1. So downtown Brooklyn will not be getting a Frank Gehry building after all (thanks for nothing, Jonathan Lethem). However, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff gives a thumbs-up to a new postmodernist spectacle by Thom Mayne, very much in the Gehry vein, near Cooper Union and St. Marks Place. Call me a fool -- I just love a building with broken lines. This is what big cities always looked like to me in my dreams.
2. Evan Schnittman aptly invokes Magritte in thinking about Google as a book publisher.
3. Benigni in Hell.
4. I'm so glad a John O'Hara renaissance is finally happening.
5. Literary (mostly kid-literary) cakes.
6. A nice implicit Burroughs reference in this piece on early computer advertising art.
7. And Wow He Died As Wow He Lived. Jason Boog on Kenneth Fearing.
8. On The Great Tradition by F. R. Leavis.
9. Literary Losers selected by Mark Sarvas.
10. Chris Felver's film on Ferlinghetti.
11. From a superb new blog representing Allen Ginsberg's legacy: Buddhists Find Beatnik Spy! And scroll on, much good stuff here.
12. Shattered childhood much?
1. When I was 14 and a freshman in high school, we did a production of The Music Man. Before auditions I watched the movie and decided I wanted the part of Eulalie McKecknie Shinn, the mayor's wife, mainly because there's a musical number, "Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little" in which the ladies of the town go off on indecent literature, and there's the famous refrain, "Chaucer! Rabelais! BaaaaalZAC!" and the one who got to bellow "BaaaaalZAC!" was the mayor's wife. Plus she got to wear great hats. I didn't get that part, and was instead stuck being Ethel Toffelmier, and therefore only got to exclaim "Rabelais!" yet over the years I have managed to recover from the disappointment. I'm not really sure why I'm telling you all of this, except to say that back then I didn't know who any of those writers were, but now I do. And here's a really interesting article about the man behind the name I never got to bellow onstage: Honore de Balzac.
2. Steve Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up has recently been released in paperback. He gives a short reading and talks to NPR about the book and his work here.
3. On the 30th anniversary of his classic The Stand, Stephen King talks with Salon about the book, and about politics and religion.
7. Richard Powers has his entire genome sequenced. It's a fascinating article. I know this because I read all 21 pages.
8. This article has been around for a few weeks: Emily Dickinson's Secret Lover! Does it speak to the age-old conundrum of just not wanting to know too much about writers' lives?
9. The Bunny Suicides riles parents.
10. English, my beloved English. I liked this article already, and then I read the last paragraph about The Wire (which I am slowly catching up with on DVD) and then I had a crush on it. Is it possible to have a crush on an article? Let's say yes. (I really dig The Wire; it is so insanely well-written that it hurts.) Of course, the article is not about The Wire, it's about English. But like the article's writer, I think English and The Wire dovetail most wonderfully. I'll stop being a TV geek now.
Hello, LitKicks. This week you're stuck with me. Let's have a kegger.
Okay, just kidding. But only because I'm too lazy to figure out the logistics of such a thing.
Anyway, fellow bibliophiles, I have been thinking about books lately. I know this seems obvious, so to be more specific, I was thinking about books themselves, those bound paper things sitting on my shelves. I love my books, and I read some of them over and over until they are falling apart, but even though I have so many (and could someday be in danger of being overrun with them), I have a hard time parting ways with them. I understand the convenience of audio books and e-books (and am in agreement with Levi, even if he was maybe wrong about Kindle that they should come in a reasonably-priced format) but there is something, something wonderful, about the tactile pleasure of turning pages, about the beauty of rows of books lined up on shelves, that means I will always be surrounded by them.
