Reluctant Habits

Operating Instructions (Modern Library Nonfiction #99)

Posted by in lamott-anne, Modern Library, Nonfiction Challenge, Reading

Why has Anne Lamott’s groundbreaking book about motherhood fallen from grace? In our second essay in the Modern Library Nonfiction Challenge, we look into OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS as the urtext for mommy blogs and chick lit., while commending Lamott’s overlooked stylistic innovations to confessional writing.

Melbourne (Modern Library Nonfiction #100)

Posted by in cecil-david, Melbourne, Modern Library, Nonfiction, Reading, William Lamb

How can a bumbling statesman from the 19th century help us cultivate more tolerance for humankind? Lord David Cecil’s biography offers some unexpected possibilities. We examine the curious case of William Lamb Melbourne in the first of our Modern Library Nonfiction essays.

Kim (Modern Library #78)

Posted by in Kim, kipling-rudyard, Modern Library, Reading

In the next thrilling Modern Library installment, our intrepid reader reads Kipling’s major novel and is troubled by the sour and regressive taint.

A Room with a View (Modern Library #79)

Posted by in forster-em, Modern Library, Reading

In this latest Modern Library essay, we offer our hostile thoughts on Merchant Ivory films, contemplate how many Cecil Vyse types were killed off during the war, and investigate E.M. Forster’s humanity.

Brideshead Revisited (Modern Library #80)

Posted by in Modern Library, Reading, waugh-evelyn

The latest Modern Library Reading Challenge essay responds to claims that Evelyn Waugh was “a bi-curious hipster boyfriend,” investigates the mysterious relationship between Charles and Sebastian, and gets into cultural dichotomies.

The Adventures of Augie March (Modern Library #81)

Posted by in Bellow, Saul, Modern Library, Reading

In this latest Modern Library Reading Challenge essay, our intrepid reader is awestruck by Saul Bellow’s masterpiece and what it says about stretching the soul.

Behind the Book: Jürgen Fauth, Tom Perrotta, and Mark Leyner

Posted by in fauth-jurgen, leyner-mark, perrotta-tom, Reading

A Thursday night report of a KGB bar reading featuring Jürgen Fauth, Tom Perrotta, and Mark Leyner.

Angle of Repose (Modern Library #82)

Posted by in Modern Library, Reading, stegner-wallace

In the latest Modern Library Reading Challenge installment, our intrepid reader dishes on his book club days, wrestles with Wallace Stegner’s plagiarism, and examines the relationship between history and personal mythology.

A Bend in the River (Modern Library #83)

Posted by in Modern Library, naipaul-vs, Reading

In the latest Modern Library Reading Challenge installment, Our Correspondent ponders whether VS Naipaul can ever overcome his monstrous tendencies.

The Death of the Heart (Modern Library #84)

Posted by in bowen-elizabeth, Modern Library, Reading

In this latest Modern Library Reading Challenge Essay, our intrepid reader discovers how Elizabeth Bowen’s cruelty somehow affirms unanticipated pockets of sanguinity.

What Characters Read Books on Television?

Posted by in Reading, Television

The above screenshot is from a Three’s Company episode called “The Lifesaver,” in which even the dimwitted Chrissy Snow could be seen reading a book. The novel is Concerto of Love (fictional, of course) and Chrissy had only reached Page 4. But it does have me wondering. In 1979, even sitcom characters who were more than a few cards short of a full deck were still committed to reading in some form. Can we say the same thing in 2010? What television reading moments have you seen lately? UPDATE: Here…read more

Needless Counting Exercises

Posted by in Reading

Words, being silly little units of language reflecting emotional and synaptic activities, are subject to frequent bursts of growth which are known to frustrate the unadventurous reader, possibly causing a regrettable series of eructations. The ambitious novel containing many words is greeted with suspicion, as if all minds are expected to conform to some craven concision. The slim novel may likewise be received by those eagerly wishing to plant plaints, but these impatient toe-tappers are often considering the words-per-ounce (and unspoken words-per-dollar) text stat introduced by the seemingly unstoppable commercial…read more


