Dear Readers,


I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Revisiting Franzenfreude, and A Roundup of Female Writers

This Year Female Writers Kicked Up Literary Dust
is my annual year-end literary wrap up at Women's eNews, with a twist of Franzenfreude.

"(WOMENSENEWS)--The year's biggest literary controversy was set off by two women who write "women's fiction:" Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner.

The two complained on Twitter and in a joint interview on the Huffington Post about a culture of "white male literary darlings" who mesmerize influential critics at publications such as The New York Times Book Review and leave female authors--particularly commercial ones-- out in the cold..."


read more!

And happy holidays, readers.





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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Buy Books for the Holidays, or the World Will End Up This Way

Books for Christmas? at the New Yorker's "Book Bench" blog.

"



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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Hidden Gem" Books of 2010

Weird And Wonderful Books: 2010's Hidden Gems : NPR lists a few books that are too offbeat to make it onto year-end lists.

Speaking of year-end lists, more on that tomorrow...

HAPPY SOLSTICE, readership.



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Goodbye, Poetry in motion

Literary Quotations on Subway Trains Come to an End, by my good friend Mike who covers transit for the Times.

"The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decided to discontinue a program featuring signs with poetry and other literature on the city’s subway trains."
This is a nice elegy for a program I loved. My little "Poetry in Motion" book was one of my favorite, well-curated anthologies. Like a "Rattle Bag" for the modern age.



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Friday, December 17, 2010

It's Never The Wrong Time for Some Feminist Readings of Jane Austen

Happy belated birthday, Jane Austen! at feministing, by Chloe Angyal, who includes these tantalizing lines:

"If Caroline Bingley is a bitch, it’s not her fault. Society made her that way...

... resist the urge to hate on Caroline Bingley. Remember: don’t hate the player. Hate the game. Jane Austen did, and it made her one of the most adored authors of all time. "


Read on...


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Literary Birthday: EBC Patron Saint #1 Jane Austen


They never made 'em like her again, as best expressed in a chat between me and my twin brother, after he had read "Emma" followed by "Ethan Frome."

Daniel: finished ethan frome
me: whatdjoo think? no "emma" right"
Daniel: no emma.


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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Downton Abbey Trailer


Masterpiece is sooooo back.



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Monday, December 06, 2010

Jane Austen and the Youth in the WSJ

Jane Austen's Popularity Grows With Young on the Web - WSJ.com

What these articles always neglect to mention is that young people love Jane not just because she's like, totally relevant to our man problems, but because she's you know, profound and a genius.

Still, the article is good and it quotes lots of friends of this blog, including folks from my local JASNA chapter and Laurie Viera Riegler, author of "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict."

So click on through!

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

JANE EYRE TRAILER (be still, my heart)

Back from blog-hibernation to squeal over this one.
It looks Gothic, and overwrought and hollywoody, and AMAZING. Yes, we've already seen three or four adaptations but this is Jane freaking Eyre we're talking about here. Too much is never enough.



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Friday, October 15, 2010

NBR Finalists Include 13 Women. Yay?

The Fruit of 'Franzenfreude': "

The National Book Award finalists were announced yesterday. And for the first time ever, 13 of the 20 finalists were female. They included Lionel Shriver, (acclaimed Jewish novelist) Nicole Krauss, and most wonderfully, alternative punk rocker Patti Smith for her recently published memoir. Jonathan Franzen, subject of so much acclaim and backlash in recent weeks, was notably not on the list.


Read the full blog post here.


