Category Archives: Rachel S.

7

Parting is such sweet sorrow

You might be surprised to learn that here at DGLM we’ve got a lot of books. A ton of books. So many books that we’re tripping over them, ducking so that we don’t get hit by them falling from teetering towers, and constantly moving and re-shelving them to make space for the books that just keep arriving.

So that we don’t suffocate in the inevitable glut of paper and ink (the office isn’t that big, guys), there’s a lot of nice donating that goes on around here. A few times a year I get to pack up a whole bunch of old books and inventory them with the help of a few trusty interns and send them off to places where they’ll go to good use.

That’s an easy solution for a place with so many books, but what to do with your own personal collection? I know we’re already out of room in my apartment—even with two giant bookcases, the extras are starting to pile up in interesting places on the floor, on chairs, on tables and under things. There’s even a giant bag my roommate and I filled over a year ago with “books we don’t care about, have doubles of or don’t want anymore,” yet it’s still sitting there, cumbersome and in the way.

It’s hard to let go of a book, even if it’s one I know I’ll never read again or never liked very much in the first place. There are memories and associations paired with each and every one, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual story or content. The same goes for clothes and shoes—whether they no longer fit, are falling apart (often my case with shoes), or are dreadfully, woefully hideous beyond any comprehension and I have no idea when or why I ever wore such a thing. Still, it’s painful to part with them.

I’m not a pack rat or a hoarder, it’s easy for me to nonchalantly discard most anything else, but donating books seems difficult. They need to go to the right place, to a place where they’ll be appreciated again and not just thrown in the corner. Right? Does it matter? What do you do with your spares and excess? Do you take them to secondhand shops, give them to people you think might enjoy them, or, and I shudder, just throw them in the trash? What other options are there?

Latest boxes off for donation!

 

 

1

Books, always being tricky

It’s common fact that we all judge books by their covers, but I know that I at least also make some pretty unfounded assumptions about a potential literary purchase based on its size. While I might be excited to dive into a lengthy tome if the subject interests me, it’s never one that I’ll expect to be “fun.” Small font, tissue-thin paper and a high page count might be impressive and I’ll probably feel a bit braggy for reading it in public, but the long, important looking books that end up being pulpy or zany or funny or really anything other than literary intellectual heavyweights are always a surprise.

I’ve talked before about being deceived by Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and I still think it’s the perfect example of a dull, yet intelligent looking book that turned out to be a completely engrossing, witty, darkly comic book about some crazy college kids that still reigns as one of my favorites today.

Publishers Weekly approached the topic with their announcement of the publication of A to ‘Zibaldone’, a collection of thoughts, musings and extrapolations from the notebooks of Gicomo Leopardi, who died way back in 1837. This tome weighs in at a whopping 2,500 pages and given the one line description, it’s definitely not something I would consider for completely pleasurable reading. However, the book is apparently incredibly engaging! PW calls is a “nightstand book rather than a doorstopper” and even recommends it as a possible beach read…providing you have the upper arm strength and bag room to lug it around.

The assumption of course goes the other way, too, as there are plenty of tiny books I’ve picked up on a whim only to find them impossible to get into or sometimes even understand.

How about you? Are you intimidated by a high page count? What books have surprised you by completely betraying the prejudice of their length?

2

Cats! Books! Friday!

I’m often made fun of for not being very good at the internet. By that I don’t mean being incapable of Googling or not knowing how to properly use email, but that I often pick out what I think are hilarious and timely gifs or videos only to be told, mockingly, that these things are in fact ancient. I endure this steadily from family and friends, figuring it’s better to be good at tangible, real life things anyway.

That being said, did you guys know that cats are pretty much the internet’s favorite things? And since books are our favorite things, I figured if we combine the two, then I’ll have rocketed this blog up into cool things on the internet.

