Good Sportsmanship, Reading Calendar for August, & Literary Links

2016 Rio Olympics - Swimming - Final - Women's 200m Freestyle Final - Olympic Aquatics Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 09/08/2016. Katie Ledecky (USA) of USA and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) of Sweden celebrate

Good sportsmanship:. Katie Ledecky (USA)  and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) embrace.

“Go, go, go, go!”

Yes, we yell at the Olympics on TV.  We are Olympics-crazy!  And how could they win without our yelling?  After Katie Ledecky won the Gold Medal for  the 200-meter women’s freestyle tonight, we approved the sportsmanlike embrace between Ledecky and Swedish Silver Medalist Sarah Sjostrom.   Some athletes prefer one-upmanship to sportsmanship:  we saw clips of South Africa’s Chad le Clos’s repeatedly taunting Michael Phelps. Then  Phelps won his 20th Gold Medal for the Men’s 200-Meter Butterfly and Cahd le Clos came in second, so let’s hope that nonsense is over.


Summer is prime time for enjoyable online reading events, with many bloggers and readers coming together to read books in a designated category.

A Virago: it has the green spine!

First up:   All Virago/All August.  This was founded by the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group.  My choice?  A Virago I found in London:  American writer Alix Kates Shulman’s On the Stroll, a little-known novel about a pimp, a runaway, and a bag lady who has visions.   I loved Shulman’s Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and her 1995 memoir Drinking the Rain, so I’ll give this a try.

Second up:  Women in Translation month.  Here is a link to an article at PEN America about the genesis and progress of Women in Translation Month.

In May 2014, blogger Meytal Radzinski, a student of biophysics in Israel and an avid and insightful reader, announced the first Women in Translation month, to be held that August. Her goals, she wrote, were simple:

1. Increase the dialogue and discussion about women writers in translation

2. Read more books by women in translation

And, by the way, I have already finished a book in translation,  Colette’s The Pure and the Impure, a  collection of essays about gender and sexuality, possibly shocking in her time, doubtless politically incorrect in our time.

the pure and the impure colette 89848LITERARY LINKS.

1. At The Guardian,  Alex Clark’s article on women’s friendship in fiction is worth reading.

2  At Salon, Dan Green complains about Little Free Libraries. Here is an excerpt:

Little Free Library has a seductive marketing slogan that’s carved into the top of every unit: “Take a Book; Return a Book.” Such a simple equation. And such wishful thinking. Take? Oh, absolutely. People are, in fact, really good at that part. For example there was the young mom who lifted her toddler up to the box, watching uncritically as he scooped up “Imaginary Homelands,” Salman Rushdie’s collection of criticism and essays. Which I’m sure he enjoyed.

When it comes to returning, people mean well. For example, I don’t doubt the sincerity of that young mom when she told her greedy little urchin, “We have to remember to come back soon and give them some books.” The problem is that, to borrow my favorite report card phrase, remembering, for most people, “remains an area of growth.” It’s not that I blame my (mooching) neighbors. Indeed, I, myself, seldom return books to the public library on time. And they fine you if you don’t. But since I don’t punish people (unless you count silent, withering judgment), I’ve got no leverage. The truth is laziness is just part of human nature. It’s what separates us from the beavers.

3  And at Literary Hub, Daisy Dunn, author of Catullus’ Bedspread, writes that her longest relationship is with the dead poet Catullus.

Catullus' Bedspread 61nE1tim0bL

The Summer Reading Kit & Three Literary Links

Mrs. Modern Darcy's Summer Reading Kit

The Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Kit

Do you long to spend your vacation in a hammock catching up with Daniel Deronda or The Tale of Genji?   Though summer reading has a reputation for being dumbed-down, many of us love to combine a classic with mysteries and pastel-colored beach books.

And there are plenty of recommendations on the net, because. as the critics like to say, everybody’s a critic.  If you’re looking for down-home suggestions, some serious, some light, visit the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and sign up for her Summer Reading Kit.

“Mrs. Darcy” has designed the Summer Reading Kit for librarians and “bookish enthuisasts.”

She writes,

To inspire your patrons in their reading journey, I’ve created a summer reading poster (sized 18×24) that lets patrons see 30 absorbing, high-interest titles at a glance. These titles are from the Summer Reading Guide (which many librarians are already using as a summer reading resource), and they’re organized by category so readers can easily see what books will appeal to them.

