In curating your ideal bookshelf, you are constructing an expression of yourself in that specific moment: what’s important to you right now? The contributors to My Ideal Bookshelf have different ideas of import. Some focus on reference, others on beloved texts, others on texts they haven’t read yet but want to or think they need to. As an editor at heart, curation comes naturally to me: my spring cleanings are more ruthless culls. With my birthday on Tuesday, I thought this would be a good time to start a new tradition: to celebrate my nativity each year, I will curate my ideal bookshelf, so that I may count my rings in the future. The rules? Ten books I would actually use as reference material. Commence shakedown.
If someone asked you for a book recommendation, what is the FIRST book you’d think to recommend (without extra thought)?
I’m actually asked this a lot—not because people on the street are desperate for my opinion (as if!), but because a lot of English classes, at least here, open with “So, tell us your name, your year, your major, and your favorite book/a book you think we should read!”. And ever since I read it, it’s been The Magician’s Book. I even have a little pitch for it:
“It’s about a woman who loved The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid, and then felt betrayed when she found out about the Christian allegory as an agnostic teenager, and this is her returning to the series as an atheistic adult. But it’s really about our relationship to stories, especially when we’re children versus when we’re adults. It’s so good. It’s in the library if anyone wants it.”
It’s in my college library because I put it there. I don’t have to worry about people frowning and going, “Oh, I don’t read genre fiction” (someday, I will learn to breathe fire, if only to do so when people tell me such a foolish thing), it appeals to pretty much anyone who likes to read, and Laura Miller is awesome. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out!
If you had to pick only 5 books to read ever again, what would they be and why?
Ouch! Let’s see…
- The Lord of the Rings, because if you have to ask, you don’t know me very well.
- The Magician’s Book, because Laura Miller is a genius and I love it so much.
- Middlesex, because Cal is a human being to me, not a character.
- A Game of Thrones, because the devil is in the details.
- Maps and Legends, because Michael Chabon is a genius and I love his nonfiction essays, especially “Fan Fictions: On Sherlock Holmes”.
Well, that was actually easier than I thought it would be! Fantasy and literary criticism, that’s me.
Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate it—but it’s also the last Sunday of the year, which means it’s time for my top ten list. As usual, these are my top reads of 2011, not the top published books of 2011. But I’ve also added my favorite film adaptation and my favorite audiobook of the year, since I’ve started really keeping those posts up. I was lucky enough to have a good handful of five star books, but that meant leaving off a lot of four and a half star books that I honestly loved off the list. I invite you to rifle through those categories to your right. And here’s 2010 in review and 2009 in review, if you’re so inclined. I think that’s all the housekeeping, so let’s get started.
Two years ago last Thursday, I started The Literary Omnivore, consolidating book reviews I’d previously posted in a fannish outlet after being encouraged to start an e-portfolio at school. I can’t believe it’s been two years, in the same way that I can’t believe I’m a junior in college. This blog has become such an important part of my life—not only as a reading journal (which will always be its main purpose), but as a way of expressing myself, connecting with other readers, and making me more visible in an industry I’m trying to break into. So, like last year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share how this blog has changed and grown over the last year, as well as getting your feedback on what you’d like to see in the future from The Literary Omnivore.
After reading The Magician’s Book last winter, I, quite frankly, fell in love with Laura Miller’s writing. There is a short list of people whose writing I will read, no matter what it is. That list is as follows—Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jacqueline Carey, and Laura Miller. But while Chabon also writes fantastically on the subject of reading, Miller is the only one who regularly reviews books for Salon.com. Her bookish thoughts on a near-weekly basis… be still, my beating heart. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Laura Miller appreciation post.
With the advent (and growing popularity) of eBooks, I’m seeing more and more articles about how much “better” they can be, because they have the option to be interactive … videos, music, glossaries … all sorts of little extra goodies to help “enhance” your reading experience, rather like listening to the Director’s commentary on a DVD of your favorite movie.
How do you feel about that possibility? Does it excite you in a cutting-edge kind of way? Or does it chill you to the bone because that’s not what reading is ABOUT?
To be totally honest, I don’t think listening to a commentary track enhances a film. When you say enhance, I think about things like improving video quality and the like, which improves the overall experience of watching that story unfold—commentaries are a behind-the-scenes thing. You’d never watch a film for the first time with the director’s commentary track on!
In any case, I like extras. I really enjoy the bonus material in the 2006 edition of Good Omens, which consisted of a foreword, pieces written by each author on the other author, and discussion of the creation of the book. I love stuff like that, and as long as it doesn’t get into the main text (although I would certainly accept something equivalent to a Director’s Cut!), I’m completely fine with it.
In fact, Laura Miller recently wrote about this very subject for Salon, focusing on the use of digital books for poetry—towards the end, she imagines a version of “The Canterbury Tales” where the audio track is in Middle English but the text on the page is a modern English translation. I think that’s well worth exploring.
I just finished a class on young adult and children’s literature, which was cross-discipline; we had women from all sorts of backgrounds in this class. Of course, this meant that we had to spend one class getting everyone up to speed on what literary criticism and theory is. (Conclusion: literary theory is the hammer with which you forge your literary criticism, presumably into a sword. There was also an example with dead horses, but I think that was a “you had to be there” moment.) But what I want to share with you guys is this—one of my classmates raised her hand and asked (I’m paraphrasing here), “But if you read a book with a specific focus, aren’t you going to find stuff that isn’t there?” A much brighter classmate than I set her straight with a Hemingway story, but it got me thinking.
Does literary criticism, as some people think, destroy the pure enjoyment of a book?
Laura Miller opens The Magician’s Book with a personal memory about her childhood relationship to Narnia. Left to her own devices, she’s “wishing with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again” (3). Throughout my life, I’ve encountered people with similar relationships to secondary worlds (as Tolkien calls them), who loved them so much they wanted to go there so very badly.
Me? Not so much.
The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller
The Magician’s Book came to me through Ana’s brilliant review over at things mean a lot; accessible literary criticism concerning a fantasy series? Be still, my heart! I was all ready to snap it up until I hit the obvious stumbling block—I’d never read The Chronicles of Narnia. (Yes, this is why we had Narnia Week back in November.) As soon as I came back to school after the holidays, I picked it up—even before I moved in. That’s quite some hype! Wonderfully, The Magician’s Book lived up to my expectations.