the writing of a daily epitaph, to be ready in case they suddenly pop off.  He also makes reference to the poetry journal that he edits, Exquisite Corpse.  But wait.  Didn’t the flap copy tell me that the author also edits Exquisite Corpse?  And that he was a professor of creative writing at Louisiana State University, where this book is set?

It reads like fiction, it takes advantage of poetic license, but this book is also a memoir and a rant.  By turns a fond and exasperated look at the teaching of creative writing, it is the story of the three hours that comprise the first class of the last semester that the narrating professor will teach. He meets his students, he gives them their instructions for the week and the year, and in between narrating scenes from the present, he remembers scenes of his own youth spent meeting great poets.

To say that the man has an idiosyncratic approach to pedagogy would be to understate the case.  These are his tools of poetry:

1. A goatskin notebook for writing down dreams

2. Mont Blanc fountain pen (extra credit if it belonged to Mme Blavatsky)

3. A Chinese coin or a stone in your pocket for rubbing

4. Frequenting places where you can overhear things

5. Tiny recorders, spyglasses, microscopic listening devices

6. A little man at the back of your head

7.  The Ghost-Companion [a poet whose last name begins with the same letter as the student’s own name and who will serve as a guide and helpmeet]

8. Susceptibility to hypnosis

9. Large sheets of homemade paper, a stack a foot thick

10. A subscription to cable TV

The list made me laugh, as did many other moments in the book, but I could not quite suspend disbelief.  Was he really that odd?  What purpose did it serve to perform such quirkiness for a room full of new students?  Did this performance endear him to them or alienate them? 

There is a delicious passage in the middle of the book in which the narrator pulls a meta-moment.  He indulges in 1980s postmodern trickery, stepping out of the story to address us and tell us where the story might go from here.  (I love 1980s postmodern trickery.  Why did it not come back when leg warmers and skinny jeans and orange blush came back?) 

I’ve sworn off postmodern cheap tricks in this story, but this one can’t be helped.  It’s a crossroads in a story.  If I take the road to the left, there will be no sudden dramatic development.  My students will sit down and I will continue in the pedagogical-memorialistic mode that has so far held your attention, reader (because if it hadn’t you wouldn’t have gotten this far).  …  If  I take the road to the right, something dramatic, momentous, horrible, tragic will take place….  Which is the road I’d be forced to take if this was, let’s say, a novel.  This is not a novel, but then neither is it poetry, because if this story were poetry I’d take the road to the right without any qualms of the sort I’m confessing.  No, this story is not a novel or poetry, and it’s no essay or memoir either, though it mimics aspects of both.

There we have it.  He has given his reader a map of sorts, but it’s about as useful as a goat-skinned notebook.

In addition to collecting books about books, I also collect campus novels and teaching memoirs.  I read the memoirs in the hope of being made to weep by stories of how great teaching has changed lives.  I’m a softie that way.  I read the novels because I like to hear about the crimes and misdemeanours of students, professors and administrators.  I like to see them satirized, but I do prefer to see the mockery evenly distributed.  There is a built-in power imbalance in classrooms, and real-life faculty rooms are full of the anecdotes of teachers’ moronic students.  Yes, they are morons, but so are we.  Fiction should play fair with human folly. 

The narrator does take stabs at academics (“On the floor above the one where I was tormenting poets, tenured professors tapped steadily on their keyboards, completely uninterested in the deep ravine that ran between their professional thoughts and their lives.”), but this book leans a little too heavily on the students, who never quite emerge from behind their cardboard selves.   And while the narrator made me chortle, he did not charm me.  There was too much mental undressing of his students, and an obsession with their bodily functions (“They needed to pee.  I knew that they needed to pee.  They knew that they needed to pee.  Their bladders were ready to burst.  Ah, merciless poetry!  I saw myself covered in the golden showers of their bursting bladders.  No, I’m not a pervert.  Ask anybody.”)  No thank you.

Even with the helpful instructions of the narrator, I’m not sure where to file this one.  I won’t put it under teaching memoir because there is not enough love for teaching.  Campus novel it is, even with its slips out of fiction into memoir.

I had not heard Codrescu’s NPR essays before reading this book, which is too bad, because I read the narrator’s voice with a generic American accent.  Codrescu’s own Romanian accent is quite thick, and hearing its rhythms as I read would have enriched my reading.  This is Andrei Codrescu on NPR reading a short essay about his Kindle and his alarm at finding out that the supposedly new e-book he bought comes with other morons’ highlighting included: “You are what you highlight.”

And here he is in his role as a poetry professor, handing out assignments.  Very much like the narrating persona of this book.  Funny.

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This is a great, spooky way to begin a month of books about libraries.

Originally serialized in The Guardian in 2008, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile was published in book form by Harry Abrams last month.

The book begins in the wee hours of the morning when the protagonist, Alexandra (get it?), discovers a bookmobile whose collection is peculiar: it contains every book that she has read.  The protagonist gets lost in the reflection of herself in her books, and she becomes dangerously attracted to the escape offered not only by the collection but by the librarian’s profession of curating a collection for just one patron.  Unable to find the bookmobile again, she goes on to become a librarian, but she spends her life yearning for a return to that perfect midnight collection.

Niffenegger’s illustrations play up the visual appeal of a bookshelf packed with well-loved books, but the story itself reveals the dark side to our attraction to books; bibliophilic narcissism leads to self-destruction.

What I loved most about this book was the idea that there is a librarian who knows our books as well as we do.  The librarian of the night bookmobile is a version of a guardian angel–a supernatural guardian who is tied to an individual.  I wanted to say a “transcendent judge” but he is not at all judgemental, which might also be why I liked the book so much.  I’m tired of the disembodied judge of what I do, say and read.  I much prefer this version: a kindly man who keeps track of and lovingly organizes what I read.

The book’s ending is dark, which is what makes it a spooky read for the Halloween season.  As Niffenegger states in her afterword, the book is “a cautionary tale of the seductions of the written word.” It is also only the first installment of a larger work, The Library, so there is more to look forward to.

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I am finishing up my Great Books books, and turning next to libraries. 

Nancy Pearl may now be the best-known librarian in North America, thanks to getting her very own action figure.

I will look at her Book Lust and More Book Lust.

Here are some of the other books I’m thinking of reading:

This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson

The Incident Report by Martha Baillie

Dewey:The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vikki Myron

Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

What have I missed?  What are your favourite books about libraries?

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I have found a bookstore and publisher that deals exclusively with books about books.  Oak Knoll Books in Delaware.  Admittedly, many of these books are so specialized that they have a limited audience, but to discover an entire store given over to books about books makes my heart go pitter pat. 

It’s the bookshop that every bibliophile secretly fantasises about, and occasionally encounters in a Jorge Luis Borges story. An entire bookstore full of just books about books. Reader, I’m here to tell you that this is no ficcione: such a dream bookshop exists. You will find it in the historic colonial town of Old New Castle in a three-storeyed Opera House built in 1879 where two floors house, in an almost labyrinthine fashion, shelf upon shelf upon shelf of books on books.

Oak Knoll Books has the largest inventory in the world of books on books. Its publishing imprint, Oak Knoll Press, tops even this Borgesian fantasy by being a fine press devoted exclusively to publishing books about books.

More from Pradeep Sebastian’s gushing article about the store here.

Thanks to Becky at The Book Frog for the link (via library thing).

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