Cats and books aren’t a new phenomenon, really. Pets in general have often played a central role in literature, and are commonly even the complete focal point of some of the most popular or tear-jerking literature out there. We had a reading teacher in sixth grade who cried reading aloud every time we got to the point where one of the dogs died in Where the Red Fern Grows, no matter she’d been teaching the book for over a decade.

Characters like the Chesire Cat have grown into common vernacular references, his grin in particular used to symbolize untrustworthy folk. Those Harry Potter fans among us (and get out if you’re not) will know that Hermione’s Crookshanks played a vital role in the series—and was probably forced to spend a whole lot of time around massive stacks of books as well, considering his owner’s penchant for research.

I’m pretty sure cats themselves can’t actually read, but here are a few who would rather spend some time with a book instead of being featured in one.

There’s this cat who will soon take over the world:

 

This guy, who is probably more pretentious than I could ever hope to be:

 

This one who would really prefer you leave him alone while he’s reading:

 

He clearly forgot that it’s almost impossible to read in the sunlight without blinding yourself if you aren’t wearing sunglasses:

 

This kitty looks scandalized, and I’d like to know why:

 

 

Happy Friday everyone, get some reading in, pet a cat (or actually, don’t. I don’t really like cats), and pretty much, just enjoy your weekend!

0

Series of friends

Though if I were to encounter them now, I would be annoyed and bored to tears, the reliability and formulaic construction of most of the book series’ I read growing up were some of the things that kept me coming back for more. There was comfort in the set-up, the fact that somewhere in the first couple chapters of a Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley or Nancy Drew book there was going to be a description of Claudia Kishi’s bedroom with candy hidden all over it, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s blue-green eyes and long blonde hair or Nancy Drew’s titian hair and blue Mustang convertible.

The characters were so set in their ways that you knew you could count on them. There was a certain style, demeanor and personality that you could immediately attribute to each one, and to an eleven-year-old girl, that really made each of them feel familiar and more like friends than products of a factory of ghostwriters pumping out a book a month (and believe you me, if there wasn’t a new one of each on the shelves each month there was a really disappointed little Rachel scrutinizing that shelf just one more time).

Not only are the descriptions repetitive for the sake of connecting the books together, they are detailed. There could be no mistaking the outfits or physical features of any of the main players, which, it turns out, I have more fun with now than I ever did then. When Buzzfeed posted this article today detailing some of the favorites of the YA series world (okay, plus Harriet the Spy) I couldn’t help but giggle at the lengthy, perfect descriptions. However excessive seeming, I’d like to think they were and still are necessary to evoke the same connection to the characters and tone of the series as a whole.

An older blog, What Claudia Wore is another gem, and I had to scramble to find it today to present it to you. Paragraph-long depictions of Claudia’s zaniest outfits are posted, and though I remember being envious of her “funky” and “cool” style, I’ll admit that it was Dawn who I always wanted to be the most. A blog for her outfits would be far less entertaining, alas, but does lead me to my final thought on the subject.

The uniformity in style and personality left no room for interpretation, which, I think, works really well in the books’ favors and why they became as popular as they did. The girl you pictured in your head was the exact same as the girl your friend pictured, too. It was always so easy then to definitively say which babysitter, which Wakefield twin you not only wanted to be, but were (especially important since there are few people more self-involved than teenage girls).

I always went with Dawn and Elizabeth, but that’s just me.

1

Escape

In the middle of this blistering heat, the only thing I can think of is getting out and far away, to somewhere that doesn’t result in immediate sweat the second you step out of doors or require smushing against fifty other people in a subway car or busy city block.

I can only ogle the crisp, breezy looking photographs in my Groupon Getaways emails for so long before realizing I have no need for an all-inclusive family vacation to a four star hotel in Mexico (also, definitely hot there), yet still feel the need to at least fantasize about a realistic escape.

