A link and a contest

Happy Friday, everyone! Just a few quick links for those interested....

Identity Theory started a new column about the publishing industry called "The Magic Bullet: Q&A for Writers." Send in a question that brings up anxiety about writing, and receive an answer from fiction editor, Jane Friedman (author of "The Beginning Writer's Answer Book). Go here: http://www.identitytheory.com/magicbullet/

The deadline for entering the Storyglossia Fiction Prize contest is October 1, 2006. First prize is $1000 and publication in Issue 16. All entries will be considered for publication. Click here for the complete guidelines. Not that we need competition (we think we can dust up something for an entry), but we like to support them.


Thoughts for Thursday – one more for the TBR pile!

We’ve arrived, once more, at another Thursday, the day when the seemingly endless dark chasm of the Work Week opens to a tunnel ending in Light, offering a glimpse to a near future when time is again our own. Walk toward the Light! Walk toward the Light!

Today, we celebrate Thursday with an excerpt from a book review by Eric Ormsby over at the New York Sun. Now, we can’t vouch for Ormsby’s critiquing talents, but this particular book had LK’s whiskers standing at attention. It’s called: Edward Mendelson’s “The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life.”

According to the review, this book links seven stages of human life with seven classic 19th- and 20th-century novels, all by women: one each by Mary Shelley, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and three by Virginia Woolf. If that wasn’t enough, the book delves into topics many litbloggers have been discussing recently: how novels enlarge our lives and how our experience influences our reading of them.

Intrigued? Read more from the Ormsby review:

…It's a truism that great novels have something to tell us not only about life but about our own lives. But for decades literary criticism has neglected or scorned this useful truth in favor of "theory" and its barbarous jargon. How refreshing then to read a study which dwells without apology, and with genuine insight, on the ways in which novels impinge upon our own experience.

Mr. Mendelson…shows not solely how these novels enlarge and illumine our own lives, but how our experience nuances and influences our reading of them. And though Mr. Mendelson is unflappably polite and even decorous in his discussions, his book is rather radical.

…The reason that women writers in the 19th and 20th centuries were more likely than men to write about the emotional depths of personal life is that they were more likely to be treated impersonally, to be stereotyped as predictable members of a category, rather than recognized as unique human beings—and a woman writer therefore had a greater motivation to defend the values of personal life against the generalizing effect of stereotypes, and defend those values by paying close attention to them in her writing, by insisting that those values matter to everyone and that everyone experiences them uniquely.

…I don't think I'll read "Frankenstein" or "Wuthering Heights" or "Middlemarch" or "Mrs. Dalloway" in quite the same way again, thanks to his astute discussions….Of "Frankenstein," which he links to "birth," he writes that it "is the story of childbirth as it would be if it had been invented by someone who wanted power more than love." Or of "Wuthering Heights," he notes aptly that "Childhood, in this novel, is a state of titanic intensity, adulthood a state of trivial weakness."

…He notes…that in "Middlemarch" marriage is "a condition in which one partner lives in ignorance of the other partner's most intense thoughts and crucial acts, and knowledge always comes too late to be of use." All married couples will have experienced this dislocating insight at one moment or another….

We don’t know about you, but we’ve already reserved our copy!


I never read it...have you?

I got this bright idea from Yogamum at Yoga Gumbo.

She gives a lovely list of the Brit’s 100 best-loved books (many of which she has admirably checked off). It all reminded Yogamum of a drinking game she used to play in grad school called “I Never Read It.”

In this game, apparently, each player would name a classic “all English majors must read this” novel that he or she hadn’t read, and then the others would ridicule him/her for not having read it. If players had read it, they’d take a drink. Wow. That is so much more interesting a drinking game than quarters! (You know, bounce a quarter off the table into a beer glass and chug ‘til you choke on the quarter or puke, whichever comes first.) I wanna party with those wordsmiths! However, there are so many books I can be ridiculed for having not read, I would probably be the only sober one at the table.

I must forego the alcoholic chugs; however, I am going to add a twist to the game. First of all, I will admit to not having read any works by a major novelist. (I blame the American school system.) The admission makes me blush and groan, but I must confess. This is to rectify my having paraded myself in the blogosphere as The Literate Kitten, when all along I was merely A Literate Kitten.