I spent some time tonight just looking at my shelves. This isn't an odd occurrence; I do it pretty regularly. Just looking at the titles and thinking about what each one means to me: this one I've read, this one I loved, this one I should finish someday, this one I should give away because it's obviously not getting any love here, that sort of thing. And in my survey of my collection, I thought of the books that I love the most, the ones that (along with my dog) I would save if my house were on fire. Here are five:
1. Immortality - Milan Kundera
I have read this book once a year for the past three years, and I'm due to read it again (it makes for good autumn reading, so I'll get to it when the leaves get serious about changing colors). I've written about why this book is my once-a-year pick here, and I'm not sure I should try to think up another way of writing it, so you can just read that, I guess. But if you don't, suffice it to say that this book is so good it hurts.
2. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
I first encountered this book in a survey course of American literature and read it because I had to write a paper about it. I could see as I was reading it that it was a wonderful book, but I don't think I ever got around to appreciating it until I read it again a few years later, when I thought something along the lines of "Damn, Bill."
3. The Fact of a Doorframe - Adrienne Rich
This is an incredibly obvious pick for me, so much so that I almost left it off the list because I'm not even sure what's left for me to write about it. But if I'm being honest, then of course I would take this book with me, this book that's falling apart, this book that's full of underlining and margin notes, because I've turned to it, written in it, written about it, turned its lines over and over in my head so much, so often, that it's like a diary.
4. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair - Pablo Neruda
Yes, I've already mentioned this in another post. For one thing, I'm on a bit of a Neruda kick lately (which is not a bad kick to be on, by the way), and for another thing, if I only had five books because they were all I could save from my hypothetical fire, then it's a pretty good idea to make sure that this is one of them. It's rather delicious.
5. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
This is another one I've written about before (in fact, I think I've written about all of these at one point or another). Aside from the fact that, as I wrote, the opening lines are sexy, it's just one of those books that's so insanely well-written that I'm kind of in awe of it. Of course, there's always Pale Fire, too... picking only five books is hard.
1. It's raining in love - Richard Brautigan
Oh, Richard Brautigan. This poem immediately makes me smile a smile of recognition because how much do I understand never being able to think of the right thing to say to a person I'm attracted to, overthinking things, trying to figure out what it all means? A lot. That's how much. (And who doesn't? Or hasn't? And if you don't or haven't, what are you, a robot?) In the sense that I identify with this poem completely, know it entirely from my own experience, it is wonderful. (Text)
2. Breaking Up - Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Not all love poems are about the happy parts, and not all the love poems about the unhappy parts are morose. And just as things work and they're wonderful and our hearts beat faster when we do simple things together, like taking the dog for a walk, sometimes things also stop working. And then the dog doesn't know what the hell is going on. The thing I love about this poem is that it's straightforward --
I fell out of love: that’s our story’s dull ending,
as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
Excuse me--I’ll break off the string of this love song
and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.
-- sometimes that's all there is. Except that's never all there is. Poor dog. (Text)
3. The Rain - Robert Creeley
Love, if you love me...
I'm a big fan of Robert Creeley, and I love this poem especially because it feels like a rainy day indoors, looking out of the window, listening to a soundtrack of thoughts. I love it so much that I'm not sure what else to say about it, except you should read it. (Text)
4. Sonnet XVII - Pablo Neruda
It's pretty impossible to go wrong with Pablo Neruda when you're looking for quality love poems, because he's written some of the best in existence. This is one of my very favorites of his, and okay, I'll admit it. The last two lines:
so close that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so close that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.
kill me a little bit. For the record, I like it better in Spanish. (Text: Spanish & English)
5. Love Song - Dorothy Parker
Okay, sometimes there are poems that make me snort, which I know is very graceful and ladylike of me, but there it is. This is one of those poems. Sometimes all that mushy love junk deserves a send-up. (Text)
This is my all-time favorite children's book. When I was a kid, I read it approximately eleventy billion times, and I've performed it a few times as an adult, usually to understanding laughter because hey, who hasn't had a day where everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong in increasingly frustrating ways? Alexander's struggle against the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, that begins with him waking with gum in his hair and goes downhill from there is something that everyone can relate to, and Alexander really is such a likeable kid. Yes, it's a little book and it has illustrations, but it's easily a classic of the genre because it's touching and sweet, and most importantly, it's funny.
