8 "Go-Away-I'm-Reading" Paintings

"Isle of Shoals," Childe HassamImpressionist painters: they were a motley group, radical for their time, daring, and adventurous. Their angle was to paint what they saw, rather than what they thought they should see, or what people expected them to see.

What does this have to do with books and reading? Well, I’m no art historian, but I noticed over the years that Impressionist painters have a bit of an obsession with readers. And not just any readers- women readers.


Rachel's Random Recommendation #2: King JUDGMENT OF PARIS (2006) BY ROSS KING

When I finished listening to the audiobook version of this text, I actually went out and purchased the print version because it was JUST. THAT. AWESOME.

Awesome? I can't even tell you how awesome it was. Words cannot express. There I was, listening to the audiobook, hit with wave after wave of juicy info about the Impressionists, Paris in disorder during the last half of the 19th century (Franco-Prussian War, etc. etc.), the politics, the culture, society, art...



It was sort of a revelation for me when, at some point in high school, I realized that this world is full of connections and convergences. Now, this probably seems obvious to most people, but at my school, subjects were taught in isolation and connections across space and time were rarely, if ever, mentioned. Chemistry, for instance, lived in one corner, History in another. No one ever stepped up and said, "hey, maybe someone should put different innovations and discoveries in chemistry in their historical contexts," etc. And yet, every once in a while, a couple of classes would happen to touch on the same subject/idea/event, but from completely different angles. This, I repeat, I found fascinating.


Rachel's Random Recommendation #1: Farrell

I have many, many, many books in my house, books that I have gathered up at library sales, B&Ns, going-out-of-business sales, campus bookstores, etc. The house is indeed groaning with books- you know, just the way I like it.

From time to time, I stand in front of my various bookcases, just glancing at random titles and calling up fond, vivid memories: "this book I bought at that garage sale ten years ago," "I read that book on my first flight to Europe,"....

And so, to make sure that my books do not feel neglected and ignored, and that you have another place to look when filling out your "To Read" list, I shall post a "Rachel's Random Recommendations" entry on this blog once per week.

When I say "books," I mean novels, essay collections, books of poetry, histories, biographies, plays... you get the idea.  Enjoy!



Follows the eponymous main character from his boyhood to adulthood in Chicago leading up to and during the Great Depression. It is naturalistic and gritty, depicting Lonigan's awkward and often violent attempts to navigate around the pitfalls and black holes of familial, social, and economic disintegration that threaten to engulf him. I recommend reading the trilogy straight through and in order (Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan, and Judgment Day).

Reading Under the Desk

As I kid, I actually liked school (ok, I only liked my English, History, Social Studies, and Art classes, but whatever…). And yet, despite the fact that I was given many reading assignments and too much homework, I insisted on reading for pleasure, too.

It was quite the balancing act, staying on track with the Odyssey or The Catcher in the Rye for English class while reading Native Son or Crime and Punishment at home.

And then, one day, I had a terrible, horrible, maliciously evil idea: I would bring a book that I was reading in my spare time to school. But that’s not all. I WOULD READ IT DURING CLASS. I know! Such unbelievable disobedience! (I was one of those students who thought that if you were a teacher, you were a god. Not paying attention in class was like blasphemy to me).

I couldn’t help it, though. I needed to get a jump on my reading ’cause there were so many centuries of great literature and I had to get through it ALL before I died. Therefore, I had to read like a crazy person and live until 300, minimum.


Even MORE Things That Drive Books Crazy


  • To all the literary critics: Go away. Just...just...go away.
  • To all the cats: We are not your personal butt-cushions.
  • We. Are. Not. Frisbees.
  • We are not meant for attics, bathrooms, basements, or attics. We are meant to be seen in all our splendor.
  • Babies & toddlers are not allowed within 500 miles of us. Unless we are a board book. And it still sucks.
  • We are not coasters. We are not coasters. WE ARE NOT COASTERS.
  • Either don't shelve us two-deep, or give us stadium seating.


Operatic Bookery, raise your hand if you love opera. And raise your other hand if you love books.

That's what I thought- of course you love both! So in response to the news that Annie Proulx is writing a libretto for a Brokeback Mountain opera, here's a list of (mostly obscure) books about opera (or having something to do with opera, etc. etc.). Hey, some of them are wacky, 19th century books, so how can you go wrong?

(This list is not all-inclusive).

