All the Way to Reno: What Bloggers Expect

 R.E.M. performing in Germany, 2003.

“All the Way to Reno: You’re Gonna Be a Star” is my favorite R.E.M. Song.  It is a sweetly ironic song about a singer who believes he will get famous in Reno.  I love the YouTube video of this bittersweet song.  I’ve known artists, writers, and singers who make it “all the way to Reno” but alas! nowhere else.

And this song also makes me think of bloggers.  Here is an excerpt from the lyrics:

All the way to Reno
You’ve dusted the non believers
And challenge the laws of chance
Now, sweet
You were so sugar sweet
You may as well have ‘kick me’
Fastened on your sleeve

You know what you are
You’re gonna be a star.
You know what you are
You’re gonna be a star

I love the wildly different voices of bloggers: some are witty and entertaining, others preposterously earnest. But, oddly, there is little connection between blogging and professional gigs.   Over the years I have wondered, “Hm, why doesn’t this blogger write a novel?”  But I have never found a novel by a blogger, though surely it must have happened?

I myself think in terms of nonfiction, which is easier to publish. (I must get to work on that novel!) And I do know of several bloggers who have succeeded in writing memoirs, cookbooks,  and self-help.   Here is a list of four books by bloggers, though I’ve read only the second on the list. Do let me know if you’ve read any of them or know of others, especially novels!

1.  Anne Bogel, author of the popular lifestyle  blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, has published a bibliomemoir, I’d Rather Be Reading:  The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life.  It looks charming, and I have reserved it at the library.

2.  You’ve doubtless heard of Julie Powell’s memoir, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, which is based on her blog about a year of cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The enjoyable film of the book was written and directed by Nora Ephron.

3. Ree Drummond’sThe Pioneer Woman began as a lifestyle blog. This witty rancher’s wife, homeschooling mom, and blogger has since published cookbooks, an autobiography, and starred in her own cooking show.  Last I heard she’d opened a restaurant!  Where does she get her energy?

4.  Gretchen Rubin’s best-selling book The Happiness Project began as a blog.  I confess I haven’t read this book, but I do remember it got good reviews.  Here’s an excerpt from the book description:

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

Okay, I’m sure there are more of these books, so do recommend some!

The Blogger Rockers

When novelists say in the last line of the acknowledgements that they couldn’t have done it, i.e., written their books, without their supportive  warm-fuzzy spouse, I wonder what I was thinking of at my marriage ceremony.

Blondie and Dagwood

We’re like Blondie and Dagwood, except at the far end of middle age.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer…but nothing about supporting my writing.   My husband never read my work when I freelanced (“too trite and bubbly,” he would say of my latest feature on diners or diaries), and he has particularly avoided my blog.  Not only my blog, but all blogs, are a huge waste of talent, he says.

We’re a little like Blondie and Dagwood, only at the far end of middle age.  In other words, we don’t always share each other’s interests.

I used to write fiction, and perhaps I’ll go back to it someday.  He was more supportive of that, but of course he never had to read it.  The problem is, if you get to page 91 without a plot, your novel, or in my case, novels, are in trouble.

Blogging is like playing in a loud, fun rock band.  We’re practicing in the basement, sometimes we’re on key and other times we’re discordant, and we never, ever do covers, because we want to be ourselves.

But when you get “discovered,” you sometimes stop saying what you mean.  I broke up with myself at Frisbee:  A Book Journal (my old blog) because  I was gobsmacked to discover that a few of the writers I’d panned had visited my blog. Why?  Why?  Why?  I asked myself.

Then I got back together with myself here at Mirabile Dictu, where I have been somewhat more cautious about what I say.  I have tried to be more positive.

But now I’m thinking I just want to blast a couple of  contemporary writers BECAUSE I’VE  BEEN SO F—ING NICE for so long.