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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Two Literary (Re) Discoveries

Good morning, readers! two interesting literary "discoveries" on the internets yesterday:

*Jezebel reminds us of an unpublished excerpt of Edith Wharton's sexually explicit erotica--but maybe it was unpublished because it was, erm, about incest? Warning: this content is NSFW, even though it was written by Edith Wharton (I always said that her novels simmered with thwarted desire)

Universally Acknowledged

Some of you may have read this new list of the best 100 first lines in literature. It's basically all over the place, with some excellent choices and some bad ones. Anyway, Jane came in at 2 with "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," which is pretty much universally acknowledged to be a damn good first sentence. But it's become so overused, so shorthandish, that sometimes it's easy to forget WHY this sentence works so well. Here is what i said in its defense over at Numero Cinq:

Austen’s sentence has become a cliche, but it’s actually so perfect, so laden with irony (Her “truth” is in fact, not universally acknowledged but rather assumed to be so by her characters. So the statement that it is universal is, itself, a specific non-universal viewpoint. This is how people talk when they’re unable to justify their weird social ideas–they assume “everyone knows” x or y). It sets the tone for her playful use of free-indirect discourse, the way she never lets you stay comfortable knowing whether there’s an omniscient narrator or she’s taking the limited viewpoint of her heroine. And it also introduces he themes of her book: the flawed perspective of individuals, the absurdity of social assumptions. All in all, a job well done.
Never question Saint Jane!

And here is what Simon said, helping me formulate the above argument. As you can see, I spiced up my own argument with his brilliance.

Simon: it's a well constructed sentence that flows very nicely
me: also it's not universally acknowledged
Simon: there is a level of subtly accomplished irony
me: thats the whole point
Simon: the statement that it is universal is, itself, a specific non-universal viewpoint
irony!
1:01 PM exposes the way people talk
assert things as givens when they don't want to (or are unable to) explain their reasoning
attempt to just establish certain mores/assumptions as fact
and since clashing perspectives and mores are the major theme of the book, it sets that out quite nicely
1:02 PM but these things only become clear once you have read the book and become acquainted w the characters
hence, good sentence
me: this is in line with what I'm writing
Simon: WORD
1:03 PM the book is all about why people say certain things at certain times, and how that lines up with what they actually believe / what is actually true


Readers, why do you love this sentence, or any of Jane's first sentences (they're all gems, as far as I'm concerned, particularly Emma, Persuasion, P+P, NA)?


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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A.O. Scott Revisits Howard's End

Enjoy the video!


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"The Tempest" Trailer


So here's the trailer for Julie Taymor's "Tempest" with Helen Mirren as "ProsperA" and a celeb-heavy cast. It looks extremely over the top, but only time will tell if it's over the top in a good way. I've seen some great and awful adaptations of "The Tempest" in my time, including a trippy 70s art-house version that freaked my friends and me out so much we turned it off twenty minutes in (we were cramming for a Shakespeare final in college). And then, of course, there's "Forbidden Planet." What think'st thee of the trailer, fair readers?

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Banned Books Week and Sex

Banned Books Week: It's (Almost) Always About Sex | RHRealityCheck.org:

Just in time for “Banned Books Week” 2010 came the censorship related scandal du jour--isn't there one every few months? I wrote about the way the abstinence-only folks and the book-banners are in league for my latest column.



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Friday, October 01, 2010

Me, on Beat Poetry On the Big Screen

I saw the movie "Howl" which is a tribute to the Ginsberg poem, and wrote about it:
Howls of Anger, and of Liberation | The Nation

"More specifically, Howl helps its audience, likely familiar with the poem and author, re-examine how challenging and unprecedented this complex poem was in the context of its time. It encourages us to recognize that 'Howl' not only changed the life of letters in America through sometimes-crude vernacular and new jazz-like rhythms, but it also changed the life of its author, who used it as a vehicle to assert his identity as a practitioner of same-sex love during an era when homosexual acts were deemed illegal in some places and a mental illness in others. Ginsberg's poem was a howl of anger and hurt, yes, with its famous destroyed minds, 'starving hysterical, naked,' but also a howl of liberation and affirmation, as seen in the poem's incantation-like 'footnote': 'The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy!'"

Read the rest here. And read this blog post, by EBC reader and friend gettsr, about Ginsberg vs. Kerouac, here.


