Archive for the ‘What We’re Reading’ Category

Lovers come and go, but literature is forever… right? Here are some lists, recommendations and articles to snuggle up with this February.

Did you know Martin Amis wrote a book about classic arcade games? The Millions is ready to tell you all about it:

Invasion of the Space Invaders is the madwoman in the attic of Amis’ house of nonfiction; many have heard rumors of its shameful presence, but few have seen it with their own eyes. I recently discovered a copy in the library of the university where I work, and I don’t think the librarian knew quite what to make of my obvious excitement at this coup. (“Wow,” I said, giving a low, respectful whistle as she handed it across the counter. “Would you look at that?”)

Also this SUPER RAD photo.

I think the headline of this article at BoingBoing says it all: FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent. We’re on to you.

Russian scientists have finally reached Lake Vostok, a subterranean Antarctic lake that has been underground for 20  million years. Discover Magazine has a cool graphic showing how they did it.

Kept warm and liquid by heat from the center of the Earth, Lake Vostok, the largest in a chain of about 200 underground (or under-ice) lakes, is similar to the oceans supposed to exist below the surface on moons Enceladus and Europa, which makes this an exciting time to be an astrobiologist.

When I got this e-mail from Bill I could only see the first little bit and I thought it said “What Humbert Humbert Loves” and I was all, “Really, that’s what you want me to post for Valentine’s Day?” Turns out that is not what it is at all. The actual link is to  What Humbert Humbert Looks Like (as a Police Composite Sketch) over at The Atlantic, but just in case you still have other Lolita comments to make, here’s a quote from Groucho Marx on the subject:

“I’ll put off reading Lolita for six more years until she turns 18.”

Smart move, Groucho.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still write your beloved an old-fashioned love letter. The Telegraph has 5 Rules for writing the perfect romantic epistle from literary heavyweights Hilary Mantel, Alain de Botton and Jeanette Winterson.

Remember to be playful, teasing and funny. There is no particularly necessary link between earnestness and passion. One can amuse someone into bed and into one’s life. (From Alain de Botton)

Don’t draw hearts at the bottom. Henry VIII used to do that, and look how his affairs ended up. (From Hilary Mantel)

Maybe your Valentine this year was less “romantic” than “a creepy stranger following you around”? Well then here is a list for you, of Geoff Dyer’s top 5 books about obsession.

One time I spent an entire year writing a thesis about obsession, so I am going to give you my own, less-eclectic list of five books about obsessions so you can read all ten of these books and then feel really gross for about a month afterwards.

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Possession, contrary to the opinion of the Man Booker Prize Committee, is not a great book, but it is a book about obsession, and it does have some pretty interesting ideas about what happens when you let a long-dead author or a very-much-alive lover take over your brain.

Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes

Flaubert’s Parrot is kind of the same as Possession, except instead of having to read crappy poems by made-up Victorian authors, you get to read Flaubert’s hilarious letters, plus it is like a fifth of the size.

Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

If you were wondering why books about obsession make you feel gross, it is because by the end of them you will have spent way too much time in the head of someone who has a certain element of sickness in their psyche. Death In Venice brilliantly creates a suffocating, sickly atmosphere in early 20th-century Venice as the protagonist slowly decays in his obsession with a perfect young boy.

In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust

In Search of Lost Time is the essential book about obsession. Full disclosure, I have only read the first volume, but if you have a scholarly interest in the the tradition of books about obsession, this is the one you have to read. It is long, and it is difficult, and should probably get up and take a walk every fifty pages or so just to get out of Proust’s head (or your own), but it is worth it.

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk

All of Pamuk’s books are kind of about obsession, but this one is the most obvious. People sometimes don’t like it because it’s repetitive and claustrophobic, like Proust, but if you have ever been obsessed with anything enough to collect thousands of old cigarette butts like Pamuk’s protagonist, you know that it is indeed a repetitive and claustrophobic experience. Pamuk’s characters, like the rest of the characters on this list, are obsessed with another person, but they’re also obsessed with the dark and twisting secrets of their city, lending a fascinating other dimension to the classic theme.

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Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a blog update. Here’s what we’ve got for you today:

This article from New York magazine, ostensibly speculating on the real-life background of Jeffrey Eugenides’ new novel The Marriage Plot, offers a fascinating glimpse at a group of contemporary literary giants (Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, Mary Karr, Jonathan Franzen) and some of their reflections on Wallace’s mental illness and suicide.

That breakthrough novel [The Corrections] provoked a six-page letter in ten-point type from Wallace. He wrote of his mix of happiness for his friend and his feelings of envy and depression. Franzen says, “I think it hurt for each of us to get the latest [book] from the other.” Franzen became more secure in himself in the wake of The Corrections, Costello says. But Wallace? “Dave never had a secure hour in his life.”

Incidentally, I just finished The Marriage Plot and recommend it highly– if you have ever felt like maybe you read too much to function properly in social situations, this book is for you.

For adults, series like Twilight or Christopher Paolini’s Eragon books can be cringe-inducing in their awkward phrasing and derivative storylines, but the love kids and teenagers have for these novels has made them publishing sensations. Adam Gopnik examines these phenomenons at the New Yorker.

The enchantment the Eragon series projects is not that of a story well told but that of an alternative world fully entered. You sense that when you hear a twelve-year-old describe the books. The gratification comes from the kid’s ability to master the symbols and myths of the saga, as with those eighty-level video games, rather than from the simple absorption of narrative.

I have also, I admit, been reading the Twilight books, and while I won’t bother to recommend them or not, I will point out that the success of the books has spawned a somewhat embarrassing attempt by HarperCollins to boost sales of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights by repackaging it Twilight-style. I came across a copy at the store last week, check it out:

If you follow literary news, you’ve doubtless been awash in awards coverage for the past couple months. The big names have been making the rounds, but there’s still time in 2011 for one last award, my very favourite, The Guardian’s annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award! This year’s nominees include (click for hilariously NSFW excerpts):

… and more!

But maybe you read books to be classy and better yourself as a person, so if that is the case, here are 5 Political Novels Worth Reading, from The Huffington Post, a response to this article that suggests that in these troubled times, reading fiction might be somewhat self-indulgent. I have not read any of these novels, but in my defense, I haven’t read any of the ones on the bad sex list either.

Here are some excerpts from the latter article:

And that, in a way, is why I feel as if I should be reading it. It’s reasonable, as an adult, to decide you don’t want to read a book about the German economy, because you probably wouldn’t understand it, whereas it seems unreasonable to watch a crisis unfold before your eyes, and know so little about it. […]

“There is this false idea that fiction has no particular stance because it is made up, as a result of which it doesn’t have to be informed, and it doesn’t have to inform. I think we desperately need to be informed about our times, and our history, and our human condition, and at the moment, the novel is really only good for the latter. Of course, I only mean the ones worth reading.”

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