I’ve also created summer reading bookmarks that double as a reading list. Patrons can jot down titles they hear about from you or anyone else so they don’t have to agonize over what to read next after they finish a great book.

I certainly would love those bookmarks.


hold still by strong 256228941.  There is a fascinating interview at The Rumpus with Lynn Steger Strong, author of the novel Hold Still, in which the main character, Maya, is obsessed with Virginia Woolf.

Filgate writes,

As soon as I was introduced to Lynn, we immediately bonded over our shared love for running and Virginia Woolf. When I found out that her debut novel Hold Still has to do with both, I moved it up to the top of my gigantic to-be-read pile, and I’m so glad I did. Hold Still is about an English professor who has to reckon with a terrible mistake her daughter made, one that tests their already shaky relationship. But trying to sell the book on the plot alone takes away from the true backbone of this novel. Open it for the story; read it for the sentences that stay with you like a gift.

2. Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm writes about leaving Facebook.

Some of my readers may have noticed me around the blogging world a little more often recently. That’s because I quit Facebook on Saturday April 23. I initially joined two years ago just so my kids wouldn’t have to bother to send me text photos of pictures they had posted on Facebook. But it grew and grew. You know how it goes. Someone asks to be your friend, and you think of people you ought to send a friend request to, and boom you’ve got a whole bunch of Facebook friends. There were very occasional requests that I did not accept. But I still ended up with some friends that I barely knew or had never met. I’m not the kind of person to ‘unfriend’ so I’d keep getting information from them. I connected with some high school friends, and just like when I was actually in high school, there were some people I liked and others not so much. A lot of my friends were younger, Margaret’s friends, who so very kindly welcomed me. At first it was loads of fun but then it was not fun anymore. There were too many notifications and too many items in my feed. It was too busy, too quick.

all fall down image003.  At A Penguin a Week, Adam Gee writes a guest post about James Leo Herlihy, a writer best known for Midnight Cowboy.

Gee writes about his debut novel, All Fall Down.

When I pick up an old Penguin I’m hoping for a surprise – something off-beat, long neglected, out of left field, a lost gem. ‘All Fall Down’ delivered.

It’s the first novel from the Detroit writer who went on to write ‘Midnight Cowboy’ five years later in 1965, James Leo Herlihy. It’s a coming of age story in the heritage of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a decade in its wake. It follows the growth of Clint Williams from an isolated, uncommunicative 14 year old to an emerging adult with the capacity to care and love.

I hope to find a copy one day!

Four Literary Links: Two Critics on Doctor Thorne, “10 Tricks for Book Nerds,” & Robert Barnard’s Mysteries

Doctor thorne trollope 51XgTazilbL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Oh, Anthony Trollope!  I’m besotted with you.  “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.” In my twenties I binge-read the Palliser series and the Barsetshire novels; then I discovered two of his most powerful  novels, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right; and in the last ten years have read most of the others.  (Many are superb.)

So I was thrilled to find a link in an email to Laura Miller’s essay at Slate on Julian Fellowes’ new TV adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne.  (I still erroneously think of Slate as a kids’ paper, but I’ll read anything on Trollope.)  Miller enthusiastically reread Doctor Thorne, the third book in the Barsetshire series, before she viewed the film. She loves the book, but considers the new  miniseries the worst Trollope adaptation ever.

Nonetheless, Miller will make you want to read Trollope, if you have not yet discovered him.

She begins,

Anthony Trollope’s “great, inestimable merit,” Henry James once wrote, “was a complete appreciation of the usual.” He was right: You won’t find a single uncanny moment in that Victorian author’s 47 novels. Yet reading Trollope in the 21st century can nevertheless be a bit spooky. That’s because seemingly everything that happens today has already been covered in one of his books, albeit in a less technologized form.

Yes, Trollope does write about everyday life, as Mr. James says, but he also has great psychological depth, for which he is not given sufficient credit.  As Miller points out, he has written about all things modern.  I have been astonished  by his insights on  love, marriage, divorce, church politics,  Ponzi schemes, psychological abuse, and corrupt elections. And I do think he had his “uncanny moments”:  he even wrote a science fiction novel, The Fixed Period.