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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Literary Birthday: Elizabeth "I Rule the BBC" Gaskell



Happy bicentennial birthday to the best 19th-century author whom I discovered as a post-adolescent, Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell. She was a literary supergenius in her own right whose books have made some of the yummiest, most emotionally potent, romantic, social critiquey BBC miniseries of all time.
Here's some Gaskell-mania around the web:
And may John Thornton stalk all our dreams. Amen.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Literary Linkage du jour


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Thoughts on the Short-Story Canon, Thus Far

These reviews are edited from my notes on my course reading...thus their stream-o-consciousness nature and focus on craft.

Edgar Allen Poe, Selected Stories

I read my friend Poe before Joyce--he saved my life when I was a teacher and I had one rowdy class that wouldn’t submit to reading anything else. As I read the Poe stories (the Dupin pair, Usher, Amontillado, and a few other old favorites etc) I thought about how he creates tension in his stories, keeping his “singular effect” essay in mind. I was fascinated by the difference between the horror stories (Usher/Amontillado) which begin right away with a sense of foreboding, in the latter an explicit announcement of what’s going to happen, and the Dupin pair, which lengthily discourse on various human tendencies before getting into the meat of the mystery. In the Marie Roget/Morgue pair, the titles help propel us past the introductory material, which almost teases us. Throughout the story forward momentum often arises from a tension between the clinical language of the narrator and Dupin, and the grisly, mysterious
details of the murders they are attempting to solve. I also found the way both stories wrap up such lengthy investigations in a few paragrpahs extremely intriguing—it put the emphaisis on process. Both demanded to be re-read with the information granted at the end. A friend of mine who is a Victorianist and I spent some time this week talking about the detective figure as a stand-in for the author, sorting through the strands of plot. As for the “Cask of Amontillado” (which I’ve taught) what caught my eye this time, after reading Poe's essay about “The Raven” was its almost poetic use of repetition: “The Nitre! The Amontillado!” Back and forth and back and forth, like the cat-and-mouse game between the two men. In “The Fall of the House of Usher” what struck me most was the way every single detail from the description of the house’s facade at the outset to the songs and stories and paintings, lined up to add to the effect: twinning, guilt, decay. There wasn’t a single irrelevant aside--singular effect at its most precise.

James Joyce, "Dubliners"
I noticed some interesting similarities between the writers’ techniques. I actually started
comparing “A Boarding House” to “Amontillado.” Both are essentially stories of schemes that get carried out effectively, and both schemes rely on vice/temptation which leads to entrapment.
also thought that in general both authors really excellently used ellipsis to build up tension: why does Joe cry at the end of “Clay?” What exactly, if anything, are the “thousand injuries” that provoke revenge?

I love Joyce's mix of long and short sentences and his physical descriptions--words just keep sticking in my head like Maria’s “tidy” body in “Clay” and the “rope” of the girl’s hair in “Araby.”

Isaac Babel, "Red Cavalry and Other Stories":


These were really unlike anything I've ever read. I started by reading a few of his early stories about his childhood which were dark and stifling and full of Jewish imagery and the burden of his family's expectations on him, and then pretty soon I transitioned into "Red Cavalry" so I could read it as a thematic collection. I thought the stories in this section were breathtakingly direct and unapologetic but also their short length gave them a feeling of incompleteness that tantalized me.


Perhaps my favorite was the simple early story in the collection "My First Goose" in which the narrator kills a goose so that the soldiers he's accompanying will see him as one of them, a plan that works, but he sleeps that night "with the crimson hands of a murderer." To me it sets the tone for the rest of the stories and gets to the heart of the underlying question: why is this thinking Jewish guy palling around with Cossacks who slaughter his people, and at what personal price? I felt that the stories, even the simple two paragraph ones, had a wonderful tension between his intellectual, philosophical side and the battle-lust and admiration for his fellow warriors he reveals at the end of "Kombrig 2" when he sees the general riding by after a big, presumably bloody victory and just thinks it’s marvelous. This is also mirrored by the juxtaposition of his short descriptions of nature which are lush and reverent and the carnage that either precedes or follows such descriptions.

