Je suis Charlie

je suis charlie jsc-pencilAnyone who has been ostracized or blackballed for voicing a controversial opinion on Facebook, writing an incendiary op/ed piece, a too-critical blog, an impulsive e-mail, an unflattering caricature, or a provocative tweet learns that challenging the status quo is dangerous.

It is comforting to know that PEN exists to protect freedom of speech.

But not always, it would seem.

Approximately 145 of  the 3,000-plus members of the PEN American Center are protesting the PEN Freedom of Expression award to be given to Charlie Hebdo in May.

May I just interject, “Je suis Charlie.”

These reactionary  fiction writers, among them Francine Prose, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, and Junot Diaz, are using what I  call the argument of “political correctness” to condemn Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons as offensive, incendiary, and unworthy of the award. Do I laugh at political cartoons?  I do. Are they offensive?  Often.   Will I ever again buy books by the PEN “protestors”?  No, though I’ve always liked Carey and Ondaatje. Never mind. There’s always Juvenal, Jane Austen, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and MAD Magazine.

I applaud PEN for giving the award to Charlie Hebdo.  I admire Andrew Solomon, the American president of  PEN, who told NPR,”There have been very few places where people have consistently and constantly been willing to say the things that are offensive and to defend them as part of free speech.”

And thank God for Adam Gopnik’s article, “PEN Has Every Right to Honor Charlie Hebdo.” in The New Yorker,  April   30.

Their work, as I’ve written, was not for those who like subtlety and suavity in their satire—it was not entirely to my own taste—but they were still radically democratic and egalitarian in their views, with their one passionate dislike being, simply, the hypocrisies of any organized religion. Few groups in recent French history have been more passionately “minoritarian”—more marginalized or on the outs with the political establishment, more vitriolic in their mockery of power, more courageous in ridiculing people of far greater influence and power. They were always punching up at idols and authorities. No one in France has, for example, been more relentlessly, courageously contemptuous of the extreme right-wing Le Pens, père et fille.

You can also read a fascinating article at the PEN American website explaining the reason for the award.

And here is a quote from the article.:

Only a handful of people are willing to put themselves in peril to build a world in which we are all free to say what we believe. In continuing publication after their offices were firebombed in 2011 and again after the massacre in January, Charlie Hebdo’s current staff have taken that exact position.

The “assassin’s veto” over speech has become a global phenomenon in recent years and, even more vividly, in recent months, when we’ve seen killings not just in Paris but also in Copenhagen and Bangladesh. Reflecting the intensification of violent intolerance for speech considered offensive by some, former PEN American Center President Salman Rushdie has commented that while he would write The Satanic Verses again today, he does not believe that he would survive the reprisals in this era.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Bookbusters! or Nice Girls Finish Last

social-media-logosIf there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call?

If a book doesn’t get press, who ya gonna call?

Err, bookbusters!  That is, bloggers, Goodreads reviewers, Amazon reviewers, Shelfari, book tweeters, Instagrammers…   There is a plethora of social media venues.

The freebie novelty wears off fast.  Nowadays, I have a strict policy:  say no to review copies unless Margaret Drabble offers to send me her new book via drone from Amazon.  (Ha ha!)   But I am often offered books by unknowns that are crazily inappropriate for my blog.  For instance, a publicist recently offered a review copy of a novel about  “a black market organ broker, arranging the sales of kidneys and livers from donors who need the money to recipients whose time on the transplant list is running out.”  Does that sound like me.?

Even the crustiest blogger (that would be I) agrees occasionally to help a publicist or writer  promote a book. (It usually sounds promising on the press release.)  Okay, they’d rather have Janet Maslin write about it, but she shows no interest  in Demigod Down (The Succubus Executioner # 2).  I write to my contact, “I’m afraid I have to turn this one down, but think of me again.” Yes!  I got out of it.  But “think of me again”?  What if she wants me to review The Succubus Executioner 3?  I am a bit fractious when I must read books I dislike.    Even when I accepted a review copy of the award-winning H Is for Hawk, I thought it was of shocking poor quality.  Maybe Janet Maslin would have liked it.  Maybe she did like it.  I wasn’t very nice about it.

When you accept freebies, you can find yourself doing unpaid PR.  The freebie road can deflect you from reading  the books you have chosen to read and cherish.  One of my favorite bloggers used to write about the classics.  Now she reads freebie romances, mysteries, and other very light books. Freebies have changed her as a reader.

At Goodreads, there are hundreds of giveaway books, but there is much competition for them.  Most of the books seem to be romances or SF, but  there are also cookbooks and poetry.  Here is a brief sampling.