At my wit’s end, I stumbled across Flavorwire’s “50 Places Ever Literary Fan Should Visit” and, as is my compulsion with every list of things to read, listen to, watch, visit or do whatever else you are supposed to have done, check off everything I’ve already got in the bag. Sadly, I can only lay claim to three of the fifty—and not even any of the ones in New York! To be honest, I had no idea so many literary landmarks were in such a small radius of my home.

Of course, the impetus here is to leave the heat behind, so I won’t feel so bad about it yet. Though there are a million more exotic, more prodigious and more exciting venues and monuments on the list, the one that struck me with the biggest pang was Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. A rabid L.M. Montgomery fan as a girl, my dream vacation growing up was a trip to Prince Edward Island (P.E. Island to those of us in the know). To see it on this list brought me back to all the times I begged and begged to go there—I think I had an idea that it was kind of like Colonial Williamsburg, which was another favorite of mine and the destination of not one, but two family vacations at my request.

I also couldn’t help but smile at the James Joyce’s Dublin entry on the list. As a personal project of mine (and okay, for a grade), I mapped out Leopold Bloom’s famed traipse around the city and its surrounding areas, complete with photos, quotes and analyses. It was a long day of walking and trains, which I guess it a lot of energy to expend on just checking off 1/50th of a list. Good going, Rachel.

Flipping through the slideshow was a good mental escape, trip down memory lane and bucket list facilitator for me. I know there are far more than fifty great literary destinations in the world and I’d love to know what ones you have visited or can introduce to me.

2

Old, but not forgotten.

There’ve been a whole lot of nostalgic lists and posts floating around the internet lately, particularly geared towards those that grew up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s gotten almost ridiculous—there are only so many times you can get excited reminiscing about Gushers, Legends of the Hidden Temple, super soakers, Dunkaroos and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

That’s not to say the lists aren’t fun—they are—but they can get a little tired and repetitive after a while. I remember in college, if you ever were at a loss of what to talk about with a group of people you didn’t really know (that happens a lot in college), the go-to was just to bring up old Nickelodeon TV shows. The conversation was ever and always the same, but for some reason, it got everyone interested and vying to put in their two cents about Clarissa Explains it All and Are You Afraid of the Dark?

I always pretended to contribute to these conversations, but the truth is, I wasn’t allowed to watch any television growing up outside of PBS. I was one of “those kids.” I’m sure it helped a little to shape me into who I am today, but I’m not here to wax poetic about the values of a childhood not in front of screens, nor about the evils of too much TV* (‘cause I sure did get my fill of Arthur, The Magic School Bus and Zoom until my eyes near fell out). What I’m getting at here, is that the best “remember that” conversations I ever had always had to do with books.

As with television shows, there’s a commonality in the books we all read growing up. As kids and young adults, there were only so many options. Talking about favorite snacks, toys, games and television shows can only get you so far. The experiences with each of those had to have been fairly similar. With books though, as ever, there’s a real individuality for every reader. I re-read books so much more as a kid than I do now, and my connection with my favorite protagonists was fervently strong. Because it’s a subject talked about less frequently, it’s much more exciting when someone casually mentions a favorite book or character from their childhood and there’s a sudden explosive “YOU READ THAT, TOO?!?!” that comes from whomever is in earshot. The conversation, then, can be different and valuable every time.

The other weekend, a friend and I took the trip down to South Jersey, where I grew up, to spend the weekend (not exactly beach weather, but nice nonetheless). She was staying in the guest room where many of my books have been relegated over the years. As a child of an Irish mother, we spent a lot of time overseas in the summer, and it was a special treat for me to bring home books every August that I couldn’t buy in the States. Additionally, my dad would order me Irish-published books from a catalogue one or two times a year (I thought this very cool). Though many of these books became favorites as well, they’re never part of the conversation when reminiscing about old literary friends, as no one had even heard of most of the authors, let alone individual titles.