Ben Macintyre: The Latest Sourpuss to Run Away From Possibilities

Posted by in Reading

The Times‘s Ben Macintyre has mangled his mind in a senseless shower of his own hysteria. The Internet, he writes, is killing storytelling. I could respond to Mr. Macintyre’s foolish article with a vigorous list of items, pointing to such recent projects as Significant Objects, which has featured notable writers creating stories around eBay items, and Electric Literature, recently the subject of a New York Times article. But I think the more important question to ask is how such a yutz could write such an uninformed article. Reading, last I…read more

Good Books Don’t Have to Be Read

Posted by in grossman-lev, Reading

A good book is one that we don’t actually read. And a good book is one that a writer doesn’t actually write. It’s what makes guilty pleasures so guilty. It’s what makes pleasurable guilt so pleasurable. A box of juice reeks of crass commercialism when we insert our straws and revert back to those childhood years when the school bullies beat us up and told us that only sissies read. We crave books the way that we crave boxes of juice. There is a big man holding a gun to…read more

David Ulin: A Books Editor to Be Deactivated

Posted by in Los Angeles Times, Reading, ulin-david

If you are a humorless books editor packing mundanities (while also resorting to the groundless Sven Birkerts-style grumbling about online interlopers who express more enthusiasm about books in 140 characters than you can in 800 words) into a badly written piece about just how gosh darn hard it is for you to sit down and read, then you have no business keeping your job. David Ulin’s piece is not so much an essay, as it is a confession from an out-of-touch and calcified man who clearly does not love books…read more


Forthcoming Books

Posted by in Reading

Over the weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a summer reading preview in which it asked many of its contributors about books that they were looking for. Darby Dixon III has written recently about the dangers of anticipating new books. And the issue of having too many interesting books to read has caused grumblings even from the most robust readers. It’s not that we don’t want to read these books. We just don’t know when we’ll read them. Speaking for myself, William T. Vollmann’s Imperial sits in the pile, and it…read more


Tools of Change: Bob Stein & Peter Brantley

Posted by in Reading, tools of change

The morning started off with Bob Stein, founder and co-director of The Institute for the Future of the Book. It’s worth pointing out that for thirteen years, Stein worked for The Criterion Company, which he founded. Stein observed that he had always viewed the Criterion discs as items that he published and that this notion of “publishing” arose from a then groundbreaking video in 1980 that depicted the moving image with text on a screen. In Stein’s view, there was a McLuhan-like distinction to be made between user-driven media (books)…read more

Novel 2.0

Posted by in Internet, Reading

Reports of the Web’s harmful effects upon reading habits have been greatly overstated. Two recent online projects sufficiently demonstrate that we’re only just beginning to understand what the Web can do. The first is Power Moby Dick, an online depiction of Melville’s classic novel with often very helpful annotations on the side. (The annotations resemble the colored box version of David Foster Wallace’s “Host.”) The second is The Golden Notebook Project (via), in which Doris Lessing’s novel is online and searchable. Over five to six weeks, seven critics are providing…read more



Posted by in Art, life, Reading, Writing

The scholar and the world! The endless strife, The discord in the harmonies of life! The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books; The market-place, the eager love of gain, Whose aim is vanity, and whose end is pain! – Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamus” There exists a maximum amount of prearranged information, cultural reconfiguration, and other artistic offerings that one can ingest before it becomes necessary to splash bracing water upon one’s face (or, to take this idea further, to permit dollops of grease to…read more


Gregory Cowles Says Gaddis “Not Difficult,” But Doesn’t Know How to Read Properly

Posted by in cowles-gregory, Gaddis, William, marcus-ben, Markson, David, Ozick, Cynthia, Reading

Displaying the kind of literary hubris that David Markson once skewered in This is Not a Novel (“See Professor Bloom read the 1961 corrected and reset Random House edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses in one hour and thirty-three minutes. Not one page stinted. Unforgettable!”), the New York Times‘s Gregory Cowles claims that William Gaddis’s Carpenter’s Gothic “is not in fact all that difficult. For long stretches in this book, he was less difficult even than my sudoku puzzles.” Gaddis may not be “that difficult” to Mr. Cowles’s perception, but its…read more


Newspaper Accountability

Posted by in Reading

The Telegraph‘s Peter Robins has, to my great astonishment, followed up on my suggestion of asking book critics what they read for fun. Robins has queried his fellow staffers, even registering the response time and emotional reactions of his colleagues. This certainly sets a very important precedent, and I do hope that other newspapers follow Robins’s example. In the meantime, it seems a fine time to ask what you, dear readers, have read for fun these days. (For my own part, I have been wildly entertained by Iain M. Banks’s…read more