Miller is very slightly condescending about Trollope. That’s the way of critics with nineteenth-century novels. She  trots out the cliché about Trollope’s digressive fox-hunting scenes and descriptons of Tudor houses.  At this point I no longer think those are digressions.  Does that mean I’ve read too much Trollope?

doctor thorne tv series MV5BMWUxZWYwZjEtNzQ5ZC00ZmMwLWEwZWYtNWFhMmZiMzNjZjVmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjExMjk0ODk@._V1_SX1024_CR0,0,1024,1443_AL_Ellen Moody, the author of  Trollope on the Net, also panned the new Julian Fellowes adaptaion at her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two.  Ellen, who recently taught a class on the Barsetshire novels, has read all of Trollope multiple times and knows more about his books than almost anyone.

She begins,

Julian Fellowes has managed to turn the novel Michael Sadleir ended his ground-breaking study of Trollope on (the book that first attracted respectable attention to Trollope — with preferring Dr Thorne to The Way We Live Now) into an embarrassment. A telling travesty. Reviewers veer from lamenting the very existence of this throw-back to picturesqueness as a travesty to earnestly showing how it has eliminated just about everything that counts in the novel. Viv Groskop of The Guardian suggested we take a drug to forget this disgrace. The courteous and judicious Alison Moulds of the Victorian clinic demonstrated the central matter of the tale, medicine and illness, comic and tragic, is left out. As might have been expected, Philip Hensher of the Telegraph demonstrates that the point Fellowes gets across (and by implication, Trollope’s) is that it’s impossible to cross (ontological?) class boundaries.

So what say?  Do we skip the TV adaptation?  No, I have to see it!

3.  Looking for something light to read?  Check out Jeff Somers’s “10 Tricks for Book Nerds who Want to Fit in Reading Time At Work” at Barnes and Noble Reads.

4. I very much enjoyed this post by Random Jottings on Robert Barnard’s superb mysteries, which Pan Macmillan has reissued.  (I’ve long been a fan of Barnard’s books.)

case of the missing bronte pbb cover

Memorial Day Weekend Reading, Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, & Literary Links

The perfect beach read.

The perfect beach read.

We’re ignoring the flags but celebrating the first weekend of summer with beverages, barbecues, and books.

Beverage:  Arnold Palmers (half iced tea, half lemonade).  We rattle the iced cubes in Great-Aunt Helen’s big pink champagne glasses as we sip the tea. They are the last glass glasses in the house. We have broken all the rest–not like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, who simply did it for kicks–but because of dishwashing accidents. At this point we prefer plastic.

Books:  I’m finishing up the third volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, set in the late ’60s and the ’70s.  Yes, it’s literature (kind of), but it’s also a beach read, perfect for a wide spectrum of readers, from fans of Middlemarch  and The Group to aficionados of The Diary of a Mad Housewife and Fear of Flying.  It’s a grittily realistic pageturner, but, honestly, I find it somewhat trying. Both Lena and Lila, the two heroines, are getting on my nerves.

I am ambivalent about Ferrante’s work.  Enjoyable as it is, it is very hard for me to catch the worldwide excitement about these ultra-traditional novels about women’s friendship.  I can see why they are popular:  these straight-ahead reads require very little work.  Ann Goldstein’s translation is  smooth and readable, though I’m finding Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay  less riveting than the first two volumes, My Brilliant Friend (which I wrote about here) and The Story of a New Name (which I wrote about here). Whether Ferrante or the translator lost pep, who can say?

The narrator Lena has published her first novel and goes on a book tour, feeling insecure about the book but also excited by its popularity.  Visiting her parents in Naples, she runs into old girlfriends who fervently praise it for the “dirty” parts, i.e., beach sex scenes which capture women’s ambivalence toward sex. She is engaged to a likable professor, who insists on a civil ceremony, and that is a point of contention with her mother, who wants Lena to have a big wedding like Lila’s. And Lena is still fascinated by her childhood friend Lila, a working-class prima donna who has left her husband, lives with their childhood friend, Endo, with whom she refuses to have sex, and now works at a  sausage factory, leaving her child with a neighbor while she works.  Lila is sexually harassed at work, but is not a victim:  she takes care of herself and knows how to say no, thank God!   But after she confides in radicals about how women are treated, they show up to protest at the factory and she gets in trouble.  Then Lena writes a newspaper article based on Lila’s carefully-written study of the factory.  No wonder her old teacher, who saw Lila’s version first,  snubs Lena and pays more attention to Lila’s writing!  Of course that’s also part of what happens to people who succeed and come back to their hometown: people begrudge the prodigal’s success!  But Lena does exploit Lila’s experience for her writing.

