Rachel's Random Recommendation #15: Dreiser Carrie (1900) by Theodore Dreiser

You know that book that you've read a million times, underlined until the pages are raw, discussed and analyzed until you've gone over every last word with a fine-tooth comb?

Yeah, Sister Carrie is that book for me.

And while I couldn't for the life of me tell you what I ate for breakfast yesterday, I CAN tell you every step in my Dreiser journey. I first picked up Sister Carrie at a used book store while on vacation with my family. I was around 15. It sounded interesting, and I had never read any Dreiser before, so I gave it a shot.

Review: Tennyson by John Batchelor To Strive, To Seek, To Find by John Batchelor (Pegasus Books, 2013, 448 pages)

Sitting next to my desk, as it has for years now, is a plain 8 x 10 frame, and in that frame is a print-out of "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I had loved this poem upon first encountering it, but something really clicked when I studied it in my Victorian Lit grad seminar several years ago. The timeless voice of the narrator, alternating between determination and resignation, is hypnotic and tender. The lyricism of the poem's shimmering imagery and melodious language made it what I like to call "memorization-worthy" (a high honor bestowed on few poems). What joy to be able to walk around with a poem like this in your head, and call it up at any time like a favorite piece of music!


Of Biographies and Bob Dylan“biography”: the story of a real person’s life written by someone other than that person
I’ve been thinking a lot about biographies lately. For several years now, I’ve been reading and listening to one after another, trying to understand how great historical figures (musicians, presidents, scientists, artists) are products of/influence their times. With each book I’ve wondered, “what does it mean to be so amazing that books are written about you long after you’ve died? What does it mean when a single person’s life spawns twenty competing biographies?”

Rachel's Random Recommendation #14: James Weldon Johnson Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) by James Weldon Johnson

Johnson first made his appearance on my literary radar while I was furiously reading for my grad school prelim exams ("American Literature: 17th c. - WWII"). I had heard his name in passing, usually in association with W. E. B. Du Bois and early-20th century African American literature and culture. Never, though, had a book of his crossed my desk.


A Totally Practical Game-Plan for Reading All the Books
from Hyperbole and a Half
I have this problem. It’s that I’m already in my 30s and I have not yet begun to scratch the surface of The Great Unread (i.e. all those wonderful books out there screaming for me to read them). The Great Unread haunt me constantly.

Yes, I know that I’m only human, but that won’t stop me from trying as hard as I can to read as much as I can. And I’m not even talking about technical manuals and government reports and 18th-century dictionaries. I’m focusing just on literary fiction, sci-fi, biographies, and history….for now.

So since we’re all writing/revising our New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve come up with some things I can do to read all those books. It’s a “game-plan” that takes into account all those factors that I can (try to) control. I’m sharing them with you now because I like you. You’re book dorks like me :)


Dear Jane Austen Cathedral
Hampshire, England
December 16, 2013

Dear Jane Austen,

Let me first wish you a very happy 238th birthday. I mean, they say you died almost 200 years ago, but now, in 2013, you’re as well known as Elvis, whom people still see, and he’s supposedly dead, too. I’m stating the obvious here, but you’ve done what very few of us humble mortals can hope to do: achieve immortality through writing.


Books to Look For (December): Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Humor

Science Fiction by K. M. Ruiz (St. Martin's Griffin, 640 pages, December 24)

The Kirkus Reviews blurb on the cover here says "Like X-Men on Steroids," and I don't even know what that means. But despite blurbs that just...blurb, this novel looks verrrrry interesting. I mean, it's over 600 pages and tells the story of two human societies trying to make do on an Earth ruined by a nuclear war that took place 250 years before (ok, one group is actually planning to leave the planet). It's rich vs. poor, powerful vs. weak, kicking ass and taking names vs. hiding under a rock. Looks cool.


A Literary Tour of Madison, Wisconsin came to Wisconsin several years ago to pursue a literature Ph.D. My two choices had been UW-Madison and UC-Davis, but I never even saw the California school because I fell in love with Madison the minute I stepped off the plane.

