I have a lot of links and not a lot of time to think about more interesting and profound posts. So here’s what’s happening on my laptop!
Ayyy, get it? It’s like ‘runt of the litter’, but books and the written word, so literature.
…I’ll see myself out.
Having recently written about my favorite standout works from amazing authors, I decided it was time to do the opposite. That is, rudely single out my least favorite works by some of my best-beloved authors. Blasphemy.
I think my greatest hope, when I write about books, is that people will be inspired to feel like the classics are less remote. It’s logical that, looking at the whole of the history of writing and authorship, you can find better pieces than were published in the past five or ten years. For me personally, writing styles from longer ago are more pleasing than current writing (again, speaking very generally). But I do think that we have a tendency to venerate classic literature kind of excessively. Which makes people hesitant to read it and interact with it. They’re just books like any other, and books are there for people to read and enjoy. A book should never make you feel bad, and you should never feel ‘unworthy’ of a book or guilty for having a negative opinion about one. It’s like trying on clothes. If you try on something that doesn’t fit, it’s the clothing that doesn’t fit you, not you who doesn’t fit the clothing.
Okay, rant over. Here’s a collection of books from my favorite authors who can by and large do no wrong. And these are examples of the doing wrong (again, by me). Books that I am perfectly content to not like.
Continue reading “The Runt of the Literature”
And we’re back.
It’s taken me a while to regain the desire to blog (or do anything, for that matter) post-election. I haven’t made the fact that I’m fairly liberal a secret, on this blog or anywhere else. And I’m very distressed about the looming prospect of a Trump presidency.
However, this is something I’ve talked about on various other social media, and for now I don’t see this blog becoming a platform for that. In very great part because it’s not something I’m ready to talk about to a general audience.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to broach the subject of the election here. This is all there will be for now.
And in the meantime, I’d like to let you in on some family dynamics. Some family reading dynamics. We’re all rather literate. I read more than either of my parents do. I also think about and talk about books a great deal more. There are over 400 distinct titles on my ‘to read’ list at the moment, and at one point it was over 2000.
I love recommending books to people (especially when people are willing to talk about their other favorites so I can get a good idea of what they like)- this may sound a bit strange, but I’ve realized that searching for ‘the perfect thing’ is one of my favorite things to do. I do it with movies, books, gifts, names, everything really.
In a horrible twist of fate, I don’t like taking recommendations very much. Especially when it comes to books. Books take a little while longer to get through than movies, and while I will not infrequently add things to my reading list based on recommendations, I’m not likely to let some upstart recommendation jump the 400+ line of books waiting for my love and attention. And you have to read a book when you’re in the right mood for it. I can’t just be in the right mood for a book because someone recommended it.
But to the point of this post: My parents and I trade recommendations pretty frequently. Or they sometimes recommend things that I eventually get around to and the rest of the time I’m shoving an elite selection of books at them, desperately trying to get them to read when really they have lives and other hobbies and I… well, I do, but not as much.
So a dissection of this over the years, starting with Mom- I’ll do Dad tomorrow: Continue reading “Back with Books”
Alright, playwrights; come on down!
Also I’m home this weekend and it’s f’ing awesome (do I not want to swear because I’m in the sanctity of my parents’ kitchen?- Probably not because I swear all the time here too). But I’m typing this in fuzzy pajamas at the kitchen counter: As I said, f’ing awesome.
So hey, playwrights! Also I finished Play It As It Lays (Hi Joan Didion) on the train yesterday (I kind of accidentally sneaked onto an Acela, but that’s a story for another time) and it was a soul-flattening look at the empty abyss. Good stuff. Probably going to need to read a Cliffnotes summary today so I can order my feelings around someone else’s cut-and-dried academic structure.
