Thursday, March 31, 2022

A Book That I Do Recall Reading

Here is the last of the three reposts from 2008 about Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read. I know you've been waiting for it.

You'll  note in this post that I saw Bayard writes that we're going to forget a lot that we read. Vrai, vrai. The interesting thing about How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is that I haven't forgotten it. I don't recall every word, of course. Reading these posts was a nice refresher. But the book, itself, and Bayard's point about how we often have knowledge of books we haven't read because of the significance of the books for our culture has definitely stuck with me.

Friday, June 27, 2008 In Which We Talk About Different Ways Of Not Reading

Pierre Bayard describes in How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read four ways of not reading books:

Books You Don't Know: I don't recall a whole lot about this section. At this point, I was still wondering if Bayard was joking.

Books You Have Skimmed: I have to admit, I've had to do this many times. There are a lot of books out there that I feel I should be familiar with but find really dreadful. So once I decide that I'm too old to be wasting valuable hours of my life reading this dribble, I start skimming so that I have a feel for the work. Seriously, I think it's much better to have a feel for a book then to have no knowledge of it at all. As it turns out, Bayard agrees with me.

Books You Have Heard Of: Reading reviews, articles, and blog posts about books can give you a handle on the books' place in the booky scheme of things, or the collective library, as Bayard calls it.

Books You Have Forgotten: Sadly, we're going to forget a lot of what we read.

You know the way of not reading that Bayard doesn't cover in his book? Books you have read and not understood. Sophie's World comes immediately to my mind. Perhaps Bayard, being a French intellectual and all, has never experienced this kind of not reading.

Monday, March 28, 2022

How Does A Book Relate To The Rest Of The World?

Below is part-two of the three-part arc from 2008 on Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read that I'm republishing during my twentieth anniversary year. 

If I had all the time in the world, I'd read Bayard's book Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? The Mystery Behind the Agatha Christie Mystery I don't mean to brag, but I recall figuring out who the killer was in that book by the time I got to page three. And that was before I learned why the book is famous.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 In Which We Talk About Our Collective Library

When Pierre Bayard talks about
 not reading, he's not talking about reading in the sense of an enjoyable experience, becoming one with a character, or any of that good stuff. He's talking about acquiring knowledge about how a book relates to the rest of the world. 

Societies, Bayard suggests, maintain what he calls a "collective library," meaning a virtual collection of books that the culture is familiar with. (You know, the way most Americans are familiar with characters from The Wizard of Oz without having read the book or maybe even having seen the movie.) One of his points is that sometimes a book is more significant for its relationship to other books in the collective library than it is for its own content. If individuals understand or at least know about the book's significance, they can talk about the book in that way. And it would be very legitimate for them to do so. 

Imagine, if you will, that it is the year 2057. A turn-of-the-century series of children's books about a kid named Harry Potter is oh, so yesterday. No one reads them, but everyone knows about Harry because of all kinds of literary references, movie references, maybe some song references. Harry Potter, though not read, is part of the collective library.

Say you are a graduate student in the year 2057, and you wouldn't read any of the Harry Potter books on a bet. But you are aware that the appearance of Harry Potter in the 1990s brought masses of adult readers to children's literature, encouraged serial novels, knocked problem novels off their pedestal in kidlit, and popularized fantasy. Knowing the significance of the series in relation to other books is arguably as important as anything in the books and certainly gives you something to discuss if Harry P. comes up when you're trapped in your advisor's office. In fact, there are probably many books we should know something about even if we haven't read them.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Book About Reading I Did Like

My last dip into the Original Content archive resulted in a repost on a book about reading that I really didn't enjoy reading. Today, as part of my continuing observance of my blog's twentieth anniversary, I'm starting republishing a three-post arc from 2008 on  Pierre Bayard's How ToTalk About Books You Haven't Read. This was a book on reading that I did like.

Once again, there are some dead links in the following post. There are live ones in the above paragraph.

Monday, June 23, 2008 In Which We Begin To Talk About A Book We've Read

Pierre Bayard's How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read isn't really about faking itAu contraire. It's very much about reading. In fact, it's a far more interesting and heartfelt discussion of reading than the "classic" How to Read a Book, which I'm guessing has destroyed the will to read in generations of Americans.