2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
A sweet little love story, tree-man love, yes, but a love story all the same, it's a wonderful book. And go ahead, call me a sap. Even now, every time I get to the last line -- "And the tree was happy" -- I tear up a little bit.
3. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is the first one, but I read all the books in this series with haste and fascination (if the two things can coexist, they did in my reading). The people, their struggles, their lives... it was what good storytelling is made of. And I loved the television series too. That Nellie Olsen. What a scamp.
4. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Another first in a series, I read all of L.M. Montgomery's books about Anne Shirley and her family and a book of short stories about Avonlea. Some of the books I read several times, including this one, because I loved them so much. I felt such a kinship with Anne and her gigantic overactive imagination, her love of books and writing, her innate ability to get into ridiculously awkward situations. I felt like she was just like me, only Canadian and from the past.
5. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson
A story of twins, one seemingly perfect and the other more awkward, the novel takes its title from the Bible ("Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated") and it mostly takes place on a small island off the East Coast of the United States. It was one of the first books I really felt something about, and sometimes I wanted to hate it because it was so strong, and, at times, so incredibly unfair. Yet it was amazingly well-written and I returned to it time and again, reading it more than ten times before I understood that I truly loved it. And the ending is so beautiful, it always made me hold my breath.
1. Native Son by Richard Wright
Native Son was the first bestseller written by an African American author, and tells the story of Bigger Thomas, an unconventional (and, at least from my perspective, a somewhat unlikeable) protagonist. Bigger, a product of oppressive racism and poverty in 1930s Chicago, kills two women, but despite the fact that he has to pay for his crimes, he experiences a kind of redemption. The genius of Native Son is that it is narrated in a limited third person from Bigger's point of view, forcing readers to confront the world though his eyes, which are eyes from which many readers might not want to see. It's not the easiest novel to sit down and fall in love with, but absolutely a worthwhile one.
2. Passing by Nella Larsen
The last of Nella Larsen's two novels, Passing is the story of Irene and Clare, two light-skinned black women who were childhood friends. While Irene lives in Harlem and is married to a black doctor, Clare passes as white and marries a racist white man who refers to her as "Nig" because he thinks her skin has gotten darker. It has a great ending that is wonderfully ambiguous. The book is short (I am a definite fan of short books), but it packs a lot into under 200 pages. It's so amazingly written and it makes me wish that Larsen wrote more.
3. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X with Alex Haley
What to say? I've read this book twice, and I've written a lot about it in the past (not here on LitKicks, however) and I definitely wanted to mention it on this list, but yeah, what to say? The Autobiography of Malcolm X. American history from the perspective of one of the most fascinating figures of the 20th century. There you go.
4. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by LeRoi Jones
Despite what anybody thinks about Amiri Baraka these days, a few years after the post-9/11/Poet Laureate of New Jersey flap, he has written some wonderful poetry over the course of his career, and I've read a lot of it. This collection was written during his so-called "Beat Period" when he was hanging with and publishing writing by fellow Beat writers. This collection isn't about racial issues -- he was quoted during this period as saying, "I'm fully conscious all the time that I am an American Negro, because it's part of my life. But I know also that if I want to say, 'I see a bus full of people,' I don't have to say, 'I am a Negro seeing a bus full of people,'" (this view changed for him quite a lot later on) -- but it's hard for me not to prefer it over some of his later work. Even though I can appreciate political literature and its importance, it's sometimes pretty hard not to make it, well, preachy, and Baraka's later poetry really skates along the edge of that. But the title piece of Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note is easily one of my favorite poems. It's lovely.
5. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I read The Bluest Eye when I was a junior in high school and it was at that point the most incredible thing I had ever read in my entire life. Though I haven't read it since (it's one of the things I mean to do, but then, there are so many books I haven't even read once that it makes it hard for me to go back and read other things multiple times) and I sometimes wonder if it would still punch me in the gut like it did back then, the fact that I still think about it (and often) makes me believe it probably would, and that it deserves a place on this list of five. I've read quite a few Toni Morrison books since The Bluest Eye, and from the opening (which tells you everything you're going to read, even though you don't yet know that's what it's telling you) to the heartbreaking ending, it's an incredible book, about a girl named Pecola Breedlove who believes being beautiful will help her be something special in the world, and that she would be beautiful if only she had blue eyes.