Gertrude Atherton, Tower of Ivory (1910)

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (1915)

Lydia Maria Child, A Romance of the Republic (1867)

F. Marion Crawford, Soprano: A Portrait (1905), The Primadonna (1908), and The Diva's Ruby (1908)

Ten Things That Drive Books Crazy

Ever wished your books could speak to you? (I mean, literally "speak," and not the "oooooh that book spoke to me on a whole new level" sense). Well, guess what- they can. They just choose not to cause they're really, really polite. Now, I'm sure that many of you treat your books like babies, like royalty, like priceless museum pieces, but there are those of us (yes, I include myself), who don't treat our books so nicely sometimes. We aren't gentle, we don't read them with cotton gloves on, and we toss them around like they're so much paper and print. So, for those of us who need a dose of book-handling reality, here are ten grievances you should be aware of. (How did I come across these? Well, last night, there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find a sheet of paper stuck on it with a dagger. The paper bore the following ten grievances. I present them to you, terribly humbled. And a little freaked out).

  1. We hate when you dog-ear our pages. How would YOU like it if we bent one of your arms back unnaturally and then left it there until we felt like dealing with you at a later date? Huh? How would you like that?
  1. If you must mark us up (underlining, commenting, etc.), do it with a gel-pen. Those cheap ballpoint pens hurt like a %^&$#%.
  1. We do not wish to be in alphabetical order. Instead, we'd prefer to be ordered by philosophical outlook. That way, fights won't break out as often. And a book fight...well, let's just say it ain't pretty.


Reinventing the Wheel...Again and Again

*Warning- this is a rant*

When I first skimmed this article in The Atlantic about why 21st century students should read the "racy popular novels of America's past," I thought, "ah! This is good. The discussion concerning popularity versus/and merit in fiction is continuing, and it will keep some of the more interesting older novels from sinking into total obscurity."

Ah, sometimes I really am too optimistic. I haven't read Gura's book, but it doesn't sound like it's a continuation of the conversation that was pretty-well fleshed out by Nina Baym, Susan K. Harris, and others just over 20 years ago. No- from the looks of this article, Gura is acting like he's just discovered the things that earlier critics have known and discussed for years. Ironically, we have a male professor apparently uncovering women's novels that men had neglected, novels that female critics and professors had already talked about. (And if I see one more book that has some version of "The Rise of the American Novel" in its title, I am absolutely going to have a meltdown).

So, really?? Really?!


Review: The Great Upheaval by Jay Winik truly enjoyed this latest installment in my nonfiction audiobook series. First of all, The Great Upheaval (Harper Collins, 2007) is LONG (the print version is nearly 700 pages), which means that I got my fill of juicy historical details and side-stories about larger-than-life characters. Second, it presents the American Revolution in a global context, setting it side-by-side with the tumultuous reign of Catherine the Great in Russia and the bloody French Revolution. And third, Winik goes far beyond the mere recitation of facts- he imagines, for instance, what was going through Marie Antoinette's mind as she awaited her execution, and analyzes Catherine's motives during her slide toward despotism.

In fact, Winik often goes a bit too far in his quest to tell the "whole story."


(Hiding Her Face in Shame)

It's time for a confession.

I have not read anything by the following authors yet. And yes, that means that I should be locked up in literary prison until such time as I have read these authors and proven that I am not living under a rock.

1. Jeffrey Eugenides

2. Margaret Atwood

3. Ian Fleming


Review: Joyland by Stephen King
At just under 300 pages, Joyland (Hard Case Crime, 2013) is a tidy little murder-mystery set in 1973 that features some classic King elements: ghosts, psychic powers, and, alas, a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

But don't get me wrong- Stephen King is one of my favorite writers. And in this, he's an anomaly, since I used to steer very clear of any book written after 1920 (I was very attached to my 19th century). Something about King's books, though, were satisfying and addictive- maybe it was the fluid and conversational writing style, or the familiar-but-always-exciting mystery around which each story was built.


Thomas Mann Appreciation Day

[OK, there's actually no such thing as "Thomas Mann Appreciation Day," but there damn well should be, people! The following is the speech I'd give at an event celebrating the immortal author]: my friends and family know well, I am a bit obsessed with Thomas Mann. I've read all of his major novels (that have been translated into English- I know, don't say it), all of his short stories, a book of his essays, and the most recent biography by Hermann Kurzke (Thomas Mann: Life as a Work of Art, A Biography; 2002). I've even read the tetralogy, Joseph and His Brothers, all 1,492 pages of it. And I say to The Black Swan and Lotte in Weimar: you're next!

I hear all you Comparative Lit people snorting with disdain and I see you German Lit people raising angry eyebrows, but read on, and you might just forgive me.