Conscience and Integrity

Posted by in Criticism, Edward Champion, Judgment, Reading, Zadie Smith

He was a passionate devotee of David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody, and many others who he sensed were writing the Great American Novel. He made acquaintances with a few of his heroes, attending workshops and the like. And he spent eleven years working on his novel. Because he needed his novel to be perfect. To his mind, this was the only way he could live up. He didn’t realize that great novels — and indeed great art — often happen by accident. By routine. By turning around work and getting…read more


Law of Averages

Posted by in Charles Baxter, Edward Champion, Reading

I hope to find more time to write at length about Charles Baxter’s extraordinary novel, The Soul Thief. Beyond Baxter nailing the relationship of “God Only Knows” to Brian Wilson’s personal development as an artist, one is tempted to read Nathaniel’s relationship with his parents in the context of this interesting essay (in which Baxter’s son offers annotated responses in relation to remembered anecdotes) contained in this month’s issue of The Believer. There is also this striking passage, to be considered in the same context as Philip Roth’s American Pastoral…read more


7 Additional Ways to Cultivate a Lifetime Reading Habit (And Become a Misanthropic Kook in the Process)

Posted by in Reading

So here’s a list on how to become a lifetime reader. But this series of suggestions doesn’t perform true justice for the truly hard-core. Because this list is inadequate if we take this vital reading sector into account, here are seven more handy suggestions: 15. Have friend ridicule you during any moment you’re not reading a book. The shame will then cause you to read further, particularly if there are electrodes attached to your hands. 16. Surround yourself with more books than you can possibly read. But this is too…read more


Free Book Day

Posted by in Comics, Reading

PW‘s Douglas Wolk reports on some of the successful efforts to turn average Joes and Janes into successful comic book regulars. Among one of the comic industry’s more enriching promotional tools is Free Comic Book Day, which disseminates samples and various issues of comics every year in May. All this makes me wonder why the publishing industry isn’t working with bookstores to institute “Free Book Day.” With all the “sky is falling” hyperbole being tossed around by book critics and booksellers alike, would not disseminating literature on a specific day…read more


Who Reads What?

Posted by in Reading

Many names, including George Bush (while Texas governor) and Jerry Lewis’s recommendation of The Fountainhead: “It’s a very profound book…Makes you think!” Somehow I’m not surprised that John Tesh’s favorite book is Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.


Another Game of “Humiliation”

Posted by in Reading

David Lodge featured the game “Humiliation” in his book, Changing Places, and it looks like James Tata is raising the stakes, bolding the NYT‘s “Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years” that he’s read. Since this is a better (although still flawed) list than the other one, I’m in. Beloved–Toni Morrison Underworld–Don DeLillo Blood Meridian–Cormac McCarthy Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels–John Updike – Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest American Pastoral–Philip Roth A Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole Housekeeping–Marilynne Robinson Winter’s Tale–Mark Helprin…read more


How to Read

Posted by in Reading

No, Mr. Brownlee, you are missing the point. The Book Mistress’s response on how to read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a perfectly reasonable one. We hard-core readers often forget that some people are thrown off guard by anything diverging from a traditional structure. Thus, a “normal” explanation for how to read something that seems so apparent to us might be of great value for them. This doesn’t take anything away from idiosyncratic readers who are prepared to skip around from middle to end to beginning, nor does…read more


Ulysses? The Recognitions? The Third Policeman? I Think I’ll Watch the DVD

Posted by in Reading

Washington Post: “‘You’re right. The book is long,’ I said. ‘But once you start this one, you won’t be able to put it down, right from that first page about the London fog.’ ‘I think I’ll watch the DVD,’ the student said.” (via Bookninja)


Reading is Not a Race

Posted by in Reading

John Freeman: “The sentences run to typical Pynchonian length, and the typeface is alarmingly small. One can spend 20 hours of a weekend reading this book and barely make a dent.” From David Markson’s This Is Not a Novel: Harold Bloom’s claim to The New York Times that he could read at a rate of five hundred pages per hour. Writer’s arse. Spectacular exhibition! Right this way ladies and gentlemen! See Professor Bloom read the 1961 corrected and reset Random House edition of Ulysses in one hour and thirty-three minutes….read more