Alright, I know Christmas is so over, but I have to give this story a mention because I think it's pretty much perfect and I'm a sap, because the end always makes me cry a little bit. Sue me. (Text)
2. Good Country People - Flannery O'Connor
I love Flannery O'Connor. So much so that once when I was talking to a guy about books, I knew I couldn't date him because when I mentioned Flannery O'Connor, he said "Oh yeah, he's good." Anyway, this is a great story, and you should read it if you haven't. (I tried to find the text for you on the internet, but only found essays about it. Sorry.) Set in the rural American South, it's the story of a girl with a prosthetic leg named Joy (who wants to be called Helga) and a smooth-talking Bible salesman named Manley Pointer. (That's right -- Manley. Pointer.) It is darkly comic and sharply insightful and more than a little uncomfortable and oh so good. O'Connor was a master, and -- in case you haven't picked up on this yet -- one of my all-time favorite writers, and I had a hard time picking just one of her stories to put on this list, but I had to go with this one, because well, if that whole Manley Pointer thing doesn't crack you up, then there's obviously something wrong with you.
3. Gazebo - Raymond Carver
I'm pretty much in love with the entire collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (the edited version, as previously mentioned), and this may be my favorite story in the book. I was talking to someone about Raymond Carver and why I liked him so much, and I mentioned this story as an example. I said, "I got to the end and I felt like I'd been punched. And I couldn't breathe for a minute." And it still gets me that way. It's just... perfect.
4. The Yellow Wall-Paper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This is a classic short story, about a woman who is put on the rest cure, which makes her slowly go mad. It's delicious -- truly -- and it has one of the best last lines of all time. (Text)
5. Going to Meet the Man - James Baldwin
I pretty easily selected the first four stories for this list, but had to debate with myself a little bit about which one was good enough to get this last spot. There were a few contenders which I dug up and reread, and finally, after having just finished this one, I knew it had to make the list. Angry and people-smart -- an undeniably forceful combination -- this story is about the psycho-sexual power a man derives from lynching and other brutality (it's the only way he can manage to have sex with his wife). The prose seethes with a tightly-controlled rage, which I think shows what command Baldwin had as a writer. Great story, truly.
1. Hector - The Iliad
Out of the classical epics that have to do with the Trojan War, there are several characters that could potentially go on this list of hotties, because let's face it -- they were pretty badass, and all that fighting has to add hotness points. But Hector is the only one who comes to mind when I think about which ones weren't total jerks. Achilles? Murderous jerk. Agamemnon? Cheating jerk. Paris? Wimpy jerk. Odysseus? Jerk noted for his lying ability. Hector? Not really a jerk at all. Actually rather noble and decent to his family. There you go.
2. Beatrice - Much Ado About Nothing
Beatrice has long been one of my very favorite Shakespearian heroines because she is smart, funny, and strong, and for these reasons, I think she ranks among the hottest as well (way hotter than her cousin Hero who gets most of the attention in the play). Incredibly gifted in the art of verbal sparring (which definitely wins points with me), she could cut someone dead with a single comment, yet even though she does a good job hiding it, she is vulnerable too, soft enough to fall in love, though of course only with Benedick, her very able sparring partner. She's fiery too, raging against the injustice done her cousin: "O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place." She's pretty awesome.