I'll admit that I also spent a chunk of time--this is the journalist in me--reading about Babel's life and work, which have a lot of interest for me since all eight of my great-grandparents were Russian/Polish/Lithuanian Jews who emigrated here in part because of the Cossacks. Babel's biography struck me as being very mysterious and elliptical, rather like his stories-you began to get the sense of a man who intentionally blurred his real and fictional identities and created a persona for himself somewhere in between embracing and rejecting his heritage.

Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Re-reading the title story produced a strong, almost visceral recollection of the first time I read it, in high school English of course. I didn't remember it as I began re-reading it, and then when I saw the word "Misfit" it all came back to me. These stories are so effectively disturbing and difficult to remove from one's mind. It’s really a wonderful example of an author “going there”—being brutal and merciless in a beautiful way. The images she creates are quite unforgettable: the dead grandfather sitting on stage with his eyes and mouth open, the mentally-disturbed daughter being left in the diner on her wedding day by the husband who has patiently wooed her so he can get her car, the Catholic schoolgirls whispering in the dark overheard by their creepily precocious young cousin. I loved “A Stroke of Good Fortune” because it had this great demonic pregnancy subtext and the vividness of the protagonist's struggle to get up and down the stair to her apartment was so complete and portentous—you could hear the stairs creaking, see the nosy neighbors, feel the wheezing breath and swollen ankles.

The one mistake I made was being overly curious and then going online and reading too much about the religious subtext of the stories. Because I'm a bitter atheist I found myself getting a bit mad at poor Flannery, who was so, so brilliant but very religiously warped.



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Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Harry Potter Trailer

Apparently there's a significant death that's going to break up the two movies. I wonder who it will be and whether he will say "Harry...Potter..." in a piteous voice as he expires.





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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Brooklyn Book Festival @BKBF #BKBF



Good morning! Happy holidays to all my readers who celebrate.

If any of you are New Yorkers, I'll be at the Brooklyn Book festival tomorrow from about 11 to 2--and from 11-12 working the JASNA-NY booth--#10, behind the main stage, so stop by if you're en scene. And then I shall wandering about to hear literary luminaries and soak up the bookish atmosphere. (And then, weather and so on permitting, I'm going to hop over to the rally for religious freedom.) I hope to see you thItalicere!


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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Egalitarian Bookwormism: A #Franzenfreude Manifesto

"Male genius has far outnumbered female genius in the history of literature, and it shouldn't be a crime to say so. This issue will die when women produce more and more work of indisputable genius and, until then, we need to stop championing mediocre female work out of defensiveness, stop firing spitballs at male work and stop dissolving the line between high art and pop art.”
-A young female member of the literati in response to Franzenfreude.

Ugh. This kind of thing annoys me so much. Franzenfreude has gotten me thinking a lot about why I read and why in recent years I've been so angry about the hierarchy imposed by "literary fiction" on other genres, and the way it's connected to sexism. (Male genius has outnumbered female genius? REELY? Has someone not read her feminist lit-crit or a little book about how ladies kinda need rooms of their own to get scribbling?)

I started this blog a long time ago to discuss my love of literature in a snob-free context--thus its original "unpretentious lit crit" URL. I did this because I was ashamed of my own previous closed-mindedness, the way I'd wrinkled my nose as a late-adolescent when I saw movie tie-in paperbacks on people's coffee tables. But as I, needing books to read during difficult times or long trips, started reading said paperbacks more and more I realized that popular commercial fiction brings us back to reading the way we read as kids--ravenously, emotionally, viscerally. It's a beautiful thing, and it's important and great to mix that reading with the kind that elevates your mind as you parse its complex symbols and sentences. And really, who's to say what's "better"? In our tech-heavy, politically disastrous day and age, emotional engagement may be a truer antidote to what ails us.

I just snarfed my way through 'The Hunger Games" trilogy and I'd say it was probably the most profound reading experience I've had in at least a year, besides re-reading Emma and Dubliners. It was a one-note YA series that the Slate book club is currently analyzing and denigrating at the same time, but I'm unashamed to admit how much I loved it and how sophisticated I thought its treatment of its themes was.

