Dear Readers,

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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Top Ten Book List Sans Les Femmes

While things improve slowly, we've certainly seen this before.
This time, the culprit my (otherwise wonderful! really!) occasional employer, Publishers Weekly.

Here's the list. Fact-check me if I'm wrong about the complete lack of estrogen here.


Another Book List Leaves the Ladies Out: WSJ Edition

Another Book Listie Leaves the Ladies Out

National Book Award: Testosterone

Anti-feminist book critics review feminist works

Times' Gender ratio improves

Pulitzers: kinda testosteroney

Question of the Weekend: Scariest moments in literature?

Happy Halloween!

As an overly-imaginative reader, I've never found it very hard to get creeped out by a book I'm reading. This has been true from the early days when I used to read Alvin Schwartz' "Scary Stories to Read in the Dark" children's series in bed with a flashlight to spook myself out.

Still, it's harder for books to truly frighten their readers than it is for films , and writers often do their work on us not by mood music or lighting or camera angles, but by presenting something uncanny:

From Wiki; The Uncanny (Ger. Das Unheimliche -- literally, "un-home-ly") is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange. Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize.

If you go back to classic gothic lit and read the narrator's description of the various monsters: Frankenstein's creature, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, they all describe that feeling, noting that the evil creature bears a resemblance to something familiarly human in form-- but is also so strange as to cause a feeling of phyiscal revulsion or illness in the viewer.

Playing with twins, doubles or dopplegangers also contribute to that uncanny effect.

Here are a few of the creepiest moment I can recall from my reading career--I'll try to avoid spoilers. What are your most fright-filled reading memories?

  1. An empty boat runs ashore in England, with all its crew members missing except for the dead captain, who is tied to the ship. A wolf jumps off the ship. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Nothing like an empty ship to send chills down the spine.
  2. And speaking of ships and dead men, the reanimated corpses of the dead sailors in Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner pick up their oars and row home. Ick.
  3. Mrs. Danvers stands behind the second Mrs. DeWinter, urging her to jump. Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier. Psychological terror at its finest.
  4. The second black cat appears, missing the same eye as the cat the narrator killed, The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe. The Doppelganger effect in this tale freaks me out more than all of Poe's other stories put together.
  5. Marian Halcombe makes a surprising discovery while visiting the mysterious "Woman in White" at an insane asylum, in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. Revealing more than this constitutes a spoiler (and if you read this book as an adult you'll likely guess the twist) but this is one of those shocking moments that I encountered early at a credulous enough point in my reading career so not to predict it beforehand. Readers, it blew. my. mind!
Have a spooky but safe All Hallow's Eve!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Invincible Louisa, Back in the Spotlight

"Invincible Louisa": That was the award-winning YA biography I read of Louisa May Alcott as a kid, a book which made me kind of obsessed with her, even more than I already was as a die-had fan who'd read and re-read all the Little Women/March family books as well as Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. Now as a grown-up I can add that I've also read her thrillers, including the amazingly-titled A Long Fatal Love Chase. I think you can pretty much guess what that one's about. (P.S. Yes, it was awesome.)

Anyway, Ruth Graham at DoubleX has a great piece pegged to the existance of a kind of Louisa-hoopla in American culture.

Her piece focuses on the author's struggle--so evident in her books for young girls--between her fiery radical feminist side and a moral duty side. Alcott had a genuine wish to reign in her ambitions and needs in the service of the people and ideals she loved, even those who took advantage of her. Writes Graham:

That idea of compromising—expecting less, accepting fate—is one that shows up frequently in Alcott’s work, and throughout her life. As John Matteson pointed out in his 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father, most of Alcott's heroines, including all four March sisters and many other lesser-known characters, respond to life's challenges not by speaking up for their needs, but by learning to tamp down their own desires.

Alcott saw sacrifice as part of a worthwhile life—even at the expense of self-expression and fulfillment.