Okay, back on track. A disclaimer: I really considered including Henrik Ibsen. I really like Henrik Ibsen. But I fell out of love with him a few years ago and haven’t read anything of his since Peer Gynt (that was weird). But maybe he’ll join us in the upper echelons of my love someday. And Eugene O’Neill. I’ve only read Long Day’s Journey into Night. Gorgeous and sinister. Do read Eugene O’Neill, even if he’s not on my list yet (because I know you’re just waiting for my recommendation, hahaha). I also need to read more Moliere. And Racine. But I like novels better than plays, so who knows when that will happen. I’ve also read a fair amount of Euripides in my life (I don’t know why). They’re pretty good, but not my favorites.
But who is?
- Tennessee Williams
Someday I will have read all of Tennessee Williams’ oeuvre and I’ll have nothing left to live for (except maybe Eugene O’Neill). Almost every single one of these plays is deeply affecting, interesting, and beautifully crafted. The Glass Menagerie, *A Streetcar Named Desire, *Suddenly Last Summer, *Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo, Clothes for a Summer Hotel. Loved all of them. Except Camino Real. I couldn’t read Camino Real. Bonus: a lot of these plays were made into equally amazing movies around the 1950s. I put an asterisk next to ones with excellent movie versions (that I’ve seen, anyway).
- Peter Shaffer
First, I didn’t know that Peter Shaffer had died this year until I stated writing this. May a great writer rest in peace. Don’t recognize the name? He wrote Amadeus (speaking of plays with astonishing movie adaptations). He also wrote Equus, which became famous as the play that Daniel Radcliffe/Harry Potter stripped naked for. Yeah, that’s not why I like it. It has horses in it. Who needs naked Daniel Radcliffe when you have horses. I haven’t read Shaffer’s other works (yet) (there aren’t many), but both of these really grabbed me.
- Arthur Miller
So I’ve only read The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. And I’ll start with Death of a Salesman because I have so much to say about The Crucible. Death of a Salesman has one of my favorite lines: “Life is your oyster, but you’re not going to crack it open on a mattress.”
The Crucible is one of the most gorgeous things that I’ve ever read and perhaps that has ever been written. It’s one of those pieces that makes you want to become the devil incarnate (No? Just me?). Abigail is one of the most interesting and badass women in literature. The Salem Witch Trials are a fascinating topic, even when fictional (Hi ParaNorman)- and not only to those of us born and raised in New England. They performed The Crucible at my high school (before I was in high school) but because my Dad was a teacher we went to see it. I remember it being very well done, riveting even. The book is like that too. And my memory is that the movie version, with Winona Ryder as Abigail, is fairly good.
Very unoriginal, but I’m a fan. Without getting into whether he wrote the plays or who he was or whatnot… My favorite is Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the first one I read, I think the summer after fifth grade. Dad and I read it together. I remember being on vacation, he smashed a mosquito with the book (No Fear, Shakespeare- we were reading one side and discussing the meanings) and there was a smudge on it forever after. It’s funny, but I guess I’ll remember that mosquito forever. I wonder if he would be pleased to know that he was murdered with Shakespeare rather than Twilight or People Magazine or something. Anyway, Shakespeare is prolific- there’s something for everyone, whether you like romance, tragedy, comedy, war stories, history, what have you. Just try to erase from your mind all of those times you had to do class readings in high school English. (Now let me shout a few titles: OTHELLO! HAMLET! THE SCOTTISH PLAY (superstitious?)! THE TEMPEST! AS YOU LIKE IT! ROMEO AND JULIET! MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING! THE TAMING OF THE SHREW! KING LEAR!)
In the few months since I posted a list of my favorite authors (one of my first lists here, incidentally) I haven’t been able to stop thinking of those poor lost souls I didn’t include who rightfully deserved their place on said list.
So today I’m going to remedy some of that by focusing on the nonfiction authors and playwrights I omitted.
As a refresher, an author or playwright is objectively a favorite if they have multiple works, most of which I love/find amazing/enjoy.
So step right up, nonfictioners and theater people!
