My desk is in a state. A state of not having a proper place to live. A state of being halfway through an attempt to create a “concise” scrapbook of my Europe trip while also being overwhelmed with obligatory reading.

This is my stack. DSCN6675

Hmmm…

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Oh dear. You will see how I try to comfort myself by placing certain fun little chotchkies around the desk, such as my friend the black sheep, perching upon my beloved Terry Eagleton and pile of Latin books. (And I also disagree with you , Urban Dictionary, who claim that chotchkies are “A small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.” They clearly have a purpose, duh.)

Perhaps, “as they say,” clutter breeds productivity? But, how excited am I to have several books based on medieval monster theory on my desk?

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Rawr.

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So this is an interesting combination:

I write like
Margaret Atwood

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I write like
Charles Dickens

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


…but I have to say, I’m intrigued by what a book by both of them would look like.

Now I don’t know how “scientific” the “statisitical analysis” done by  I Write Like (website) is, but it’s fun to think about, no?

Seeing as this blog is called “the art of book collecting,” I thought that it was about time I posted something that was actually book-related. I’m going to try to do this once-a-week or so; consider it my nerdy version of The Soup. (Which means I get to pretend to be the sarcastic wittiness that is Joel McHale, only without the skinny tie…and random people yelling in the background. Unless you’d like to yell a catch phrase or two? Heh?) So here we go…

This week’s randomly selected book-related thoughts (note to self: think up catchy title):

~Please do not all Dante by Dante Alighieri; the Alighieri refers to where he’s from, it’s not his name. (And, by the way DaVinci isn’t really Leonardo’s real last name either)

~ Dante’s Inferno is surprisingly different from what I expected; the poetry is almost soothing in meter, and much more Romantic than I would have thought, you know, since it’s set in Hell and all. And purgatory seems a little silly at times, downright funny at others (flatterers walking around in a river of crap, fortunetellers with their heads on backwards, suicides as trees being pecked by harpies – it reminds me of a Monty Python movie). Maybe  it’s because I’m not a religious person, but perhaps I’m diffusing the situation with humor because the whole concept of this type of belief-system hurts my brain, and tickles it at the same time. The thought of every great lover from literature and every person who existed before the invention of Christianity stuck in Hell just seems wrong. And I’m sorry, but the woman who told her lover that he was “extremely pleasing” does not deserve to be in one of the lowest circles of hell along with tyrants and dictators. All for a little while lie?

~ If you took Dante to the DMV, what would happen….?

~ Medieval Italian is very similar to Latin. Just in case you were wondering.

~ Sorry creators of The Office, but Dante beat you to the punch: there’s a Michael Scot in Inferno. (which is sort of fitting…)

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~ Kids, when y0u’re sitting in English class hating life because you’re in the middle of a Grammar lesson, just remember that your teacher is probably just as miserable. But wait, you say, I thought English teachers lived for that shit? Turns out that not only do teachers hate teaching things their students check out on, grammar is as hard to effectively teach as it is to learn. (I’m speaking from both ends here people.)

~ My boyfriend, who avoids books as fervently as I read them, is finally waist-deep in a book….wait for it….he bought for fun. And it is a real-deal paperback that you can a. not buy at the grocery store b. has nothing to do with football and c. is critically acclaimed non-fiction. So apparently you can change a man, if you date him for 7 years and surround him with hundreds of the items you want him to be interested in.

~ I now have a ridiculously extravagant number of books on my nightstand, because I couldn’t resist stocking up on “fun-reading” despite the fact that I’m trying to read 10+ books for my grad-school oral exam while teaching and TAing at the same time. Just because I don’t have time to read them doesn’t mean they can’t live in my house, right?

Right?

I need to go read.

While perusing the isles of Borders last Saturday night – I know, party animal, right? – I came across a new printing of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, one of my favorite books from my childhood. It follows the little country bunny, who is a lady, and grows up dreaming to join the all male, aristocratic Easter bunny force. These snobby bunnies attempt to crush her dream, telling her she will never make it, but she never loses hope.

She then grows up, has 21 or so children (no husband is specifically mentioned, but then she is rabbit…) and a household to run. By and By, she catches the eye of Grandfather bunny, who decides to pick her to be an Easter bunny. She is given the hardest task of all, to deliver a beautiful egg to a sick child on top of a hill. She nearly fails, but is brave and courageous, and is thus made the most important Easter bunny of all (above the boys) and Grandfather gives her a little pair of golden shoes, which allow her to fly above the mountains up to the child. When she returns home she finds that her children are in bed, all the chores are done, and everything is lovely.

Moral of the story? If your heart and mind are strong and compassionate and you are willing to work hard, all your dreams will come true, no matter who you are or where you came from. It seems this touching little book, with beautiful illustrations, is more than just a bedtime story, in fact one Amazon reader calls it “the most powerful book I have ever read.” It’s very simple, but apparently very effective.

But back to my story; as I looked at the book in the store, I was immediately struck by the only blurb on the back of the book;

“It is difficult to believe that this very modern feminist tale was originally written in 1939.”

What exactly are the publishers trying to push here? Apparently, parents aren’t just looking to read any old book to the kids, it has to have a good ‘message.’ But wait, this isn’t new! Remember the fable, the parable, the cautionary tales that kept people in line? However there is an important change here, because the book doesn’t just emphasize the moral message its selling, but the idea of female power and agency. And let me add that this book was written not only in 1939, but by a man. Fantastic.