  • 10 copies available of Demigod Down (The Succubus Executionser # 2) by Kim Schubert, 500 requesting
  • 1 copy of The Calling (Finite Faerie Chronicle #) by Joseph Eastwood, 1009 people requesting
  • 1 copy of Homemade Sourdough: Mastering the Art and Science of Baking with Starters and Wild Yeast by Ed wood, 738 people requesting

You can also get free books at TLC Book Tours, where bloggers agree to write a book review and host an author interview.  The site says,  “As a host, you agree to receive a free book from one of our touring authors (who doesn’t like a free book??), read it and post a review on a date scheduled in advance for the author to “stop” at your blog.”

You know who doesn’t like a free book? ??

Netgalley is the best option for bloggers and consumer reviewers seeking free books.  You can request books from a huge selection, and there are even reprints of Rosamund Lehmann, Mavis Gallant, and Vance Bourjailly from Open Road Media.  I was invited by a publicist to join Netgalley three years ago, but I could not download any of the books on my Nook.  You really need a Kindle for Netgalley.  The Kindle receives the books instantly

In  George Orwell’s humorous essay, “Confessions of a Book Reviewer,” he explains why he dreads reveiwing on demand books about subjects he knows nothing about.

Half hidden among the pile of papers is a bulky parcel containing five volumes which his editor has sent with a note suggesting that they ‘ought to go well together’. …Yesterday in a resolute moment he ripped the string off it and found the five volumes to be Palestine at the Cross Roads, Scientific Dairy Farming, A Short History of European Democracy (this one 680 pages and weighs four pounds), Tribal Customs in Portuguese East Africa, and a novel, It’s Nicer Lying Down, probably included by mistake.

Do you sympathize?  He did get paid, though.

Ah, those were the days.

Things to Do for Trollope’s Bicentennial: Reading, Stamps, and An Exhibit at the British Library

New Trollope stamp in the UK.

New Trollope stamp in the UK.

Brave blogger that I am, I often read Trollope’s wonderful books with no intention of writing about them. They are very long, very amusing,  and to write about them might dilute my enthusiasm.

To commemorate Anthony Trollope’s 200th anniversary, there are many things to do besides write.  You can buy new Trollope stamps in the UK; see a display at the British Library of the manuscript of  An Autobiography;  enjoy a Bloggers’ Trollope Challenge; and discuss his books at online Trollope and Nineteenth Century Literature groups.

Everyone is reading Trollope; everyone is writing about Trollope.

Trollope an autobiography 51gdJSPhkKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Trollope is not someone you write about. That is my belief, though I have written about him.  You read him the way you eat cookies. I just finished The Prime Minister, the fifth novel in the Palliser series.  It wasn’t the best cookie in the series–that would be Can You Forgive Her?–but it was a very good oatmeal.  It centers on politics and a misbegotten romance.

Trollope wrote 47 novels, and all of them are in print.  Which ones will I read this year?  I decided not to read the Folio Society’s new complete edition of The Duke’s Children, because it is As Big As a Bible. Instead, I am enjoying my Oxford World Classics paperback edition, which is 576 pages. This is the last book in the Palliser series.

The Duke's Children Trollope 51A9PnnHbRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In a brilliant article in The New Yorker“Trollope Trending: Why He’s Still the Novelist of the Way We Live Now,” Adam Gopnik very briefly mentions the issue of the editing of The Duke’s Children:

A handsome new edition of “The Duke’s Children,” the last novel in the Palliser series, has just been published by the Folio Society. Much matter that had been cut by Trollope for practical reasons has been restored, but the truth is that the editing does not actually change the contents significantly. Trollope is not a sentence-by-sentence writer, or even a scene-by-scene writer; really, he is a character-by-character writer. We finish his books with portraits of people, and a few sentences added or subtracted don’t alter our feelings about the book.

Gopnik’s essay provides a brilliant introduction to Trollope and a scholarly analysis of the history of the reception of the books (they are back in style) and their historical context.  And he explicates Trollope’s  politics and why the books are not dated.

Gopnik says that Trollope’s politics still apply to such issues as gay marriage.

The movement for gay marriage is almost a textbook case of Trollope’s idea of how political reform happens: an impossible idea becomes possible, then becomes necessary, and then all but a handful of diehards accept its inevitability. The job of those trying to bring about change is not to hector it into the agenda of the necessary but to move it into the realm of the plausible. Once something is plausible in a semi-democratic society, it has a natural momentum toward becoming real. (Even decimal coinage happened eventually.)