That's why I'm so obsessed with Jennifer Weiner's crusade. The line between high art and pop art won't be dissolved, but who cares if it is? It's meaningless. Of course some writers are more clever, smart, talented, more ambitious in their stories, in their sentences than others. A canon-lover like me would never deny that one George Eliot is worth a thousand whoevers. But you know what? Sometimes "literary" writers have more exciting plots than their pop counterparts, and sometimes pop writers make you think about contemporary society more than their literary counterparts. Sometimes genre writers use the conventions of their form like a sonnet and make magic that's utterly original--while a lot of the lit-fic I review for Publishers Weekly feels like it was cranked out in a factory (not that it isn't usually good, but there's a sameness to it). It's pure insecurity on the part of the literati to police their borders so assiduously--why not just get good writing to speak for itself?

Yes, there's a good thought. Let's ask a bunch of questions beginning with "why". Why can't we admit that Bronte heroes get us hot under the collar and we enjoy the fart jokes in Joyce and Shakespeare even as we respect their genius? Why do so many adults who read Harry Potter have to qualify that love with some sort of snipe at Rowling's prose style? Why don't we celebrate writers who are keeping our dying written medium alive by connecting deeply with thousands of readers? After all, they're the ones who allow cutting-edge literary experimentation to happen by bringing in profits. And why do these discussions about high art and low art always smack of sexism? Franzen gets more respect than his literary female equivalents who write in similarly highbrow manners. For-profit churners-out like James Patterson get grudging respect and NYTimes Magazine cover stories. Would they do that for Danielle Steele? Me thinks not. And yet there's nooo connection between the two phenomena.

But all this consternation has made me glad that I found VCFA, where writers of speculative, realistic, literary genre and in-between fiction all learn to do the same thing together: engage the reader, stay in scene, write compellingly from the sentence through the plot arc. And I'm glad, although I neglect it often, that I have this blog--and I have you, dear readers, who share my taste and my opinions. So thank you!

And now I'm off to immerse myself in an epic, stream-of-consciousness novel in translation about the Holocaust, a review of which was due yesterday. Happy labor day and may the Egalitarian Bookworm spirit be with you.

A few more links worth reading:

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Barnes & Noble in Trouble: 'You've Got Mail' Sequel?

It's the news alert that launched a thousand ideas for a "You've Got Mail" sequel, with Meg Ryan managing a ten-story branch of Fox's bookstore chain and Tom Hanks heading up an e-reader company that ruthlessly undercuts sales.

Barnes & Noble to Shutter Upper West Side Superstore in NYC: "

barnes-noble-logo1.jpgBarnes & Noble announced today that they will shutter the Upper West Side branch--a four-story, 15-year-old bookstore.



One can't imagine feeling sorry for a corporate behemoth, but as Simon points out, this is what happened to the music industry. The megastores pushed out the mom and pop record stores, and we were mad, but we still shopped for records, and then they started closing too and we were genuinely sad, despite the poetic justice.

I'm sad for this neighborhood, too--Lincoln Square had a somewhat artistic flavor with B+N and Tower Records. Now it's all high-end clothing and furniture retailers, and that quite frankly has no value to bookworms of the egalitarian variety.


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British "Humour" Mini-reviews

So as I mentioned briefly, on my honeymoon I delved into Wodehouse and Stella Gibbons for the first time. It was delightful to read two authors who actually caused me to laugh out loud repeatedly.

Bertie Wooster Sees It Through: For those who don't know, the Wooster and Jeeves novels are narrated by Bertie Wooster, a layabout, cocktail-loving member of the landed gentry, who gets into repeated scrapes and has to rely on the brilliance and rationality of his "man" Jeeves to extricate himself. Wodehouse pulls off a delightful feat by combining a stupid narrator with a brilliant narration. While the plot at times is slow--plots are really incidental to this series-- there was always another punchline to keep me reading. You have to like upper crusty British LOLs to like Wodehouse, but I know my audience does, egalitarian though we may be. I'm thrilled to have Wodehouse to return to when I next need a literary chuckle.