I had completely forgotten about all of this until my friend, who I should mention now is from Ireland as well, started gushing over my bookshelf. It seems that there was a commonality in the books Irish children read amongst themselves, too! “Your shelf almost exactly matches mine at home!” My friend has been in America for several years now and has surely not had anyone to talk about her favorite characters with for some time. It was a fun trip down memory lane for the both of us, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d thought of some of those titles.

While I’m sure the readers of this blog have all grown up in different eras, I’d love to know what some of your favorites were as a kid—what characters you wanted to befriend and what stories you read over and over. Unlike Froot by the Foot and Don’t Wake Daddy, I bet there’s a lot more to talk about here.

*That was definitely a Berenstein Bears book, though.

6

Survey says

There is nothing I like better than a survey. I mean it. When I was younger, we would get these big consumer packet surveys mailed to our house once or twice a year and I couldn’t wait for my dad to get home so we could fill it out together. Answering really cool and interesting questions about things like what brand of paper towels we preferred and how often the family went grocery shopping. I’m not kidding, I lived for those.

So, when Publishers Weekly posted their Great Big Reading Poll yesterday, you can bet that contributing my answers was the highlight of my day. (Okay, now that might be a bit of an exaggeration). In any case, surveys are super fun and no matter the subject, the results are always interesting on some level. When you combine surveys with things about books, though, then, well, you’ve got me hooked.

While the questions PW poses aren’t revolutionary, they are indicative of the types of things that set readers apart from one another. One thing about surveys that’s a bit frustrating (and the reason I always hated multiple choice tests in school) is that you don’t get the chance to explain yourself. So, below are some of the questions I wished I could have explained to PW when I was answering!

Do you write in your books?
Generally, I do NOT—though I always wished I was the person who did. There’s something romantic about the image of the intellectual, dreamy reader who is so inspired by their books that they can’t help but get physically involved. There are a few books I have with half-hearted underlines, hearts, stars and exclamation points, but they are far and few between. The only book I have that is thoroughly marked up (and helpfully so) is my copy of Ulysses—it’s the notations that let me read and re-read it to my heart’s content without any confusion.

How do you save your place?
I was a dog-eared girl growing up, occasionally a face-down-on-the-table kind of lady, but now it’s strictly bookmarks. I have no idea what prompted the change in ideology, but now, though I harbor no ill-will or disdain towards anyone who is a page-folding, spine-breaking reader, I can’t bring myself to do it.

My bookshelf is…
Hah! I would say arranged by a method only known to me (and my roommate), but that only happens when we get in a crazy “let’s organize all these darn books!” mode and then, active readers that we are, constant taking out and putting back of books kind of messes up every single system we’ve ever come up with.

How many books do you read at once?
Counting only books read for pleasure, I’m definitely a one book and only one book kind of reader. I’ve tried reading more and sometimes it works, but I just start to feel bad for whatever book I’m not reading at the moment. Like I’ve hurt its feelings. Okay, let’s stop talking about this now.

Do you read used books?
A no-brainer. This isn’t to say that I don’t love a good brand new book all crisp and just mine, but guys, books go out of print all the time. Sometimes the only option is a used book, sometimes they’re just cheaper, and used bookstores are treasure troves of exciting things you never would have looked for on your own. There’s nothing better than buying a good book with a personal inscription in it, either, in my opinion.

I’d love to know what questions you liked best as well as those that could have really done with an “explain here” box below them. Tell me in the comments!

2

Perfectly worded snark

When it comes to the perfectly worded, well-thought out and perfectly, bitingly delivered insult, there’s no one who can do it like a writer. That’s pretty much their schtick, saying things well, in a way that will provide the most impact—whether it’s quiet and unassuming or straight talk in your face.

Of course, we should all learn to play nice, but whether or not we should doesn’t always matter. And it’s hard to deny the entertainment value in a good sparring with words—especially when the insults fall on those far away from ourselves. When the L Magazine posted this slideshow of some of the most delightful author-on-author barbs, I couldn’t help but giggle.