Some blogs really do PR.  They’re so nice I wonder what they’re really thinking.  But I’ll tell you where they don’t do PR.  Goodreads.  I was there the other day, just looking around, reading some of the discussions, and they were really panning a very good writer of women’s fiction.  They were hopping mad, because they’d gotten review copies and wasted their time.  I had to laugh, because most of the bloggers I know tend to get a little syrupy about review copies.

I’ll be writing about books again soon, never fear.

I intend to go back to dead writers.

I will write about a few new books I’ve read, but I might have to be a tiny bit pessimistic again.

Are English Bloggers Nicer than Americans, or Do We Read Worse Books?

business-woman-writingSometimes I come up with a completely ridiculous idea for a blog.

If the above headline had any foundation, I’d have enjoyed writing a post about it.

“Are English bloggers nicer than Americans?”  I asked my husband one morning at breakfast. “Or do they read better books?”

He looked at me over his glasses.  He doesn’t read blogs, so he doesn’t know.

I enjoy playing around with my blog, and this was one of my wilder ideas.  Last week, I was appalled by attacks on the classicist Mary Beard in comments at English newspapers before her LRB public lecture on “The Public Voice of Women” (a subject apparently too radical for many readers). And I began to think how different English bloggers are from these cold-blooded commenters.  I wondered if English bloggers are so very nice to compensate for this viciousness.

English bloggers tend, in my experience, to be very positive. Often they seem nicer than American bloggers about books.  Tom at A Common Reader, a very intellectual reader and writer, reviews fascinating, little-known books in translation and contemporary classics by Kazuo Ishiguro and D. J. Taylor. Dovegreyreader, another good writer, has never lost it over a book except over J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy (which we liked at our house).  Our friend Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings is enthusiastic not only about Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, but about Beverley Nicholson, whose books are not widely available here.

And then let’s look at my American friends.

Yes, we are zealous book lovers, but we occasionally bash books in our earnest American fashion.  Ellen at her three blogs (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, Under the Sign of Silvia, and Reveries under the Sign of Austen) was very critical of the beginning of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, though she loved it by the end; Tony at Tony’s Book World didn’t hesitate to admit he wasn’t keen on Richard Powers’ new book Orfeo; Nancy at Silver Threads didn’t care for Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum; and even my refined friend Belle at Belle, Book, & Candle, has been known occasionally to dislike a book (Margaret Drabble’s The Witch of Exmoor).

As for me, well, I love books, but I have a tendency to write about the bad as well as the good.

But I had to throw out this thesis comparing English bloggers to Americans.  I’m not a sociologist.

And is it possible that I did absolutely no research?  And is it possible that there was no evidence whatsoever to support it?

And is it possible that I rejected the idea very, very fast?

Yes, indeed.

This thesis goes out the window 10 minutes after formulating it.

One more thing I’m wondering about:  Is there a difference between English and American newspapers?

The Guardian often seems to take a more negative stance on book news than does The New York Times.  Take the recent VIDA statistics on women reviewers and women authors at book review publications.  The New York Times published a traditional article reporting on the stats.  The Guardian published an article along with a blog entry attacking the London Review of Books for its poor stats (and, by the way, the blog mentioned Mary Beard).

But in general, generalizing doesn’t work, even if one compares American book reviews.  Take Lorrie Moore’s new story collection, Bark.  Heller McAlpin in The Washington Post gushed, while  Michiko Kakutani in New York Times found it “disappointing,” “heavy-handed and forced.”  Obviously there is no national consensus.

So, everybody, what is the best, and what the worst book you’ve read this year?  Mine?  Best book:  D. J. Taylor’s Derby Day.  Worst book:  Mary Renault’s The Friendly Young Ladies.

Three “Literary” Women’s Blogs, Book Week, & Is Silas Marner a Classic?

Matisse, "Woman Reading with Tea"

Matisse, “Woman Reading with Tea”

Last week I wrote The Blogger Chronicles, a series on the pros and cons of blogging.

And so I am declaring this “Book Week” at Mirabile Dictu.  (“I have been reading” is my new motto.)