days of abandonment ferrante 51MHqt44whL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_It’s a very fast read.  But honestly?  I  tire of Lila’s hyperbolic tantrums (are they Italian?). And Lena’s typical experiences with her insomniac baby and unsympathetic husband, who goes on writing and ignores the crying baby,  seem barely sketched in.  Of course that mightbe a translation problem.

For me, this one is the weakest of the novels (so far)!  I do want to love these best-sellers, and yet…

On the other hand, I do recommend Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, a truly Kafkaseque narrative  peppered with the feminist outrageousness of Doris Lessing and Marilyn French. The narrator, Olga, a housewife, goes mad when her husband deserts her for another woman after 15 years, leaving her with two children and a dog.  She is mystified by his departure, and the hours, days, and weeks that follow are described with agony, spite, and humor.  Eventually Olga gets her own back!

If you’re not interested in reading Ferrante, here are some literary links that will give you other options for Memorial Day!

master and margarita 97801431082761  Boris Fishman writes in The New York Times about the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.  This excellent essay begins,

Were it a kinder world, Mikhail Bulgakov’s incandescent novel “The Master and Margarita” would be commemorating its 75th rather than 50th anniversary, for the author completed it in 1940, just as his own brief life was ending. But in the Soviet Union of the time — then concluding one of the most grotesquely violent decades in history — the fate of authors like Bulgakov was so precarious that he was fortunate to die of natural causes. Having finished the book, he reportedly said to his wife from his deathbed: “Now it deserves to be put in the commode, under your linens.” She did not even try to get it published. A censored version finally appeared in 1966-67.

shrill 41wjF5kS+BL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_2 At Lenny, in the article “Lit Thursday: Books That Won’t Disappoint,” Lena Dunham says she is reading Lindy West’s Shrill.

Lindy has made a name for herself as one of the fiercest and funniest feminists working today. The Internet has been her medium and she’s used it beautifully, responding in real time to trifling comedians and even less impressive trolls. But a writer as skilled as Lindy deserves long form consideration and Shrill, her hybrid memoir-cultural critique-manifesto, does not disappoint. It fulfills the promise of her many well considered (and fucking hilarious) internet offerings. Lindy deftly moves between painful personal recollections, assessments of the sorry state of body positivity, and a clear eyed view of what the feminist movement needs to do so that sisterhood doesn’t kill off its sisters. I am so happy I’ve been reading her for half a decade. I’ll be doing it for another half a century.

3 At The New York Review of Books, Hermione Lee reviews All the Poems by Stevie Smith, edited and with an introduction by Will May  (New Directions, 806 pp., $39.95)

stevie smith all the poems 9780811223805

The Common Reader & Four Literary Links

Nina Sankovitch

Nina Sankovitch

Last week I was still on the bench about Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:  My Year of Magical Reading, her fascinating book about reading a book a day so she could sit still and grieve her sister’s death from cancer.  Blogging about the books was part of her daily routine.

After finishing the book, I loved it.  Sankovitch is a champion of the common reader.  It has always seemed to me that the common reader can explore literature with fire and avidity while the critic is tied to the convention of dry, bitter remarks even in a positive review.  Sankovitch is moved by books, and often finds connections to her own experience.  And isn’t this how we read?

She started her  project, wanting to read as she hadn’t read since she had knee surgery.

I resubmerged myself in a daily routine of hours spent reading.  But I had added a new practice to the routine.  I wrote about what I read, and I talked about books with anyone who wanted to talk with me.  In sharing ideas and thoughts about what I was reading, I found a fundamental new satisfaction in books:  talking about them.

One thing I love about this book is her enthusiasm.  In 1989, the critic Irving Howe complained in an article in The New Republic about the wide gap between literary critics and the common reader. Sankovitch wrote a letter which was published in the magazine.