- E.B. White
So Charlotte’s Web is brilliant. Stuart Little is brilliant. The Trumpet of the Swan is even better because Boston and Swan Boats and the Public Garden. But E.B White wrote some really astonishingly good and beautiful essays and I stayed up reading them all night before Thanksgiving my freshman year of college after being introduced to them through English 115 [we read Death of a Pig in class (And to all those people who thought he was mocking the pig and its pain- He wrote fucking Charlotte’s Web! Context people- you really think E.B. White is a pig-hater?! Idiotic)]. Somehow I didn’t get turned on to this when I was made to read Once More to the Lake my senior year of high school. (Probably because the class, professor, and short story were all of lesser quality). So White’s farm tales feed my soul. The New York ones are also quite good.
- Joan Didion
At the moment I’m reading Play It As It Lays, which is lovely and bleak. Mom recommended it. She likes lovely and bleak (as do I). She’s also the reason Carson McCullers will be up on a coming installment of this list. But Play It As It Lays is fiction, you say. Shut up. Because she’s also on here for Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking. That last one. Ouch. Ooof. All of it in the feels. I read it shortly after Dad’s rock climbing accident. I sometimes wonder how much loving a book has to do with serendipitous alignment of mood, circumstance, another factors. I do sometimes just set a book aside because I know I’m not in the right mindset to properly get it. Which is another of the benefits of having favorite well-trusted authors. You can just say, “I’m feeling Steinbeck.” or “Wow, that Thomas Hardy just razed my soul, please find me a Jane Austen before I curl into the fetal position.” But anyway, Didion: points for naming her daughter Quintana. Pretty awesome.
- Antoine de St. Exupery
Okay, forget about The Little Prince for a minute. I know it’s hard. Because that book is a lot and because it’s the Expert that’s been shoved down everyone’s throats forever. I know the fox is wonderful. I know the rose is a callous, disillusioned, shallow bitch (Like all women, am I right?) (The answer is NO, misogynistic pigs). FORGET ABOUT IT AND GO READ HIS STORIES ABOUT FLYING. PLANES. Both fiction and nonfiction. Wind, Sand, and Stars. Night Flight. Flight to Arras. His journals of the war years. I want to include a quote to impress upon you that overwhelming beauty of his writing about planes and flight. But I can’t pick one. And the quotes, beautiful in and of themselves, are actually glorious when they’re all nested and twined together in a complete story. They’re not long but the amount of human feeling, profundity, and aspiration they encompass is like filling your lungs fully with air for the first time. And they’re so little talked about it kills me.
- Ernest Hemingway
Haha, yes okay maybe this is cheating a little bit. My favorite Hemingway is A Moveable Feast. *Swoon*. But Hemingway is known for his fiction. Which I also quite like (with exceptions). Like you’d think To Have and Have Not would be perfect given that I love the movie based on it (Bogie and Bacall, MORE SWOON). But it’s not, one of the few times the movie is head and shoulders above the book (don’t kill me). But hey, he has some good short stories. The Sun Also Rises is good. Except ew, bullfighting. The Old Man and the Sea is definitely good.
Let’s be honest: Hemingway is holding on by the ends of his nails. I’m even taking into account his love of extra-toed cats. Without that he probably wouldn’t be on here. (Also he was really attractive.) The thing is A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite favorite books. And that’s enough to make up for my more tepid admiration of some of his other works. They’re not as favorite-y as they could be, but A Moveable Feast is here to make up the difference.
- Peter Mayle
I love Peter Mayle. I love reading about Provence and Provençal culture. It makes me happy. And his anecdotes are truly amusing. A Year in Provence, Encore Provence, and Toujours Provence. But I’m not very fond of Peter Mayle’s fiction. But the anecdotes about the mistral? Parisian gastronomic delights? Truffle gangsterdom and swindles? His crazy neighbor (like the French version of a hillbilly?). Such excellent summer reading. Or, you know, also good for chasing away winter blues. Always is good too. An important point here being that I’m a bit of a francophile (if you haven’t noticed) so if you’re indifferent to the French (or if, like my Pop Pop, you’ve avoided and disliked them ever since you met some rude ones while in the navy) I don’t know that these will be up your alley.
Okay, I lied! This is long enough- I’m saving playwrights for a separate write up. There are four of them. Debate who they are in your heads until then.