Well worth a read. On another note, this radical feminist still wishes Jo and Laurie had found a way to make it work, though if the rascally heir had reformed his ways post first proposal and made a second go of it, that would probably have turned Little Women into Pride and Prejudice II: Boston Nights. (Seriously, f*** Amy, that little man-stealing brat!)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Things Never Change

Originally uploaded by fellowette

What were your reading habits like as a kid? Were you nuts like me, sneaking out a book in the middle of the night and reading throughout long car trips (can't believe I did that!), or did your bookworm proclivities develop later?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Morning Poem: Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire"

I saw brilliant Jewddhist-Montrealer/citoyen du monde Leonard Cohen in concert this Friday night. Afterwards, my sig oth and I thought that of all the great songwriter-lyricists whom we love, Cohen's literary background renders him the truest poet: many of his words could stand alone without music. Here's one example.

"Bird on a Wire"

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If i, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If i, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.

Like a baby, stillborn,
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, you must not ask for so much.
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, hey, why not ask for more?

Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Shelf Discovery

I know a lot of my readers are fans of the same group of YA novels as I am--Madeleine L'Engle, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and so on--plus some insanely awesome middle grade books from the era of my youth like The Westing Game and classics like The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
All these books show up as the subjects of essays in Shelf Discovery, which as most of you already know, is Lizzie Skurnick's girl-YA Bible, a guide to life-changing, emotion-evoking tomes we used to adore.

The book, like Skurnick's Jezebel column "Fine Lines" is a nostalgia-fest with a strong dash of literary analysis. It reads humorously and breezily and if you're like me, you'll skip to your favorite books of yore first (The WOBP, A Ring of Endless Light, Tiger Eyes--all the death+ sexual awakening ones for me, I guess) and then leisurely sift your way through the rest.

The only nitpicks I have are that some of the entries are a mere paragraph--you tease us, Skurnick!--and a dearth of unifying analysis. Are these books just great reads or are they meant, subtly, to prepare young women for life as adults and adolescents? I wanted more heft and depth at times and I wonder if time constraints prevented Skurnick from tying her hilarious, wise essays together. But that's just a quibble from a dorky English major--if you've read enough of the books in the table of content, then this is a worthy purchase indeed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

BOO--How well do you know your Gothic lit?

A great quiz from the guardian just in time for All Hallow's Eve. I got a 6/10 on my first round, then using process of elimination aced it on the second. As always with the Guardian, it's very Brit-centric.

How well did you do?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Art Blogging: JW Waterhouse and the Lady of Shalott

Last week I didn't post here because I was in Montreal...while I was there, I happened upon an incredible art exhibit, a retrospective of one of my favorite painters of all time, John William Waterhouse, "the modern Pre-Raphaelite." Pre-Raphaelite because of his subjects from mythology and modern because of his naturalistic, free-brushwork techniques and the stark drama of his poses, often confronting the viewer or challenging our perception of space and "the plane."

Waterhouse interests me beyond the beauty of his work because like my beloved Victorian lady-authors, he deals with the conflicting themes of female strength and entrapment, power and domesticity, beauty and transgression. All of these themes play out to varying degrees in his paintings of mythic ladies, sorceresses, nymphs, magic-practicers and queens.

The coolest thing for me about the exhibit was that all three Lady of Shalott paintings were together in one room. If you don't know the story of the Lady of Shalott, it's an Arthurian legend about a young woman doomed to sit in a tower spinning thread, who can only look at the world through a mirror. But when she sees Lancelot riding by in its reflection, she has an awakening of, err, desire to join the world, is put under a curse, dies, and floats down the river towards Camelot. Yep, there are some subtexts and undertones there alright! The Tennyson poem has just been posted below so you can cross reference it with the paintings. Here they are, in order of the date painted and also the story: restless captivity, sexual awakening and entrapment, despair and impending death.

I encourage you to click over to, where I got the images, to learn more about him.

Weekend Poem: The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the bearded barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers, " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot;
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two.
She hath no loyal Knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot;
Or when the Moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed.
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armor rung
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, burning bright,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining.
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And around about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right --
The leaves upon her falling light --
Thro' the noises of the night,
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher, Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? And what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the Knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who are your favorite literary bad boys and girls?