The major novelist is…Henry James!

Before you cast any aspersions, please let me hasten to add that I have read Moliere and Balzac...in French. So there.

Regretfully (I say without conviction), I’ve managed to avoid the fiction of the great Henry James, and he is arguably the most important American novelist—unless you prefer to think of him as one of the better English novelists. And if you don’t count Faulkner, who lived in the South, which is a very different country than America. No matter, I’ve read very little of James’s work. An unpleasant short story or two and about one-fourth of “The Golden Bowl.” Although I did see the movie.

But, wait, there’s more!

I ask my dear readers to name the novel by Henry James they believe is his best. Whichever title receives the most votes will be read by me over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Thus, having read at least one entire work by Henry James, I will be able to reclaim the mantle of The Literate Kitten, sans guilty chafing. And give myself indigestion on Turkey Day. All at the same time.

(No votes will automatically default to the shortest Henry James novel, “Turn of the Screw.” No person may enter more than once. Prizes are not transferable and must not be redeemed by cash. If there were prizes, that is. All entries become property of The Literate Kitten. You must be 21 or older to play.)

Oh, and while you're casting your vote, you might share a classic you've never read...just to make me feel a tiny bit less like a literary outcast.


The thrill of books

Some people say books will go the way of dinosaurs. Supposedly, we will enjoy reading “War and Peace” or “Moby-Dick” on a computer screen. But, as a reader, I recently experienced the visceral delight of book ownership that I realize no computer can possibly replace.

It started with the tight cardboard package on my porch, emblazoned with the Amazon logo, heralding the arrival of a new book. A mini Christmas-thrill electrified my stomach: Which book was it? (I had ordered three.) I ran upstairs, shedding my burdens of purse and jacket, procured the kitchen scissors and sliced open the package. The wrappings fell away, I brushed back the advertising fliers, and there it was.

The scent of new paper with a hint of binding glue, mingled with the cardboard packaging, perfumed the air. The cover, to my delight, read: “In the Eye of the Sun” by Ahdaf Soueif, which meant I could begin my fiction reading of the Middle East (my latest literary quest). I balanced the book between both palms, noting the heft, the silken smoothness of its new cover, the soft edges of the pages. The exotic beauty of the woman pictured on the cover promised a rich, textured story. I peeked inside, comforted by the fact that the text was large and airy and serif-faced. (I’ve actually foregone reading books because of sans serif text type.)

Physically, this is an inviting book.

The presentation of a book has much to do with the reading experience. I found the Lydia Davis edition of “Swann’s Way” gratifyingly pleasant, with its rich foil-embossed cover (sturdy yet flexible) and coarse-edged, thick creamy paper which rather emulated Proust’s prose: elegant, dense yet rough about the edges. I started the second volume of Proust, “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower,” but it’s not a friendly book that invites sinking into. Not only is the prose difficult, but also the book itself is unfriendly: Hard, heavy and awkward to hold, with a cover illustration that resembles a discontinued wallpaper pattern. I rather dread having to live with this monstrosity for weeks or months. I have the same reaction to hidebound library books stiff in their crackly plastic covers.

This is part of the reading experience, the physicality of books.

As a child, I enjoyed visiting libraries. I loved the church-like hush, silent sense of purpose and friendly, musty smell of many books on shelves. It’s the same reason I prowl bookstores now, especially the small local ones that mingle new books with used ones, integrating the importance of brand-new crisp books with the relaxed attitude of books already read and enjoyed (perhaps even marked) by a previous owner. My apartment is filled with books, six bookshelves and many piles atop dressers, end tables, bedside tables—even the coffee table. New books, old books, textbooks I saved from college, funky paperbacks with old-fashioned drawings, rare bound volumes fished out of a free box or bought for a dollar apiece at a garage sale. I feel protected and comforted when surrounded by books. They are like good friends, always there and full of secret knowledge of who you are.

Somehow, the cold blue glare of a computer screen doesn’t suffice.