I stated that as a common reader myself, I didn’t care much about what the literary critics were up to.  Neither they nor their critiques had anything to do with the books I loved to read.  When and if I did talk about books, it was not to discuss trends in narrative style or the latest critiques of text.  Instead, “it’s gossipy chatter akin to ‘what’s happening with the neighbors?’ We love our books and we love the very real people who populate them.”

Go, Nina!


1. Although I would no more join something called the 1938 Club (I’m more of a sixties person) than I would go to a croning event on my birthday, I very much enjoyed Karen’s six posts at her blog Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings on books published in 1938.  She was one of the facilitators of the event last week, and they were very lucky indeed to have such an enthusiastic, hard-working reviewer/leader.   Her post on George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia has inspired me to get out my Orwell.   (And I’m sure Karen forgives me for not participating, since she knows I don’t do challenges.)

An illustration of Jane Eyre and Rochester by Fritze Eichenberg.

An illustration of Jane Eyre and Rochester by Fritze Eichenberg.

2. It’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday, and The Guardian has published an article in which Sarah Waters, Tessa Hadley, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud, Andrew Motion, Maggie O’Farrell, Polly Samson, Helen Dunmore, Blake Morrison, Julie Myerson, Cornelia Parker, John Mullan, Helen Simpson, Polly Teale, Samantha Ellis, Mick Jackson, Joanna Briscoe, Linda Grant, Sarah Perry write about their reactions to Jane Eyre.

Tessa Hadley writes, “Jane Eyre is so built into the shape of my imagination that I can hardly think about it critically; I’m always in among its trees – the sturdy, northern, low-growing hawthorn and hazel bushes of its terrain – and can’t dispassionately estimate the size of the wood.”

3 I just found Zoe Brooks’ wonderful blog,  Magic Realism.  She writes, “Every week I bring you at least one review of a magic realism book.”

4.  If you’re a fan of historical novels, check out this article about the best historical novels of the year at The Telegraph.

A Giveaway of Mary Hocking’s The Very Dead of Winter, A Short Review of Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, & Three Literary Links

The Very Dead of Winter Mary Hocking 657931The blogger Heaven Ali has done the improbable:  in a one-woman e-mail campaign, she persuaded Bello Pan to reissue Mary Hocking’s out-of-print novels.    Next week, Bello will publish Hocking’s first 12 books in e-book form. I have enjoyed four of Hocking’s absorbing novels, which are vaguely reminiscent of the work of Penelope Lively and Elizabeth Jane Howard.  (Here is a link to my post about Hocking’s Good Daughters and A Particular Place. )

In the spirit of revival, I am giving away a copy of Mary Hocking’s The Very Dead of Winter.   If you would like it, leave a comment or write to me at

The giveaway is only open to Americans or Canadians. (Sorry, the postage rates are just too high to send to Europe!)

A BRIEF REVIEW of Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton

I recently read and loved Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, a gorgeous, lyrical novel about a complicated mother-daughter relationship.  The narrator, Lucy Barton, escaped a harrowing, impoverished childhood through a college education.   She reinvented herself as a wife, mother, and writer in New York.

strout my name is lucy barton 9781400067695_custom-3102f059730b66633fef44e3287ef91337c0495f-s400-c85The book opens with Lucy’s reminiscence of a hospitalization many years ago.  She teeters on the brink between life and death after a routine appendectomy. “No one could isolate any bacteria or figure out what had gone wrong.  No one ever did.”

She looks out the window:  Life  passes her by outside the hospital.

It was May, and then June, and I remember how I would stand and look out the window at the sidewalk below and watch the young women–my age–in their spring clothes, out on their lunch breaks; I could see their heads moving in conversation, their blouses rippling in the breeze.  I thought how when I got out of the hospital I would never again walk down the sidewalk without giving thanks for being one of those people, and for many years I did that–I would remember the view from the hospital window and be glad for the sidewalk I was walking on.

Unexpectedly, Lucy’s mother shows up and stays with her in the hospital for a week.  They have had little to do with each other since Lucy left home.   They were so poor when she was growing up in a small town in Illinois that they lived in her uncle’s unheated garage. Her  parents could not afford a babysitter:  they locked her in a truck for hours while they worked on a farm.  She screamed for hours when she saw a snake was curled up on the seat.