Publishers are constantly printing new editions of old books, sometimes bringing out aspects of the book which are currently ‘in vogue.’ In this case though, this one little blurb really shows how our culture is finally becoming comfortable with accurately labeling these kinds of narratives, which I love.

And I have to wonder; the first line of the book points out that although we only hear about ONE Easter bunny, there are really many more. And while we always think the bunny is a boy, here that is also not true! Maybe this will lead younger readers to think about other traditionally male characters and wonder if our depiction is correct, if society is always giving us the complete picture – because they almost never are.

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Today’s book: Confessions of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsela

Now, as an English grad student in general, I try and weed out the more ‘fashionable’ i.e. less ‘literary’ books while I’m at the bookstore. That being said,  can’t help but sometimes go for the trendy – the shiny covers are just so inviting.

Last night I started reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, and it really is the paper equivalent of a blueberry muffin. Delicious, sugary, and full of fat, but somehow you can still convince yourself that it’s healthy in some way because it’s not a cupcake. However one can’t help but fall in love with protagonist Becky whose shortcomings translate into actual debt. And I understand her shopping addictions; when all you can think of is how you need to not spend money and cut back on everything buying yourself a little reward is a small consolation. The difference between me and her is that she buys a 200 scarf, and I buy a sweater from the Gap, on sale. And who doesn’t think, in the back of their mind, that they could someday win the lottery and pay it all off?

And I also wonder what exactly is going on in the publishing world but suddenly there is an explosion of books with women in period costume on the cover. Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, and everyone associated with the Tudors or Henry VIII is apparently in vogue.  The books themselves may not have much in common, but they are all working a look, and for some reason including an actual woman’s entire face just ruins it for them.

           

If you’re going to pick one, I’d recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. She’s an amazing writer who makes history seem like juicy fiction.

It should come as no suprise- after all I’ve been devouring (with an intense literary appetite) Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings for years. But, on a whim, I picked up the latest craze and decided to read. Fast forward to 3 am that night, and I am fully involved in Twilight. And why? If you aren’t really into books and I can’t quite begin to explain. But – I did find this lovely quote

“Meyer and Rowling do share two important traits. Both writers embed their fantasy in the modern world–Meyer’s vampires are as deracinated and contemporary as Rowling’s wizards. And people do not want to just read Meyer’s books; they want to climb inside them and live there. James Patterson may sell more books, but not a lot of people dress up like Alex Cross. There’s no literary term for the quality Twilight and Harry Potter (and The Lord of the Rings) share, but you know it when you see it: their worlds have a freestanding internal integrity that makes you feel as if you should be able to buy real estate there.”

And, although Meyer’s books are quite “clean” in that kids won’t really get what all is going on, underneath “they are absolutely, deliciously filthy”(according to newsweek). Honestly there is some raw emotion being expressed there, even if there isn’t that much physical touching. But, in my opinion, those books that make you feverishly turn the page just hoping that something will happen between the couple can be much more erotic that when you get every detail. Besides – I’m sure there are many fanfic people out there writing enough sultry material to satisfy any over-curious reader.

I did find Meyer’s religious background a bit unsettling at first, after all I didn’t expect her to be Mormon when I was reading, especially compared to other works that have been written by very religious writers. Some Christian fiction can be so heavy in ellusions to what a ‘proper’ Chrisitan should be that the text loses it ease, and trades effortless narration for overwrought prose. However, aside from the no sex till marriage thing I haven’t found anything nagging. In fact, the sheer force of the book is enough for me to forget the author entirely. Honestly, the few Mormons I actually ever knew were a bit odd, and weren’t allowed to go to dances or even group dates, which seemed silly. (But then, these people may have been odd all on their own, faith excluding.) One family would stand in their driveway every October 31st, saying “We don’t celebrate Halloween” to trick-or-treaters. I’m glad to see that Meyer has not shyed away from anything supernatural, but rather embraces it, and even prefers it to humanity.

There is an odd effect produced when a book attempts to appeal to both teens and adults alike, like Harry Potter and Twilight. Somehow there is a fairytale-like sense of realism where things can happen which we yearn for but know can’t happen, for whatever reason. And it is odd that in this realm of magic and vampires that readers can find actual human passion and truth, in their most basic form. And I think that is what grasps the modern reader. So many more realistic adult novels are wonderfully expressive, dark or not, but some lose that universality that comes from more fantastic stories.

In any case, these books have a hold on me, as many already do. I have already “devoured” (sorry, couldn’t help it) the first two books, two to go. And I’m quite happy that I came upon this series late in the game, because there is NO WAITING! The final book comes out in ONE day, and I already reserved it. No more waiting for years….because waiting for Harry Potter was tortuous enough.

All this excitement about books has me extremely encouraged, because it means the public can finally get excited about something that doesn’t have to be plugged in. It means that literature still has a power over us…

…It means there is hope that someday, after all my years of pricey education, that there will be a job waiting. It means there is hope for humanity.

Last year, I read an article which declared that this was the year where “Harry Potter Saved Reading.” I sincerly hope this is true – that people are reaching past television and video games for something more substantial, something that can reach our minds, and persuade them to come alive.