Cold Comfort Farm: This satire of the British "rural melodrama" (Bronte, Hardy, Lawrence, and a slew of popular novels in between) wasn't as funny a read initially but the laughs lingered longer. It's the tale of Flora Poste, a "tidy" young woman from London who decides to organize her batty, sinister-seeming relatives at Cold Comfort Farm in Howling, Sussex. They are a cliche-ridden bunch of eccentrics ripe for being tidied a la Flora's heroine Jane Austen. To describe their lives Gibbons brilliantly adds new words and phrases to the language to evoke their "dialect," from "mollocking" (fornication) to "scranleting" (some sort of ploughing) to the heavy flowering plant Sukebind, whose blooming seems to lead to the aforesaid mollocking. And of course the phrase "something nasty in the woodshed" repeated in the book by mad old Aunt Ada Doom until meaningless, has entered the vernacular. It's quite brilliant in retrospect, and we're currently halfway through the lovely, very true-to-the-book '95 adaptation with Eileen Atkins, Ian McKellen, EBC local god Rufus Sewell, and Kate Beckinsale.

1995 was quite the year for adaptations! And British writers are quite the set for sending up their own literary and social traditions, bless them.


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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Weigh in on #Franzenfreude


On Jonathan Franzen, the Times' Book Review, and Why Women's Fiction Gets Short Shrift:

"Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” arrives this week with considerable fanfare... But the glowing reviews and attention the book garnered also provoked a little bit of anger. It began when bestselling author Jodi Picoult criticized The New York Times Book Review for its undue attention to the aforementioned group of writers to the exclusion of more mainstream, popular titles — many of them written by women.

(read the whole thing)

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reading List/Things I missed

A few things I've been catching up on:


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Sights and Reads in Northwestern France

Je reviens encore. Simon and I had a blast on our honeymoon hiking the jagged cliffs of Belle-ile and the wide, fort-dotted and shell-strewn beaches of St. Malo, with a bit of a bookending in the City of Love itself. We had a wonderful time, and got lots of reading done--four books each! I read my first "Wooster and Jeeves" novel, Cold Comfort Farm, and the first two Hunger Games books. You should have seen us two maniacs running through the Dublin airport, while our flight was boarding, searching for "Catching Fire."

It was a wonderful time, and in the interim I got some encouraging words from my advisor at VCFA. Unfortunately all of my angsty fictionista motivation evaporated in France, and now I'm pretty much dedicated to writing odes to cliff walks and crepes rather than the New York stories I'd started scribbling in July. I AM excited for "Mockingjay," though.

I trust all of my readers are well as the last heat-suffused weeks of summer drift towards the inviting golden-flecked shadows of September. I am doing most of my blogging on tumblr these days, so find me there if you're interested!

aguilles de port coton, belle-ile
cliffs, coves, Belle-Ile

ramparts and beach, st. malo
the walls of the "intra-muros" St. Malo




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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crowdsourcing: Help Us Choose Our Honeymoon Books!

Simon and I are headed off across the pond for a delayed honeymoon, and we're agonizing over which books to bring. I'm definitely bringing "The Hunger Games" and we're thinking of bringing "Cold Comfort Farm" to share, but what else? We need books that are fun with a little bit of meat, great for the beach or the train but not something you can finish in three or four hours...and we've both been reading a lot of very dark stuff and will be when we return. so no thank you on that.

Please help us out with your summer read suggestions.



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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: My Take



The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Why we should cheer Lisbeth Salander - CSMonitor.com:

"Salander is a controversial figure; feminists and other observers are divided over the message she sends to women today. That debate, while valid, misses a key point: We should all celebrate the emergence of an utterly original female literary character. In an action-story landscape where women are too often relegated to girlfriend, sidekick or prey in need of defending, Salander grabs the spotlight and refuses to let it go."

Read more.


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