Bayard's tone is often slightly tongue-in-cheek, particularly in the early chapters. In fact, for a while I wondered if he was making up a couple of the authorities he cited early on. But, no, there really was a Robert Musil and a Paul Valery. And I've just admitted I'd never heard of them. Yikes.

But I am talking about them.

One of the many interesting things about this book called How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read is that each chapter includes a discussion of an author or a work that Bayard, if all his footnotes are to be believed, has read. All the books he discusses, either nonfiction or fiction, included a discussion of avoiding reading or a character who is in some kind of situation in which he can be said to have to talk about books he hasn't read. Bayard does more than use this material to support his own arguments. He makes these books sound interesting.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

How To Read....ZZZZZZZZZ

I recently read an article I can no longer find about reading. It mentioned a book on reading that I recall burning. I also did a blog post about it. As part of my blog anniversary observance, I'm going to republish that post. Later, I'll rerun some on a book about reading that I liked much better. 

I'm aware that a couple of the links in this post go nowhere. It's fourteen years old. What can we expect?

Sunday, June o4, 2006 I Give Up

I have been broken.

Last summer I began reading How to Read a Book, The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. I've read 238 of its 346 pages (not counting the reading list and exercises and tests at the end). I've decided to throw in the towel because life is just too short.

Clearly, intelligent reading is beyond me.

One of the things the authors suggest readers do is write in their books. I'm totally with them there. In the front of my copy of How to Read a Book I wrote out the fifteen (that's 15) steps to reading a book. In addition, I wrote out the four questions to ask about a book, the four ways to look at words, and the four ways to look at facts. (My notes also say these are also the four aspects of encyclopdias.) The last 100 pages must have had more lists, but since I can't remember the ones I wrote down it seems unlikely that I would have gained anything from reading and writing down the rest of them.

I found How to Read a Book repetitive. It also used long analogies that increased the verbiage.

Quite honestly, I only remember those points because I wrote them down along with all my lists.

How to Read a Book was originally written in 1940 and the last copyright date is 1972. It's very dated, and not just because the authors keep referring to readers as "men."

My own faithful readers (the ones who are still with me since yesterday) will recall that I just wrote about the large number of books being published today. Far, far, more books are being published now then when How to Read a Book was being written or even when it was being revised. While many of the individual steps Adler and Van Doren suggest are worthwhile, it just isn't practical for readers to keep a couple of dozen tasks in mind while trying to keep up with today's load of reading.

At one point, Adler and Van Doren suggest which steps to keep in mind while reading a book for the first time. Other steps are saved for subsequent readings.

Subsequent readings????

Okay, sure, researchers planning to write a scholarly work better read their texts more than once. But the rest of us? Let's face facts. It's just not going to happen.

It's very possible that I could use some advice on how to read a book. I couldn't get through this one, after all. But I need that advice to be readable and practical and relevant to the situation I find myself in--"so many books and so little time." That appears to be a much different situation from the one that existed when Adler and Van Doren were writing their book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Uni The Unicorn Is A Thing

Once again, my writers' group colleagues are being all creative. At Christmas one of them made several pocket pillows for children in her family. Basically, they are pillows with a pocket for carrying things, primarily books. I thought, Hey, I can do that. I should be able to do that. Can I do that? 

It turns out, I can. In two and a half months, I've made one pocket pillow, purchased three more pillow forms, and material for one more pillow. If you do the math, you might be able to figure out that I plan to make four pillows. And I want to have them done by the end of the summer. That's another five and a half months. In two and a half months, I've only made one. If you do the math, well...don't.

Why Are You Telling Us About This, Gail? Oh! A Book Connection!

Anyway, the first pillow was for a very young woman who is  fond of unicorns. Being an extremely open-minded person who doesn't impose her will on others, I went looking on-line for unicorn fabric instead of using some of the little girl scientist fabric I'd bought just to have on hand, for sewing emergencies, I guess. I found some material at my go-to-fabric spot, and it was called Uni the Unicorn. What's more, the site had other Uni the Unicorn fabric that coordinated with the first item I wanted. So I bought a yard of three different types.