I do not write about every book by Trollope I read, but I love to read about Trollope.  I have informally posted here about Phineas Finn, here about The Eustace Diamonds, here about Phineas Redux, and here about The Way We Live Now.

Ms. Mirabile Goes to The Little Free Library!

Little Free Library on the bicycle trail

Little Free Library on the bicycle trail

It looks like a dollhouse on a stick.

This Little Free Library is dubbed “General Store.”  Pull the handle on the side and the wall opens to reveal a shelf of free books.


Such libraries have sprung up all over my neighborhood.  Some are excellent, others seem to be junk drop-offs.

The Little Free Library movement started in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, when Todd Bol built a bookcase that looked like a a one-room schoolhouse. He put it in his yard with a sign that said “Free Book Exchange.”  The signs now say, “Take a book.  Leave a book.”

It caught on.  There are now 25,000  Little Free Libraries in the U.S. and in 40 other countries.   You can buy a kit from the website, or build your own.

IMG_3137We recently dropped off some books at the Little Free Library:  “good reading copies” of The Raj Quartet,  Nostromo, and The Ambassadors.

And today I dropped off more books.  Do you think anyone will want my old copies of  Emma, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Five Short Novels by Turgenev, or Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End?  (I’ve replaced them with nicer copies.)  Perhaps there’s hope for Emma and Parade’s End because of the BBC.

I doubt that the B.S. Johnson omnibus will go–I wasn’t wild about it myself–but someone may want Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum.

IMG_3148I don’t know if people want to read the classics.

Maybe people prefer the other books.  This is what was there.  Not much!


Books About the Country and the Woods: W. D. Wetherell’s North of Now and Louise Dickinson Rich’s We Took to the Woods

I enjoy books about the country, though I live in a city.

w. d. wetherell north of now 416N5RJCMVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In W. D. Wetherell’s meditative 2002 collection of essays, North of Now:  A Celebration of Country and the Soon to Be Gone,  he describes life in rural New Hampshire. His way of life, he says, is headed for extinction.  He fishes for trout, looks at the stars in an unpolluted sky, writes and receives letters in the age of e-mail, and knows where to find the best raspberries in August. He writes that Baby Boomers are a transitional generation between their grandparents and grandchildren “who will have no inkling of that world save from what portion of the collective memory and wisdom we are able to pass on…”

In the introduction, he explains,

In trying to record the pleasures of a life that is increasingly made up of the threatened, the soon to be gone, it seems best to celebrate what made these precious in the first place, not to try to convince people to go back to them, restore them to providence.  I write with absolutely no hope of that.

Part of the reason I like this book so much is that I feel a pang of recognition.  Life in towns and cities has also changed.  Downtown died with the exodus to the suburbs and the construction of giant malls. People drive enormous decorative trucks and SUVs, despite global warming.  They stay indoors (I often stay indoors, too), connected to computers and tablets. And the cell phone industry has persuaded everyone to buy unnecessary portable phones.  (No, these are not for emergencies.)

Wetherell recommends Louise Dickinson Rich’s 1942 classic, We Took to the Woods.

IMG_3127I recently tracked it down at a sale.  It is a delightful record of the Rich family’s life in the backwoods of Maine in the 1930s and ’40s. After years of living in cities, Louise and her husband, Ralph, both writers, moved to the woods.  They bought a property with several buildings, originally built as a fishing camp.

Louise Dickinson Rich's home portland-press-herald_3703051

Louise Dickinson Rich’s home in Maine in the 1930s.

Amazon Prime didn’t deliver to their house.  In the winter, the roads were so snowy that they were cut off from town for months. They had to stock up on canned goods.  They chop wood, garden, fish, occasionally hunt game and butcher it, attempt to train their affectionate huskies to pull a dog sled, and get acquainted with the cooks and lumberjacks at the lumber camps.  Their son Rufus throve.

Louise Dickinson Rich 267_image002Rich is a very likable, straightforward writer.  We Took to the Woods reads like a cross between Walden and the entertaining country chronicles of Gladys Taber.  Louise loves the woods and does not miss civilization:  she has time to read all the books she never read (she reads all of Proust and doesn’t think much of him); her librarian sister’s friend, a bookstore owner, sends her the galleys of the latest books; she listens to music on the radio, and they get Time once a week.

Like Gladys Taber, she is also a good cook.  She includes recipes for baked beans, pies, and other goodies.  I adored reading them and hope to make the baked beans someday.  (It is an all-day operation.)