The guardian lists ten anti-heroes, but I think on the whole it's a rather eh and icon-free list. Of course it has Scarlett O'Hara, Mr. Ripley, and Satan from Paradise Lost, but no Heathcliff? No Humbert Humbert? Hmm. No Eric Northmann (note to self: must excise Sookie Stackhouse from brain!)?

What about Lady Catherine, or Macbeth, or Gollum?

I'd like to know, dear readers, who are your most loveable literary villains, villainesses, or anti-heroes?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

More Isabel Dalhousie!

I've been reading this series for a while now, and since book 3 and 4 it's gotten oh-so-slightly boring-er. The mysteries lack bite and the philosophical musings of the heroine can drag on. But the milieu of intelligentsia Edinburgh and the cast of supporting characters, from beautiful bassoonist Jamie to the down-to-earth Grace who nonetheless believes in psychic powers, to man-eating delicatessen owner Cat and her troubled assistant Eddie, make her world worth a return visit.

And as for the heroine, poor heiress/music-lover/philosopher Isabel is neither as shrewd as Miss Marple nor as wise as Precious Ramotsowe , but she is an over-educated, highly-cultured, well-meaning busybody of a sleuth. Plus she has a hot younger lovah whom she fears losing to a younger woman, which definitely makes me love her that much more.

This book's rather thin plot involved Isabel trying to exonerate a doctor who was accused of manipulating research data while fretting over her domestic situation and trying to help Eddie out of a jam. Mostly, though, it was just about watching Isabel navigate her world.

And that's pleasure enough. Because reading about Isabel really is like a literary cup of tea, a highly strong and milky one with a nice biscuit to go with it. Nonetheless, I won't be reading the next installment until it comes out in paperback, and I catch up a bit on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Question of the Week/De-Lurk: What are you reading?

I need to catch up on my reviews in a serious way--I was up north in Montreal last week tearing through Sookie. Now I've exhausted Ms. Stackhouses wacky magical adventures, and I'm reading an interesting Italian book in translation for a review. I also just started Netherland. After that I look forward to returning to the 19th century--any recs for me?

And what are YOU all reading? To my regular gang, please come back and comment and help inspire me to pump some life into this blog :)

The New Paranormal Romance Hero-Creature

Via bitch magazine blogs--now we know what those of us in Twilight and Sookie and Anita Blake withdrawal can look forward to next. Hilarious! Stiefvater gets a win from us, too. Check it out here:

Bibliobitch: Maggie Stiefvater from Bitch Magazine Blogs

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Big Prizes Go to a Pair of Ladies

Here's the reaction from the interwebs.

Herta Mueller/Muller/
Müller picks up the Nobel...

Herta Muller wins Nobel Prize in Literature
he 56-year-old, who emigrated to Germany in 1987, has made the trials of living under Nicolae Ceauşescu's dictatorship a focus of her work...
from Jacket Copy
from XX blog

Another obscure Nobel Prize literature winner! Sigh
Herta who?, you ask. You’re not alone. Müller is a writer who ranked far, far down the list at the bookmakers Ladbrokes (at least until the last few days, when she became a virtual
from Shelf Life

Behind The Iron Curtain: Herta Mueller Wins Nobel Prize For Literature [Woman Of Letters]
Mueller's first book, a short story collection called Niederungen (Nadirs), was published in Romania in 1982.
from Jezebel

....while Hillary Mantel picks up the Booker.

Hilary Mantel Wins Man Booker Prize
...taking a prize worth nearly $80,000 for her novel, "Wolf Hall"--a historical biography about Henry VIII's adviser, Thomas Cromwell...
from GalleyCat

Man Booker Prize shows the Tudors still got it
The prestigious Man Booker Prize has been awarded to Hilary Mantel for "Wolf Hall," her Mantel was considered the odds-on favorite going into tonight's ceremony in London -- yes, the British do take bets on who will win a book prize...
from Jacket Copy

Monday, October 05, 2009

Literary Linkage--Emma and Booklists

  • Via bronteblog, Penguin has announced a new shtick to encourage reading the greats: "ten essential classics," a new list which includes some EBC faves. Check out the site here.