Thus I knew I was buying Uni the Unicorn material, I just didn't know what it meant until I was pressing it after washing it. (Always wash your material before sewing, people.) That's when I noticed that the border was stamped with a 2020 copyright "Estate of Amy Krouse Rosenthal Art/Illustrations c 2020 Brigette Barrager" Also "Published by Random House Children's Books."

Well, it didn't take much sleuthing to find that Uni the Unicorn is a character in  a series of books written by the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Brigette Barrager 

I got very excited when I found out about this, because that meant my pocket pillow was going in my blog!

The Results

The pocket pillow wasn't that difficult or time-consuming to make, once I had a Saturday to do it. Finding the material, the pillow form, and iron-on interfacing actually took more effort.

I'm including two books with each of these pillow gifts. For this one I chose A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni, because I'd read it with another family member and liked it.

I also took a look at the first Uni the Unicorn book. Though I'm not a fan of those fantasy creatures, this story had a twist I liked, so that book will be part of this gift, as well.

I have the material for the next pillow (theme--cats) and am still looking for rainbow material for the third one. Don't have a clue what the fourth pillow theme will be.

If it's related to a book, you'll hear about it.

Monday, March 14, 2022

An Incredible YA Historical Novel

I finished reading A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia a week or two ago. Williams-Garcia is the author of a number of books for young people, but the one I'm familiar with is One Crazy Summer, which I described as "fantastic." A Sitting in St. James and One Crazy Summer are very different, though. One Crazy Summer is middle grade historical fiction set in California in 1968. A Sitting in St. James is YA historical fiction set in the antebellum south with mature content and a sophisticated writing style that never lets the reader go. One Crazy Summer I recall including humor. A Sitting in St. James has some dry humor but at a couple of points while reading it early on I remember thinking, This is a horror story. Though it's the kind of horror that's real. 

As I said, A Sitting in St. James is YA, and it does involve three main YA characters, one the son of the owner of a down-at-the-heels plantation, one his enslaved, and acknowledged, half sister, and one the slave who serves the plantation's elderly matriarch. How they will live their lives, either within the family/plantation or by separating from it, is a classic YA situation. 

However, there are two adult characters in this book who have an impact on all around them, and they are hugely important. Sylvie, the elderly wife of the original plantation owner, is obsessed with her past in France, when she knew the royal family. Her son, Lucien, is pretty much a monster. And, yet, what an amazing character. A monsterish character,

Some interesting points:

  • No one is happy here, slave owner or slave. You'd think that the horrible things Sylvie and Lucien do would support lives that give them satisfaction, because, otherwise, why do them? But, no, they are both miserable. Which, perhaps, may be the point. They're miserable and spread the misery.
  • The attitude of the white characters toward the black goes beyond thought or logic. It just is. A gay character, whose life would be ruined if he's found out, might be expected to feel some compassion for others who live under repression. Nope. Doesn't have a clue. The lovely young  woman who is just a beacon of goodness knows how to put a black woman in her place and does so.
  • White children grow up with their fathers' black children. They're aware they are half-siblings and grow up as half-siblings. They think nothing of the fact that their half-siblings are slaves and they're not. Or that their fathers cheated on their mothers. Or that their fathers, in all likelihood, raped their half-siblings' mothers. 
  • Williams-Garcia shifts point of view in this book, without the cliched YA device of making different chapters from different points of view with the POV character's name on the first page to make sure everyone understands what's happening. This is something that I haven't seen a lot of in the last few decades, and I thought it was even discouraged in the publishing world. It works very well here. (Everina Maxwell does it in Winter's Orbit, too. Striking to have seen it twice recently in such different books.)
Williams-Garcia has created an incredible, justifiably disturbing world in which she tells a mesmerizing story about a plantation family's downfall and its impact on the next generation. The Guilbert family crashes not because of the Civil War foreshadowed in A Sitting in St. James, but because of who they are.

