Lena Dunham, Emily Dickinson, and Jean Rhys

I was determined to post a “stop-and-jot” (a speedy post) about Elizabeth Strout’s new collection of stories, Anything Is Possible.  Well, I posted something, but it is very wishy-washy, because, even  though I  disliked the book, I (a) wanted to be fair, and (b) I was aware that  reviewers at Goodreads, The New York Times, and Washington Post are ecstatic.

So it’s pointless to post about a book you dislike, unless you wickedly enjoy writing a hatchet-job.

To make up for the lack of inspiration on that post,  here are three literary links.

Lena Dunham

1. Lena Dunham, author of the memoir Not That Kind of Girl and creator, star, and writer of the late TV series Girls, is always in trouble for saying what she thinks.  The Guardian reports that her latest joke about abortion incited much internet indignation.

…Most recently, Dunham was the subject of a media furore after an episode of her podcast Women of the Hour, in which she joked: “I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.” During the episode, Dunham had been talking about how women like her still internalise stigma about abortion; she later apologised, calling the joke “distasteful” – but the renewed vitriol from all corners of the internet had become increasingly difficult to ignore.

From the perspective of a longtime NARAL volunteer, I wonder:  when will we be allowed to admit we’re  pro-abortion? We’ve used the pro-choice euphemism for years,  but politicians are  yanking reproductive rights out of our hands.

And now that the “Girls” series is over should I watch it on DVD? I do recommend Dunham’s memoir:  she is an extremely talented writer.

Emily Dickinson

2. Emily Dickinson fans:  we can now rent her room at the Emily Dickinson Museum for $100 an hour!  I’m not quite sure I’d want to, but it is thrilling to know I can make a reservation if I go to Amherst.  Harriet Staff at The Poetry Foundation writes,

At Jezebel, Anya Jaremko-Greenwold reports on a recent development at the Emily Dickinson Museum: visitors can now rent Emily Dickinson’s bedroom. The reservation costs $100 an hour, and yes, you must leave the door open, lest pervs “drop trou,” as Jaremko-Greenwold writes. But for more upstanding citizens, the rental affords a unique opportunity to write in the spot where Dickinson penned her much-revered verse. No word yet on how the notoriously reclusive author would feel about this; Jaremko-Greenwold explains, “By the time she reached forty, Dickinson hid from houseguests she had previously received, and attended to the outside world only in her garden and her verse.”

3. At the TLS, you can read a review of  The Collected Short Stories of Jean Rhys. (Penguin).   Guess what? I just found an old copy at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale!

Gwendoline Riley writes,

Jean Rhys’s gift was singular, fugitive, volatile – as was she, which made for a fitful literary career. But it was a long and productive one, too. There are fifty-one stories here, bringing together three collections – The Left Bank (1927), Tigers Are Better-Looking (1968), and Sleep It Off, Lady (1976) – with five uncollected tales. This volume first appeared in the United States in 1987, but this is the first time it has been published in the UK.

In the Mood to Read Emily Dickinson & Literary Links

the-essential-emily-dickinson-y450-293I am in the mood to read Emily Dickinson.

Unable to find my copy of The Complete Poems because of the recent black mold chaos of moving bookshelves, I ordered a lovely little book, The Essential Emily Dickinson, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates’ introduction is erudite and witty: she begins with a comparison of Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

Between them, our great visionary poets of the American nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Walt Whitman (1819-1892) have come to represent the extreme, idiosyncratic poles of the American psyche:  the intensely inward, private, elliptical and “mystical” (Dickinson); and the robustly outward-looking, public, rhapsodic and “mystical” Whitman.  One declares, “I’m nobody!  Who are you?”  The other declared:  “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos…”

I must reread Whitman, too.  By the way, I loved the “I’m nobody!” poem in junior high.Remember those gigantic anthologies we staggered to English class with?  Walt Whitman wasn’t in it.   Too gay?

Emily Dickinson is very fashionable these days. Well, she was never out of fashion.  But who would have guessed my decision to read Emily would coincide with the publication of Dan Chiassan’s essay (Dec. 5, 2016) in The New Yorker, “Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry.” He writes,

gorgeous_nothingsThe poems of Emily Dickinson began as marks made in ink or pencil on paper, usually the standard stationery that came into her family’s household. Most were composed in Dickinson’s large, airy bedroom, with two big windows facing south and two facing west, at a small table that her niece described as “18-inches square, with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen.” It looked out over the family’s property on Main Street, in Amherst, Massachusetts, toward the Evergreens, her brother’s grand Italianate mansion, nestled among the pines a few hundred yards away. Dickinson had a Franklin stove fitted to a bricked-up fireplace to keep her warm, which meant that she could write by candlelight, with the door closed, for as long as she wanted. In much of the rest of the house, the winter temperature would have been around fifty degrees. Though she usually composed at night, Dickinson sometimes jotted down lines during the day, while gardening or doing chores, wearing a simple white dress with pockets for her pencils and scraps of paper. A younger cousin recalled her reciting the “most emphatic things in the pantry” while skimming the milk.