Before I move on, let me give you links to three literary women bloggers I neglected to mention.

1.  Mary Beard’s A Don’s Life appears at the TLS (my favorite book review publication and the only one I subscribe to).  Beard, a classicist, historian, professor at Cambridge, and TV celebrity, writes a blog about classics, her domestic life, travels, experiences on TV, and more.

Her latest post: “A 1950s childhood: 5 objects of nostalgia”

2.  Novelist Caroline Leavitt’s CAROLINELEAVITTVILLE. In her latest post, she writes about SheBooks, an e-book publisher of short stories and memoirs by women.

3.  Novelist Jennifer Weiner’s A Moment of Jen:  In her latest post, she writes about counting “the number of books reviewed that were written by women, and the number of women writers profiled in the Times, and then I grumble when those numbers turn out to be significantly lower than the number of male authors whose works and selves got that consideration.”

And now for BOOK WEEK.  First Book Post Up: Is Silas Marner a Classic? 

One of the disadvantages of taking a vacation in London is that the Nuneaton tour of George Eliot is apparently in Nuneaton. Perhaps I should go there?

Daniel Deronda is my favorite novel by Eliot, and possibly my favorite novel of all time, but instead of rereading it I have been catching up on her shorter works, because even her lesser works are better than most other novels.

silas-marner-weaver-raveloe-george-eliot-paperback-cover-artWhen my friends read Silas Marner at the public school, I was attending a hippie/lab school ($25 a year) and reading Middlemarch.  My school apparently couldn’t afford to buy books, so I took courses like Independent Reading (in which I read everything from Middlemarch to Sisterhood Is Powerful! to Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn), and an English lit course where there were enough copies of Macbeth, but we had to choose between David Copperfield and Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case (and  a few others I can’t remember) in the novel unit, probably because there weren’t enough books to go around.

Not everyone did a lot of reading, though there is much nostalgia for this school, which closed in the ’70s.  (There are still reunions, I think.)   One of my most vivid memories is of running a consciousness raising group in a classroom over the lunch hour.  I also recall the principal’s emerging from the office to stop two students from disrobing in the halls, an episode I had found unexpected and  intriguing.

I saw no need to read Silas Marner until I realized that I’d never read it.

If I were still at hippie school, I would doubtless have referred to it as “f—ing Silas Marner,” because it’s not very good, and that’s how we talked then.

The plot?  Silas Marner, a weaver, goes to chapel regularly. He is very religious, and very happy in Lantern Yard; but one day his friend sets him up for the theft of the church’s treasury.  Although his friend committed the robbery, Silas is blamed and prayed for; he moves to Raveloe to get away from his bad rep, and works as a weaver out of his home.  Ironically, “post-theft” he falls in love with gold.  He hides it under the floor and loves to count it.  But when someone steals the gold, Silas is devastated.  It turns out for the best, though, because shortly thereafter he sees the gold curls of a toddler (instead of gold!  yes, that’s how ungainly the structure is) whose opium-addicted mother has died in the snow. The little girl has wandered into his house, and, happily for all, he raises her and becomes a favorite of the villagers.

It is an extremely sentimental novel, rather too perfectly structured and clumsily put together, and exactly the kind of thing mediocre school teachers used to love to teach because there’s much symbolism, and it’s really no work for them (and so thank God for the hippie school, where we were left alone to learn).

Eliot is a wonderful writer, but this is the kind of writing we’re dealing with here:

…he had a dreamy feeling that this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life:  it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe–old quiverings of tenderness–old impressions of awe at the presentiment of some Power presiding over his life; for his imagination had not yet extricated itself from the sense of mystery in the child’s sudden presence, and had formed no conjectures of ordinary natural means by which the event could have been brought about.

“Somehow a message”–oh, please.

Not Eliot at her best.