This should be a terrific crossover book for adult readers.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

A Repost About Women's Work For Women's History Month


Well, I had hoped to generate some new material for Women's History Month, but that's not going to
to happen. So I decided this is the perfect time to do a little blog anniversary observance and reach into the archives for a post. Turns out, I've only been doing Women's History Month posts since 2017. I particularly like this one, in which I mention a favorite book and go on a favorite rant.

NOTE: The book giveaway mentioned in the original post is long over. I didn't edit out the first reference to it, because I wanted to keep the intro about Fancy Party Gowns and Ann Cole Lowe. 

And, yes, I am aware that today is also International Women's Day.

Wednesday, March 8 2017 Women's Work And A Book, Maybe For You

I have another copy of Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal with illustrations by Laura Freeman to give away, and I'm going to offer it in honor of Women's History MonthFancy Party Gowns is about Ann Cole Lowe, a mid-twentieth century African American dress designer who designed for wealthy white women. She was quite popular with them. Lowe has great significance in the history of her field.

Her field involves sewing, traditional women's work.

During Women's History Month I'm seeing all kinds of terrific material about women in science, the military, and technology. I'm seeing reports on women explorers and inventors.

 Ann Cole Lowe made clothes.

And that's very important in terms of women's history, because Lowe wasn't the only woman who sewed over these last few hundred and maybe thousand years. Yes, she sewed particularly well, but in terms of women's history, as I said, in my mind, she represents something. She represents traditional women's work. In a big, spectacular way.

The Significance of Traditional Women's Work

Women kept humanity going with the traditional work they did to keep families functioning, to keep family members alive. They still do.

When I was in college, I heard about a women's history library at what was then Radcliffe College. (The library is now the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.) There were thousands of cookbooks there. Twenty thousand, it turns out, a fifth of the collection's 100,000 books. My first response when I learned about this was to get all holier-than-thou college student. Who did those private college people think they were, pigeonholing women as cooks?
From my kitchen bookshelf

But somewhere along the line, I learned that cookbooks in days of old weren't just lists of ingredients and how to mix them together.  The American Frugal Housewife by Mrs. Child, originally published in 1832, describes how to corn meat and includes a section on "remedies." "A rind of pork bound upon a wound," for instance, will prevent the lock-jaw, in case you ever need to know that. Even a twentieth century cookbook like Good Housekeeping's Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries, originally published 1922,  includes a year's worth of menus, three per day, and a section of household tips.

Cookbooks used to describe how people lived. They described what women did in particular times. When I realized that, I became more interested in cooking, as women's work, and in women's work, in general.

Yes, historically women have been ignored for their work and contributions to NASA, paleontology, medical research, everything. But they've been ignored and even belittled for the work that was considered "their place," as well. How important was traditional women's work in, say, the American West or any frontier? I've read that the loss of a wife in those areas and times was a greater catastrophe than the loss of a husband. At least a woman with some money could hire a man to help with farm work. And, what's more, many women shared their husband's work on farms/ranches. They could at least milk a cow, take care of chickens and a garden and maybe do much more, if their husbands died.  But where was a man with children to raise, feed, dress, on top of his traditional work going to get help, if his wife died? What was the likelihood that a man could do much of women's work, the way many women could do theirs? We hear about mail-order wives; we don't hear about mail-order husbands.

Monday, March 07, 2022

An American Children's Author In Ukraine

Michael Sampson, a children's author (his work includes Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 and other books with the late Bill Martin Jr.) and academic, won a Fulbright Scholarship to research and teach English in Ukraine. He was in the country late last year, moving to Poland, where he continues to teach on-line, before Ukraine was invaded. 

You can read about his experiences at The Chicago Tribune and NPR

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Connecticut Book Awards Open For Submissions

The Connecticut Center for the Book at Connecticut Humanities is now accepting submissions for the 2022 Connecticut Book Awards. This award is for books published in 2021. Connecticut Book Awards recognize the best books by authors and illustrators from Connecticut or books about Connecticut.

Among the categories is Books for Young Readers. 

There's a $50.00 submission fee, and submissions close on May 2, 2022

Much more information is available at the Connecticut Center for the Book's website

Yes, you can submit your own book.