This reconciliation with her mother is necessary to her recovery from the operation.  And  she manages to write a novel about this relationship.

Love it, loved it, loved it! This is the first I’ve read by Strout, and I look forward to her other novels.


Here are three links to outstanding literary articles.  There are so many good ones!

1. Sarah Lyall’s excellent interview with Elizabeth Strout at The New York Times inspired me to read My Name Is Lucy Barton.  Lyall begins by  quoting the narrator Lucy’s writing teacher, who tells her students not to blur the line between life and fiction and that it’s not her job “to make readers know what’s a narrative voice and not the private view of the author.”

Lyall explains,

She’s speaking to her own fictional audience, and possibly to us, too. But who knows which voice reflects whose view in the deceptively simple but many-layered world of “Lucy Barton”? On the surface, the story is about a woman trying to recover from an illness and make peace with her mother. But, like all of Ms. Strout’s generous-hearted, deeply insightful novels, it is really about a great deal more: a terribly troubled past, a present that is slowly imploding, the yawning spaces between even the closest of people, our frequent inability to see what’s in front of us.

I loved the book!  One of the best I’ve read this year.

2. Bronte fans will be intrigued by Samantha Ellis’s eloquent review at the TLS of  Deborah Lutz’s The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which has been shortlisted for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. In this review, Ellis also writes about Lutz’s  book about post-mortem Victoriana, Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture.

bronte cabinet 41vRhzaC1qL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

3 Michael Dirda entertains us with a review of Jack Lynch’s You Could Look It Up: You Could Look It Up:  The Reference Shelf From Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia at The Washington Post.

A Post-Valentine’s Day Reverie & Literary Links

forgot valentine's bear 1297507894897_4033155Greeting card holidays are not my thing.

I used to enjoy Valentine’s Day.  Why?  Candy!  And in the days of local bookstores, we bought each other books.  I recently found my copy of Margaret Atwood’s Life After Man, which my boyfriend (now husband) gave me on Valentine’s Day, 1979.  He charmingly put a heart sticker on an endpage.

Valentine’s Day is Date Night.  It is a girls’ holiday. I know all about it:  I have written  features on “100 Things to Do on Valentine’s Day.”  No, writers do not wear lingerie while gathering information on calories in chocolate body paint and fixed-price dinners for two.  After collating data and desperately inventing Thing # 100, a walk through the tropical plants in the Botanical Gardens followed by Caribbean-theme cocktails and coconut shrimp, we just want to wear sweatpants and watch Cary Grant movies.  A romantic dinner?  Maybe with fast food!  A night of hot sex in a fancy hotel?  Please!  We spent our honeymoon night at a Holiday Inn in Frederick, Maryland, after getting married in Rockville (of the R.E.M. song) and loading our U-Haul for a move to the Midwest.

I love love, but on Sunday morning I had no idea it was Valentine’s Day.

Then at breakfast my husband gave me a chocolate-covered marshmallow and a Road Runner card from the Hy-Vee.  The Road Runner jumps out of the card  on a spring. The cats and I love it.

Thank God for the internet.  A minute later I printed out a Top Cat picture and scrawled, “Happy Valentine’s Day:  You’re the Top Cat!”

Oh my God! I could have done much better. Next year I’ll be prepared.


1. Nicholas Lezard writes at The Guardian about Anthony Briggs’ new translation of Pushkin’s novel in verse, Yevgeny Onegin (Eugene Onegin).  I love Eugene Onegin and have enjoyed Briggs’ translations of War and Peace, Resurrection, and Tolstoy’s short stories.  The problem?  It’s not available yet in the U.S.  It is published by Pushkin Press, a small publisher that specializes in literature in translation.  (Last year I wrote here about the Penguin translation by Stanley Mitchell.)

pushkin yevgeny onegin getimage249-761x1024.aspx2. I may have missed Valentine’s Day, but I enjoyed Ceridwen Christensen’s essay on science fiction romance, “Of Love and Robots,” at the Barnes and Noble blog.

3. Michael Dirda writes at The Washington Post about Melville House’s new series of interviews with authors, The Last Interview and Other Conversations.