But Terence Cave, the writer of the introduction to the Oxford edition of Silas Marner, says,

By thus placing Silas so precariously on the threshold of unconsciousness, George Eliot was also able to give imaginative form to the Comtean notion of a gradual evolution of human consciousness in human history.  Nineteenth-century German philosophers (Schopenhauer in particular) attributed the great movements of the history not to conscious decisions made by individuals, but to an unconscious collective will…

Read Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, or The Mill on the Floss if you want to understand Eliot.  Silas Marner just isn’t as good.

The Blogging Article & L. M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon

Would Emily have blogged?

Would Emily have blogged?

I enjoyed interviewing writers in 2013, and intended in 2014 to add a series of interviews with bloggers, until I discovered this has been done with diligence by others, among them A Work in Progress, Stuck-in-a-Book, and Savidge Reads.

So instead I plan to write a short feature about blogging:  the blog as writing platform, the pros and cons, the acceptance or rejection by family, friends, and critics, and the courtship of marketers.  I will interview bloggers, writers, adherents, and critics, so listen up! you may receive a questionnaire in your mailbox.

And if any of you would like to be interviewed, please leave a comment or write to me at

I love reading blogs, and would appreciate recommendations of new blogs.  Sometimes my favorite bloggers leave the net:  over the years a Texas housewife, a Cambridge photographer, and a PR writer/musician have ceased to blog, and two of the three deleted their blogs.

Certainly there are days when I wonder why I write online.  I could write this in a journal.

I look forward to exploring such issues, and hope you will help.

And now on to a review of L. M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon.

emily of New Moon trilogy montgomeryI have  long been a fan of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, and first learned about her Emily of New Moon series in Perri Klass’s article in The New York Times (May 17, 1992) “Stories for Girls about Girls Who Write Stories.”

So I penciled it in as a book I would like to read, since I love stories about girls who write.  I read part of it some years ago, but didn’t enjoy it.

Now Virago has reissued the Emily books, so I gave Emily of New Moon a second look.  What an exuberant, comical novel!  Afterwards, I looked for Klass’s article.

She wrote:

 I had, of course, read and loved the Anne books, but the Emily books were something else again. I read them over and over, convinced that they were speaking directly to me, that they held some special message for a girl who wanted to be a writer. I had identified with Anne as she got into scrapes, dyed her hair green or baked liniment into a cake, but this was different, this identification I felt with Emily as she looked at the world around her and collected material, noted it all down in her notebooks and composed her stories and poems.

In 2008, the centenary of Anne of Green Gables, I reread the Anne books, astonished by how well they have held up.  They are not just children’s books: the series follows Anne through her marriage and early years of family life.  L. M. Montgomery is the Canadian Louisa May Alcott, and if she is not quite as good as Alcott, she is perhaps a little better than Maud Hart Lovelace, whose Betsy-Tacy series is very dear to my heart.

emily_of_new_moonEmily of New Moon is an engaging, wickedly humorous, moving novel.  Like Anne, Emily is an orphan.  When Emily’s father dies, she must go to New Moon to live with Aunt Elizabeth Murray, Aunt Laura, and Uncle Jimmie.  This middle-aged-to-elderly family doesn’t know quite what to do with her.

Emily is both dignified and hilarious.  She loves to write, and spends hours writing “letters” to her dead father on the backs of old letter-bills, because Aunt Elizabeth doesn’t see the point of buying paper.  Emily frequently experiences “the flash”–something she feels when she appreciates nature, beauty, or an idea.  When a teacher asks her why she is crying on the first day of school, she says with “the Murray dignity,” “It is a matter that concerns only myself.”  When Lofty John, a neighbor, pretends an apple she ate was poisoned for rats, she runs home and writes a letter to her best friend, believing she is dying.

I am going to die.  I have been poisoned by an apple Lofty John had put out for the rats.    I will never see you again, but I am writing this to tell you I love you and you are not to feel bad because you called me a skunk and bloodthirsty mink yesterday.

“Bloodthirsty mink!”  I love it.

Though Emily of New Moon is not quite as appealing as the Anne books, I enjoyed it very much and look forward to reading the others.

So, thank you, Virago!