I also learned that New Directions has published two books about the scraps, Envelope Poems and The Gorgeous Nothings, both edited by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner.  I’d love to have these!  Oh, well, after my Dickinson marathon, and if I can find The Complete Poems in one of my boxes.



1. William Trevor died last week.  You might want to read George O’Brien’s excellent article in The American Scholar, “Injurious Entanglements:  Remembering William Trevor’s Anglo-Irish Stories.”  Here is an excerpt:

William Trevor, who died on November 20,is conventionally and conveniently thought of as an Anglo-Irish writer. But to consider him in that way is less to apply the finality of a category than to initiate an exploration of the distinctive significance of his work. It’s true that, in a literal sense, Trevor was Anglo-Irish. Born William Trevor Cox in 1928 in Mitchelstown, County Cork, he was reared and educated in Ireland. But his adult life was spent in England, first in London, then in Devon. Yet, the hybrid identity that the Anglo-Irish label typically brings to mind, together with its divisions and fidelities, is only one of many contexts featured in the body of work produced during the 50 years of Trevor’s prolific career.

2 In The Rumpus, there is an interview with novelist Alice Mattison about her new book on writing.

kite-and-the-string-mattison-51bc33sysml-_sx329_bo1204203200_Mattison’s newest book, The Kite and the String, is a meditation on her lifelong journey through the craft of writing. Taking a balanced approach of warmth and realism, she welcomes readers into a conversation about not only what makes for good writing but also of the necessary balance between the independent, solitary writer and the social writing community. She draws upon her years as a poet and prose writer, supported by her many decades of teaching children and adults alike. Accessible and unbiased, Mattison is an encouraging guide for new and seasoned writers; she is cautious in advising that a strategy of success for one will easily not work for all, but pushes her readers to try most anything that may better enhance their work. Nerves are to be harnessed and channeled into production, while the quieter, more sedentary moments between writing spurts must be equally cared for and valued. We are reminded through wit and honesty that a career in creative writing is most certainly an uphill endeavor with innumerable and unpredictable obstacles. The rewards, however, can be of equal if not unparalleled significance.

3 At Open Letters Monthly, Rohan Maitzen, an English professor, writes about Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

This term it’s Kazuo Ishiguro’s subtle, devastating novel The Remains of the Day that resonates with current events in ways that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Ishiguro has said in interviews that he used the appeasement era as an abstract cautionary tale about how we are all, in our own ways, butlers, including politically: going about our jobs either unable or unwilling to see how we might be serving larger agendas, finding dignity in doing our work well rather than in ensuring we do the right thing. He wasn’t literally warning us not to give Nazism a second chance — and yet here we are.

A very good week of reading online!

Harriet the Spy’s 50th Anniversary, Nice Guys in Fiction, and More

My original copy of Harriet the Spy.  N.B.  I crossed out "zany," knowing even then it was an insult.

My original copy of Harriet the Spy. N.B. I crossed out “zany” in the top line, knowing even then it was an insult.

Oh my God, girls!  Did you grow up on Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy?

It is the 50th anniversary of Harriet –1964:  The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and Harriet the Spy!–and you can now buy an anniversary edition of this children’s classic, which “includes tributes by Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, Lois Lowry, Rebecca Stead, and many more, as well as a map of Harriet’s New York City neighborhood and spy route…”

Harriet was my favorite heroine. As many of you know, she is a writer.  She takes her notebook with her everywhere and writes down exactly what she thinks about friends and enemies.

She writes of Pinky Whitehead, a pale, thin weak boy who annoys her:


And of her friend Janie, who wants to blow up the world:



The worse for wear…

When her classmates get ahold of her notebook at recess, they read it aloud and shun her.  How can she win them back?  She only said what she thought…

As you can see, my edition is rather tatty, but it is still readable.  This is one of my favorite children’s books, though I hadn’t thought of it in years.   I won’t buy the anniversary copy,   but I liked it so much as a child that I insisted on wearing boys’ sneakers like Harriet.


eugenie-grandet-honore-de-balzac-paperback-cover-art1.  At the Barnes and Noble Review, Heller McAlpin writes about Eugenie Grandet,  “Does anyone read Balzac for pleasure?” Well, yes, we do.  Here is the link to what I wrote about Eugenie Grandet last year.

2.  At The Huffington Post, Claire Fallon writes, “These ‘Nice Guy’ Book Characters Aren’t Really That Nice.”  My problem with this article:  Two of her 10 examples are from Jane Austen, and two more from Shakespeare.  Doesn’t she read any other books?

What do you think?  Are these characters nice or not?  (I think some of them really are.)

3.  Locus, a science fiction magazine, announces Karen Joy Fowler has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.  Fowler, best known for The Jane Austen Book Club, is widely known for her science fiction.  Thumbs up to PEN/Faulkner for nominating this.

4.  And, finally, here are favorite paintings of women reading at The Sleepless Reader.