The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week, I’m featuring some great books about books:
1. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman– This is a collection of essays about the authors lifelong love of books. She played with books rather than blocks as a child. She only considered herself to be married once she and her husband had merged libraries. The greatest gift she ever got was 19 pounds of dusty books. These reflections are an exploration of the wonderful quirks of bibliophiles.
“You mean we’re going chronological order within each author?” he gasped. “But no one even knows for sure when Shakespeare wrote his plays!”
“Well,” I blustered, “we know he wrote Romeo and Juliet before The Tempest. I’d like to see that reflected on our shelves.”
George says that was one of the few times he has seriously contemplated divorce.”
2. How to Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis– Samantha Ellis is a lifelong bookworm. In this book, she revisits and rereads her favorites from the past. How do childhood favorites hold up against lifetime experience? How do heroines of the past live up to feminist standards?
“All my heroines, yes, even the Little Mermaid, even poor, dull, listless Sleeping Beauty, have given me this sense of possibility. They made me feel I wasn’t forced to live out the story my family wanted for me, that I wasn’t doomed to plod forward to a fate predetermined by God, that I didn’t need to be defined by my seizures, or trapped in fictions of my own making, or shaped by other people’s stories. That I wanted to write my own life.”
3. The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons From Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blackmore– This one is similar to How To Be A Heroine but it’s less personal. It’s more of a look at how contemporary women can learn from past heroines.
“I am here to posit that it’s exactly in these moments of struggle and stress that we need books the most. There’s something in the pause to read that’s soothing in and of itself. A moment with a book is basic self-care, the kind of skill you pass along to your children as you would a security blanket or a churchgoing habit.”
4. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett– This is a novella that imagines the Queen of England, becoming enamored of books later in life. The books she reads make her consider the world in different ways. Is she being selfish and isolated by wanting to bury herself with a book? Or does reading allow her to empathize with people in a unique way? Opinions are varied.
The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference; there was something undeffering about literature. Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers are equal, herself included. Literature, she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic. . . [reading] was anonymous; it was shared; it was common. Here in these pages and between these covers she could go unrecognized.
5. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell– This has a sequel titled More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. I worked in a bookshop one summer and I can vouch for the fact that customers do say some weird things! I heard something like this more than once:
CUSTOMER: I read a book in the sixties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?
6. Texts from Jane Eyre: and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg– If Mr. Rochester could text, he would do so all in caps. Obviously. If Daisy Buchanan had a smart phone she would only use it when driving. What would you imagine Sherlock’s texts to Watson would look like? What about Ron’s text’s to Hermione? Gertude’s texts to Hamlet? Find out here!
-I KNEW IT
DID YOU LEAVE BECAUSE OF MY ATTIC WIFE
IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT
-BECAUSE MY HOUSE IN FRANCE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ATTIC
IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WERE WORRIED ABOUT
IT HAS A CELLAR THOUGH SO YOU KNOW
DON’T CROSS ME
HAHA I’M ONLY JOKING”
7. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi- Once a week, for two years, Azar Nafisi, and seven of her female students in the Islamic Republic of Iran, gathered together to read and discuss forbidden western literature. This book made me realize that reading a novel could, in fact, be one of the most subversive political acts.
I have a recurring fantasy that one more article has been added to the Bill of Rights: the right to free access to imagination. I have come to believe that genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions. To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt, desired, hated, feared?
8. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf- Men have a thousand years of literature to reflect their experience. Women have about a hundred. Why? Well, before that, women weren’t educated or encouraged to be readers and writers. So how do women find a place for themselves in the literary canon? How do they insert their lives and experience into literary discourse? According to Woolf the process begins with a woman having a little bit of money and a room of her own.
My belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.
9. The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain- This is a tough book to explain. Leonard Shlain looks at the history of humanity and shows how and why so many pre-literate societies were matriarchal, right brained models that espoused feminine values. When literacy was introduced to society, it drove cultures to more linear left brained thinking. The result of this was patriarchy and misogyny. Slain doesn’t argue for getting rid of literacy. He claims that being aware of this shift can help combat its affects. I don’t know if I completely buy into his theory, but it’s notable that witch hunts tended to pop up in societies where a printing press was recently introduced; and that when society became more image based women’s rights started to gain momentum.
A medium of communication is not merely a passive conduit for the transmission of information but rather an active force in creating new social patterns and new perceptual realities.
10. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar– I love nineteenth century literature. From Jane Austen to the Bronte’s, to Mary Shelly, to George Eliot, this book examines how female writers established a more complex depiction of femininity and female relationships than had been depicted previously. The title of course, refers to the character of Bertha in Jane Eyre. How we approach this character says a lot about how we read the book. Is it a Cinderella story or a Bluebeard tale? I don’t always agree with everything in this book but it has been a hugely influential work of literary criticism, that will make you reread many old books with new eyes.
A life of feminine submission, of ‘contemplative purity,’ is a life of silence, a life that has no pen and no story, while a life of female rebellion, of ‘significant action,’ is a life that must be silenced, a life whose monstrous pen tells a terrible story.