One winter, a friend, Alice Miller,  calls her.  “Louise, how much food have you got?  I got a crew of five walked in here along the shore from the Arm to stay over the break-up and do some work on the dam.  I ain’t got  a thing to feed them.”

Louise doesn’t have much food, but she manages for three days.

We had pea soup, which is very filling.  I sent Gerrish (the hired man) fishing….   We had cornmeal mush and molasses.  The butter ran out, but we had johnny-cake and the last of the jam I had made the fall before.  We had dandelion greens and fiddle-heads …”

I couldn’t live like this!  I couldn’t stand to be cold in the winter and to be cut off from civilization.  But this is an important book.  People used to live like this. Do they still?

In Which I Find a Folio Society Set of the Collected Stories of Chekhov

This Folio Society set of The Collected Stories of Chekhov matches my lamp from Target!

This Folio Society boxed set of The Collected Stories of Chekhov matches my lamp from Target!

Paperbacks are perfect for reading in the horizontal position.  I love my Penguins, Picadors, and Nancy Pearl Book Lust Rediscoveries.

Commenters at this blog, however, recently mentioned that used editions of the Folio Society books are available at eBay.

I do not frequent eBay.  I was once outbid for a mid-twentieth-century blond wood dining room table I wanted for a desk. But  many eBay dealers do sell for a set price. And so I browsed and bought this gorgeous Folio Society set of Chekhov’s The Collected Stories.  The four books are very slightly oversized, but perfectly manageable for reading in “my nest.”

Published in 2010 to celebrate the 150th birthday of Chekhov, the books are beautifully bound and illustrated by Laura Carlin.

Illustration by Laura Karlin

Illustration by Laura Carlin

The translation is by Ronald Hingley, who translated nine volumes of Chekhov’s plays and six volumes of his stories for Oxford University Press.  I have tried the Constance Garnett, and hope Hingley will finally illuminate Chekhov for me.

In the introduction, James Lasdun explores the alluring brevity of Chekhov by comparing him to three epic novelists of the 19th century and early twentieth century..

The canonized writers of the past have a tendency to assume a fixed expression in their readers’ imaginations.  Dostoevsky always appears in the same aura of morbidly enthralling hysteria; Proust in the same velvety atmosphere of hyper-attuned sensory receptiveness.  To think of Tolstoy is to conjure, at once, the note of impassive grandeur as of creation being set out in glittering ranks for inspection.

Anton Chekhov, whose short career was as momentous as any of these, has his own distinct tone and manner, but the impression it leaves is curiously elusive, offering reticence and hesitation in place of ‘personality, and a series of mods rather than a discernible attitude to life, even the attitude of uncertainty.

I look forward to reading The Collected Stories and will report back in a few weeks.

What Is Your Favorite Trollope Novel?

A set of the Pallisers books.

A set of the Pallisers books.

It is Anthony Trollope’s 200th anniversary, and all are frenziedly reading Trollope.

It is just like the nineteenth century!

Trollope the prime minister older oxford 0192815903.01.LZZZZZZZI became a Trollope junkie after I saw The Pallisers on TV in the ’70s. Since then I have read 40 of his 47 novels.  I recently reread the fifth book in the Palliser series, The Prime Minister.   I love the mix of politics and doomed romance in this parliamentary pageturner:  Planty Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium, becomes  Prime Minister, and his wife Lady Glencora schemes to bolster his reputation  by hosting extravagant over-the-top parties.  Trollope also tells the  story of the marriage of Emily Wharton, the daughter of a rich lawyer, and Lopez, an unscrupulous speculator who everyone knows is not a gentleman.  The novel rambles, but I enjoyed the rambling.

So it is a normal year of Trollope at Mirabile Dictu. Well, almost.   My Trollope consumption has not been entirely normal.  I purchased a copy of the Folio Society’s complete edition of The Duke’s Children  for $330 and then gave it to charity because it was too big to read in bed. I am as extravagant as Lady Glencora! only with less political effect.  By the way, the book has received excellent reviews from the TLS, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Irish Times.

Anthony Trollope The Prime Minister 51NptJzrXmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_At The Guardian, in a roundup of writers choosing their favourite novels by Trollope, I was surprised that the Palliser books are so popular. Antonia Fraser chose Can You Forgive Her?, Roy Hattersley and Kwasi Kwarteng chose Phineas Finn, and Anthony Quinn and Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, chose The Prime Minister.

What are your favorite Trollope novels?  Anybody for the Barsetshire series?  My favorite is He Knew He Was Right.   More on that later.  I’ll reread it one of these years.