4. Beiger Vanwesenbeek’s “Reading Madame Bovary in the Provinces” in the L.A. Review of Books helps us celebrate the 160th anniversary of its publication this year.

madame bovary lydia davis 515JL42NLCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The Cats’ New Toy & Three Literary Links


“Books are fine,” the cat said before the electronic mouse came to stay.

The cats have everything.

A pink 2016 calendar with a ribbon bookmark, a copy of a Beryl Bainbridge novel,  and their own personal  couch with a furry slipcover!

What more can they want?

While my husband was away on a business trip, I became their cat. They insisted on “Modern Family” reruns from 6-6:30, a lovely dinner of Whiskas, and then requested Shawn Colvin.  They prefer “Sunny Came Home” and “Window to the World!” to alternative rock.  Who knew?

Okay, we were fine.  I was a little tired after they figured out how to open the bedroom door, but then I barricaded the door.  I was in charge!

And then…

A friend brought a gift for them.  It is an electronic mouse, attached to a piece of yarn on a stick.  When you swing the stick, it chirps and its eyes blaze electronically.  I’m scared to death of it!

The cats want to see it move all day long!

Reading?  No way, Mom.

Play with the mouse! they say.

Cats with new electronic mouse!

Cats with new electronic mouse!

I’m not sure I approve of electronic toys for cats.  Is this how my mother felt about Chatty Cathy, the talking doll?  I pulled the ring over and over so she would chat:    “I love you,” “Can I have a cookie, “Take me with you” all day long!

And the mouse?  Chirp, chirp, chirp!

Moby on coffee table with mouse


Only the white cat is truly enthusiastic.  The others are slightly apprehensive.  They just like to watch the white cat play with it.

I plan to reinstitute kitty soccer this weekend.  I’m sure the plastic balls with bells in them are somewhere…


1 I enjoyed D. J. Taylor’s article in The Independent, “How the Books We Read Shape Our Lives.” He discusses the importance of the books we  read as children and muses on how our tastes develop.

…the sociological questions that lie behind what might be called the origins of the literary sensibility are a great deal less easy to answer. How do people learn to read? How do they fashion their own individual tastes? How do they establish why they prefer one type of book to another type? Where do they acquire the information that enables them to make these selections, and, having acquired it, what do they do with it? After all, there are no hard-and-fast rules about aesthetic choice and how it operates: it was Anthony Powell who, presented by an admirer of his novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time with an ornamental clock on which the names of Poussin and Proust had been engraved, truly remarked that books “have odd effects on different people”.

2 In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani reviews Tom Holland’s Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, a fascinating history I immensely enjoyed and do plan to write about eventually. She writes,

Mr. Holland, the author of “Rubicon,” about the last years of the Roman republic, writes with great authority and relish. His book is less analytic and less panoramic than “SPQR,” Mary Beard’s excellent recent history of ancient Rome. By confining his study largely to the Julio-Claudians (as the dynasty of Augustus is conventionally known), Mr. Holland gets to tell the story of Rome through a series of portraits of some of its most notorious emperors, immortalized in seminal works by Tacitus and Suetonius as larger-than-life autocrats and monsters.

3 In The Weekly Standard, Joseph Bottum writes about Michael Dirda’s new book, Browsings.

… Michael Dirda is a reader, down at the root of his being. A man who gained his scholarly knowledge and critical sensibility from reading whatever came to hand as he pawed through the dusty shelves of used bookstores. Writing—well, yes: If you’re going to keep from starving as a reader, you’ve got to find a bookish job, and writing is one of the possibilities, especially writing book reviews. He is, really, only what he claims for himself: Bookman, plain and simple. “An appreciator,” he adds, “a cheerleader for the old, the neglected, the marginalized, and the forgotten. On sunny days I may call myself a literary journalist.”

Enjoy the links!

Good Girl Genes & Literary Links

igiveandgive taintor

This afternoon my good girl gene kicked in.  We visited a Very Old Relative in the hospital.

We talked about duplicate bridge (which I’d never heard of), and I reminded him/her that my mom and her best friend used to belong to a court whist club.

“She’s an idiot,” the relative said of Mom’s friend.

“She was nice,” I say.