Who’d have thought Charlotte Bronte had thoughts as snarky and as vicious as:

“Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written ‘Pride and Prejudice’…than any of the Waverly novels? I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”

I’ll admit, this one is my favorite, just because it seems so unexpected.

Pro tip: it’s best not to think about how the authors on the receiving end might have felt after reading these comments. As tough as Hemingway made himself out to be, I can’t help but think he’s also a bit of a softie (I read The Paris Wife, okay? I know these things) and feel a little sorry for poor Papa getting all this flack for his writing.

So, while I’m not condoning flinging insults at our peers, per se, perhaps once in a while, it’s okay to appreciate the occasional carefully worded (and sometimes accurate) put-down. Especially when they’re just so colorful!

3

Rest assured, I’m a doll

It’s no secret that one of the best things about reading a really good book that features a dashing leading man or desirable leading lady (depending on your type) is developing a secret (or not so secret) crush on the character. Entire blogs are dedicated to “book boyfriends” or “literature loves” and if only there were more alliterative phrases I would keep going. The fact of the matter is, a well-written book gives you an insight into a fictional character that is so deep, so real that you get to feel as if you know this character as a person. Any romantic thing they do is doubly swoonworthy since it’s so easy to insert yourself into the pages of the book.

This isn’t new and don’t pretend you’ve never done it, never had oddly overly affectionate feelings for a character who not only doesn’t exist, but whose visage, demeanor and gait you’ve come up with all on your own, with only a little help from nice adjectives and descriptive phrases.

What about, though, falling in love with the person behind the words? Authors, especially authors long since gone, have a real mysteriousness and intangible quality about them that is just so. darn. attractive. I have a friend who is insufferably in love with Ernest Hemingway and another who would give anything, anything to meet John Keats.

Personally, though I have never before had any previous inclination, I’m leaning a little towards one Mr. J.D. Salinger, of late. Yes, the misanthropic shut in who also, apparently carried on an epistolary relationship with a young woman he had never met. Sure, the romantic aspect of this is ramped up by the long lost letters component, and today’s equivalent of emails and text messages just won’t compare, but his self-deprecating boasting and little endearments really show a different side to the man no one really knew too much about.

After melting a little bit at “Sneaky girl. You’re pretty,” tell me about any of your author crushes or any authors you’d do anything to simply exchange letters back and forth with for years, even if it only amounted to something to look back on and smile fondly at later.

2

Collaborating with the best

You’d think that after all this time, the things you can do on the internet would cease to fascinate or greatly amuse me. Highly untrue.

I remember when a friend first introduced the collaboration feature of Google Docs to me. While the technology behind this is probably light-years less complicated than most of what’s out there, the idea that two or more people can write together, edit each other and share ideas on the same word document or spreadsheet at the same time brings a feeling of side-by-side mentorship that is lost in the world of solitary existence in front of computers.

Of course, it can also be used for fun and silliness—I can’t tell you how many ridiculous, probably unreadable stories I’ve “co-authored” with friends using this tool. A bit like Exquisite Corpse, but over the world wide web instead of with pen and paper.

Writing silly stories with your friends is all well and good, of course, but I’ve recently discovered a more…literary…collaboration you can try out. Google has done a demo where you can practice writing stories with the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe. They’ll edit your words to their tastes and chide you if you slack off. I think my favorite is Charles Dickins’ accusation after too long a pause, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”

While this is really just a fun game you can play with yourself, I wonder if it also couldn’t be an exercise in trying out various writing styles and formats. Not that writing with Shakespeare’s prose or Nietzsche’s vindications is really anyone’s aim (or maybe it is!), but seeing how a simple word change or structure alteration in your own words can give an entirely different effect to the narrative is certainly eye-opening.

I suggest trying it out, whether for fun or for discipline (okay, it’s going to be fun regardless) and posting your favorite “edits” in the comments!