3. Sam Spade - The Maltese Falcon
It would never work out between us, I know this is true. But since I go into most relationships armed with this knowledge, this is not a roadblock. Sam Spade is cool as hell, slightly rumpled, with a cynical grin that I imagine is completely disarming. Let's say it is. Other than the fact that "he looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan," which, despite all those years of Sunday School I went to, is pretty hot, I fell for Sam Spade a little bit when he tells the femme fatale "I hope to Christ they don't hang you, precious, by that sweet neck." I'm not sure what that says about me, that this was the line that really got me, and it's probably best if I don't think about it too much. Anyway, in this entirely fictional scenario, I don't know who would leave whom in the end, but I'm sure it would involve sneaking out in the early morning, no notes, no apologies, it was what it was, but it's time to move on, sweetheart.
4. Elizabeth Bennet - Pride and Prejudice
Despite my crush on Emma's Mr. Knightley, I have to say that when it comes to hot characters to come out of Jane Austen novels, Elizabeth Bennet wins easily. Clever and quick-witted, active and lively, she doesn't just sit around in drawing rooms and embroider things. Sometimes mildly self-deprecating, yet strong enough to speak her mind, she's smart and feisty and completely timeless. And a total hit at parties.
5. James Bond - take your pick
Certainly best known from the films, I say he counts because he first appeared in a novel. And really, is there a fictional character hotter than James Bond? No. There's something to be said for a man who looks dashing in a tuxedo. It's a very handy skill to have. Also, he drives the best cars. And always gets the bad guy. And did I mention the tuxedo thing? And yes, I know this has to do with a film version, but after I saw Casino Royale I texted a friend and said "I want to be James Bond when I grow up." Even though I don't want to be a guy or a British secret agent or wear tuxedos or really even drink martinis (I'm more of a bourbon kind of girl), it's totally true.
1. The Iliad - Homer
Depending on your translation (mine is by Richard Lattimore), the phrasing of the first line of this epic differs, but it's a good one, as far as first lines go: "Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus." Yes, an epic poem about Achilles and his anger issues. Among other things, like the Trojan War. It's been several years since I've read this, but I enjoyed it a lot, because it's a classical literature version of an action movie, and I'll admit that I sometimes really like action movies, so you can start calling me a rube now.
2. Beowulf - Anonymous
Who wrote Beowulf? I don't know and you don't either, but even though it's really old and it was once assigned to me for a class, I sat down and read it pretty much in one sitting. Among other things, a badass named Beowulf kills some monsters. What more can I say about it? It's a good time. No, really.
3. Paradise Lost - John Milton
I know, I know, I am all about the epic poetry. Many people think this is the most boring thing they have ever been forced to read by an educator in their lives, but because I am a big weirdo nerd, I actually like this poem a lot. An epic created from the Bible (which is a source ripe with material for epic poetry), with a sneaky, devious Satan who is a villain (or, if you're Byron, a hero) who makes the whole thing worth reading. Milton is considered one of the big daddies of English letters for many reasons, but this is most definitely the greatest of them.
4. Emma - Jane Austen
I'm skipping over some famous work from the 18th century, like Robinson Crusoe (because I hate that book) and Gulliver's Travels (which I don't hate, but don't love either) to get to the 19th century, which contains some of my all-time favorite literature. You may or may not be aware of the fact that I am a big fan of Jane Austen, and this novel, about meddling Emma Woodhouse, is easily my favorite. Funny and occasionally dramatic (as far as Jane Austen gets dramatic) with a heroine I alternate between loving and wanting to strangle, I love this book in a deep and lasting way. And even though I'm no longer a teenager, I also love Amy Heckerling's film adaptation, Clueless, which I maintain that I like because it is a clever retelling of Austen's classic, and not just because I have a long-standing schoolgirlish crush on Paul Rudd.
5. The Awakening - Kate Chopin
I'm just barely squeaking by with this one, which was originally published in 1899. When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher loaned me a copy of this book because she thought I'd like it. I thought it was okay -- I didn't quite get it then -- but when I returned to it a few years later, the power of the book hit me full-on and I adored it. It's a book about a woman realizing herself as an intellectual, sexual being and about power and making choices. When it was published, it was considered shocking and outrageous, and it is still strong and fresh more than 100 years later. It's a great book, and perhaps my favorite one on this list.