My husband affirms that she was nice.

It’s unclear if the Relative knows the friend is dead.  We didn’t want to share Too Much Upsetting Information.

On the other hand, the Relative said so many inappropriate things in one hour that it probably didn’t matter.

Such as:  the Relative can’t stand to sleep in the same room as his/her spouse anymore;  he/she is cheating on said spouse; and he/she is expecting the cheatee to visit any minute.


“It’s part of life.”

“What?”  Maybe if you’re immoral…

We don’t want to meet the cheatee, so we get out of there.

He/she is very old and needs to get back together with his spouse.  (I can’t arrange that!)

And how have your Holidays been going?


1. There are many Best Books of the Year lists, but I especially loved this article in The Guardian, in which publishers name the book that made their year; the book that deserved to do better; and the book they wished they’d published. 

Richard Beswick, publisher of Little, Brown and Abacus Books, speaks of the brilliance of Tom Holland’s “magnificently erudite and entertaining Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar.”

I agree.  It is gossipy, witty, spicy, and as fast-paced as a novel!

dynasty tom holland 51ODkof-fHL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

2. Tom Cunliffe’s great blog, A Common Reader, is back in business!  I enjoyed his fascinating post, “All Hail Wikipedia.”  

He writes:

wikipedia Nohat-wiki-logoI get tired of people complaining about Wikipedia and saying how inaccurate it is. If a politician or a celebrity is accused of sneaking through an edit in their favour (almost invariably to be found out later) some journalist will make some clever comment about “of course, Wikipedia is full of this sort of thing”. They ignore (or are ignorant of) how much effort Wikipedia put into monitoring edits to the pages of people in the public eye.

3 In the latest issue of the TLS (Dec. 18, 2015), Lesley Chamberlain reviews Wendy Pollard’s Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her life, works and times. Unfortunately, the TLS article is not online, but you can read my interview with Wendy here.

wendy pollard Pamela-hansford-Johnson-web4 Joyce Maynard has an article in the New York Times magazine (Dec. 16, 2015) about visiting Pablo Neruda’s three homes in ChileLa Chascona, La Sebastiana and Isla Negra.

Enjoy the links!

Literary Links & News: Karen E. Bender on the National Book Awards Longlist, Stevie Smith, Witch Week, H. G. Wells’s Birthday, & Mary Beard on Epitaphs

Every once in a while I post Literary Links and News.

Karen E. Bender

Karen E. Bender

1. Karen E. Bender’s stunning short story collection, Refund, has made The National Book Awards Fiction longlist. I wrote about it here in January and interviewed her  here.  Refund is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I certainly hope it wins.  Go, Karen!

The complete longlist is:

Jesse Ball, A Cure for Suicide (Pantheon Books)

Karen E. Bender, Refund: Stories (Counterpoint Press)

Bill Clegg, Did You Ever Have a Family (Scout Press/Simon & Schuster)

Angela Flournoy, The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies (Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House)

Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles: Stories (Random House)

T. Geronimo Johnson, Welcome to Braggsville (William Morrow/HarperCollins)

Edith Pearlman, Honeydew (Little, Brown/Hachette Book Group)

Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (Doubleday/Penguin Random House)

Nell Zink, Mislaid (Ecco/HarperCollins)

Collected poems and drawings of stevie smith 97805713113092. Will May writes about The Collected Poems and Drawings of Stevie Smith in The Guardian.  He edited the book, which will be published in October.  I covet it!

3. Lory is sponsoring Witch Week at her blog, The Emerald City Review (Oct. 31-Nov. 5). This year’s theme is “New Tales from Old,” fiction derived from fairy tales, folklore or myth, or other old stories.   Post your suggestions for reading at her blog.


H. G. Wells

4. “H. G. Wells Invented Everything You Love” is the title of a brief essay by Leah Schnelbach at Today is his birthday.  Not only did he write great SF, but he slept with many of my favorite writers, among them Rebecca West and Elizabeth von Arnim.  (Okay, that’s a digression, but he did invent much that we love.)

5. At her blog at the TLS, Mary Beard writes a fascinating short piece on Roman memorials and epitaphs.  Beard is a celebrity classicist who has popularized Roman history in her accessible books and often questions our assumptions.