I had never traveled beyond the Mississippi before my grad school days and only knew about the flat, rolling land of the Midwest from books and movies. Tired of the cramped life I lived on the cramped east coast, I eagerly anticipated breathing in the fresher, cleaner air of Wisconsin, seeing real cows, and eating authentic cheesy cheese. Imagine my happy surprise when I realized just how literary Madison was. I mean, CLEARLY it was going to be a bookish city since it has a major university and is the state’s capital, to boot. But books are indeed at the very heart of this lovely Midwestern oasis. Bookshops jostle each other on State Street (the main drag linking the Capitol building to the university campus), UW-Madison has the 11th largest research library collection in North America with over 7 million volumes (and that was in 2004!), and book festivals are big news. No wonder Madison was named the Best Educated City in the U.S. in 2011! So let me take you on a little tour of my adopted city; I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it like I did.


Rachel's Random Recommendation #13: Science Fiction Hall of Fame Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One (2005) ed. Robert Silverberg

All I wanted to do was read some good ol' sci-fi.

I picked up this book thinking, "hmm, if it's a collection of 'The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time Chosen by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America,' it must be REALLY good."

And I read it and it rocked so hard it was like getting punched in the stomach and run over by an eighteen-wheeler- in a good way. If that makes sense.


Books to Look For (December): History, Comics/Graphic Novels, & Travel

History the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 480 pages, December 3)

If those walls could talk- WELL. They would speak of the artists who lived and worked there since its founding in 1884. They would tell us about the private lives of artists like John Sloan and Andy Warhol; of singers like Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith; of poets like Edgar Lee Masters and Allen Ginsberg. And what of the Chelsea now? You'll just have to read it to find out.


Rachel's Random Recommendation #12: Brooks
People of the Book (2008) by Geraldine Brooks

I don't quite remember why I picked up this book a few years ago. Maybe someone had mentioned that it dealt with rare manuscripts and preservation (which I'm pretty interested in). But whatever the reason, I count this novel as one of my favorites of all time. That's right. ALL TIME.

This was the first of Brooks's novels that I had read (I went on to read The Year of Wonders), and I was very pleased to find her writing to be fluid, natural, and even hypnotic at times. She has that ability to draw you into whatever story she's telling. I mean, she could be telling you about a snail skirting a mud puddle and it would be riveting.


8 Out-of-This-World Cover Illustrations from SF Magazines consider 1938-1946 to be the “golden age” of science fiction, and who can blame them: John W. Campbell took over Astounding in 1937 and then proceeded to scoop up the best sci-fi writers of his day like the Borg scoop up new “recruits.” After all, you had Henry Cuttner, C. L. Moore, Lester del Rey, the truly great Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clarke (at whose feet I figuratively swoon), Robert Heinlein. and Isaac Asimov. Whew, now that’s a LIST. This age opened the floodgates of sci-fi magazines and the writers who filled their pages.

Even more astonishing than the farsighted and fantastic stories, though, are the covers of the magazines in which those stories could be found. Those editors sure knew what would sell: after all, if I was walking past a newsstand and saw a bright orange-and-red cover with a blue, eight-headed alien on it preparing to devour a terrified lady, I’d plunk down my change in a hurry.


A Book-Binge Survival Guide
Close your eyes and imagine. Oh wait, you need your eyes to read this- scratch that. Anyway, the holidays have passed. The first of the year has arrived. And there you are with SO MANY bookish gift cards/certificates that you feel giddy and sweaty and excited all at the same time.

Your first reaction is: MUST BUY ALLLLL THE BOOKS!!!!!

Your second reaction is: but then I’ll have a huge TBR pile on my floor and it’ll give me heart palpitations whenever I look at it because there aren’t enough hours in the day to read.


Books to Look For (December): Biography, Literary Fiction, & Mystery

Biography To Strive, To Seek, To Find by John Batchelor (Pegasus, 448 pages, December 7)

Ok, not to be all silly and giddy or anything but DOG MY CATS!- I am a very big Tennyson fan. In fact, I love "Ulysses" so much that I have it memorized (you may have heard part of it recited in a little movie called The Dead Poet's Society). But anyway- Batchelor has written what may just be the definitive biography of the poet, one of the greats of the Victorian era.


Rachel's Random Recommendation #11: Rush A Novel (1812) by Rebecca Rush

'Sup, all you lovers of old, obscure literature, do I have a book for YOU.

Now, you may or may not have heard of Kelroy or Rebecca Rush before, but you know about her now. And that's a great thing. Because the woman could WRITE, and even make you laugh out loud in a Jane-Austen-y kind of way.

Why, you ask, is Kelroy so obscure if it's so good? Well, the poor woman had the terrible luck of getting her novel published just before the War of 1812- you know, when the British and Americans went in for a second round. Everyone was so hung up on war and the British coming back and everything that no one really paid attention to novels published during those years.