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Dickens's American Notes Summarized So You Never Have to Read It

Dickens's American Notes is the worst travel writing I've ever seen.

Do not read American Notes. Think of this summary as a service I can provide to humankind so not one more person needs to slog through the 250+ pages of Dickens saying things like "Philadelphia is most bountifully provided with fresh water," or this section, which is one sentence (don't read all of it):

That these visitors, too, whatever their station were not without some refinement of taste and appreciation of intellectual gifts, and gratitude to those men who, by the peaceful exercise of great abilities, shed new charms and associations upon the homes of their countrymen, and elevate their character in other lands, was most earnestly testified by their reception of Washington Irving, my dear friend, who had recently been appointed Minister at the Court of Spain, and who was among them that night, in his new character, for the first and last time before going abroad.




Here are some bullet points:

D…

Wilkie Collins: In Summation

WELL HERE WE ARE. We have read an entire biography of esteemed Victorian Wilkie Collins. Was it good? Well, not really. Should this 420 page biography have been appx 100 pages? Yes. But now we have a list of Wilkie fiction to read! Wilkie fiction and also things like East Lynne by Ellen Wood, because do not think for a moment that we are not reading that. "It is remembered chiefly for its elaborate and implausible plot, centering on infidelity and double identities."



But again, Lycett seems to have taken random notes and then put them together into a book, and some of it's about Wilkie but most of it's tangentially related? I mean, sure, it's funny that troops were called in to protect animals in the zoos, but also WHY ARE WE HEARING A STORY ABOUT WILKIE'S EX-GIRLFRIEND'S DEAD HUSBAND'S PARENTS. 

I didn't feel like I learned that much about Wilkie from this, but also it really seems like he didn't want us to learn that much about him. Which I ki…

Who's That Girl by Blair Thornburgh: Yurts! Rock Stars! Teenage Angst!

"Everything weird started the day my dad brought home the yurt" is how Who's That Girl, a YA music-filled novel, begins.

First, a thing: this book was written by my brilliant friend Blair Thornburgh, editor at Quirk, author of this viral post about medieval Christmas carols, and one of the only people who shares with me a deep love for singer/songwriter/owner-of-many-scarves Loreena McKennitt. This is mainly being noted because my normal jam is nonfiction about the 19th century, so this might seem a little out of scope.

NOW. I mean, it starts with a yurt. That's already +500 points. Who's That Girl is an excellent blend of nerdery, throwback feelings of being a teenager, and queerness. No, the main character isn't queer, but she's a member of her school's version of what back in the day was the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) and here is the extremely-long-and-therefore-accurately-acronymed OWPALGBTQIA. 

The main character, Nattie (aka Natalie), has a crush …

Wilkie Collins is a Mysterious Man

Wilkie Collins wrote so many books, and this author insists on detailing the plots of all of them, which I must invariably skim over because I don't want them spoiled, thank you, sir.

As one reads through Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation, one gets the sense that this book could have been much shorter than it is, and therefore more satisfying, as much much much of it is filler. Yes! It is indeed sad that Dickens did not keep Wilkie's letters but instead burned them in some sort of pyratic ecstatical moment he apparently had with much of his correspondence, but that does not mean you then just summarize novel plots and talk about the histories of his friends' and acquaintances' families.



Some of this I am greatly enjoying, because I like knowing about The Bigger Picture and how everyone jigsaw puzzleish fits in, but I do not need to know about the family background of the man Wilkie's sometimes live-in girlfriend married for like a year.

Which brings us to another po…

A Radical 4th of July Reading List

It's easy for me to love my country, but it's hard for me to be proud of my country.
The word "patriotism" now makes me cringe. The 4th of July isn't making me want to celebrate our founders or listen to ridiculous songs like Celine Dion's version of America the Beautiful or eat a red, white, and blue cake like our ancestors wanted. I want to crawl under a blanket and wait for this tsunami of pain and embarrassment to end.

That being said, here are some books to read, some of which understand America as Emma Lazarus captured it in her famous poem "The New Colossus," and some that try to take us a step further:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Can Wilkie Collins Manage to Star in His Own Biography?

Andrew Lycett's Wilkie biography has been accompanying me around Chicago-town.


It struck me last week that since Wilkie's life is so inextricably bound up in Dickens's, it might be good to read a biography of Dickens finally, so I checked out Claire Tomalin's Dickens: A Life, and it is excellent. Particularly since Wilkie and Dickens don't really meet up until Dickens is an Established Figure and v. famous, so it's nice instead seeing his background with his son-of-a-servant father being in debtors prison and his mother making him work in a blacking factory and, as previously mentioned, ruining his brain about women forever.

While I appreciate the difficulty in crafting a biography of Wilkie due to the relative scarcity of information about him, I applaud Lycett for trying. One of the benefits (?) of said scarcity is a biography of him becomes more a biography of his circle, so you learn about the Victorian literary set of the 1850s and '60s. Or one of its pa…

Harry Potter at 20: My Magical But Maybe Creepy Intro to Harry Potter

It all started with Anjelica Huston.



Like any normal 14-year-old, I was spending my summer obsessed with the then-48-year-old actress. It was 1999, so the internet was still experiencing growing pains, but it was advanced enough that a young teenager could find filmographies, interviews, and agent addresses where she could send letters detailing how much an actress's performance in Addams Family Values meant to her.

In one of these interviews, Huston said the last book she had read was Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. Charming Billy is an excellent novel about an Irish-American man who dies from alcoholism. Under normal circumstances, none of these things would appeal to me, but when you're 14 and obsessed, you will read anything that person read (see also: Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis-Singer).



My family was going where we went every summer: the small, historical community of Chautauqua, NY, originally founded for Methodist women, but which has since become a summer …

Wilkie Collins: The Beginning

EPOCH ONE in the life of Wilkie Collins, as described by Andrew Lycett in his eminently readable biography Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation, comprises his birth to the meeting of Charles Dickens.


If you want to know about Wilkie Collins's early life, here're some main points: 

1) His dad was a painter who made some serious CASH MONEY.

2) His dad was also super into God, who Wilkie, in the grand tradition of children, was therefore NOT into.

3) The ladies around him inspired him to see women as actual people, as opposed to a certain other Victorian author who seemed to regard them as vessels to be filled with adoration for their future husband. That or as loveless shrews we should all laugh at. (DICKENS I'M TALKING ABOUT DICKENS)

4) Wilkie told Dickens a story later in life about how when his family lived in Italy, he banged a married lady when he was like 13. While normally I wouldn't believe this sort of story, with Wilkie Collins, it seems like it maybe happened.

5) Wil…

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier: DID SHE OR DIDN'T SHE

Daphne Du Maurier's 1951 My Cousin Rachel prompts the age-old question: what if you were a young dumb dumb with an estate in Cornwall who is convinced your charming, thoughtful, and recently-widowed cousin Rachel wants to abandon her native Italy forever and live with you, your dogs, and your elderly butler in a damp house by the sea. AFTER ALL WHO WOULDN'T.

Also she's a widow because she'd married your uncle who raised you who then recently died, so also this has just become the MOST oedipal and makes everyone feel gross thinking about it.




Said dumb dumb is Philip Ashley, who is 24 and aptly referred to in the recent film version as a "glorious puppy." He is so excited about some things. And so sulky about so many other things. He's our narrator, which here means he is our misogynistic, xenophobic lens through which to view all events. His uncle died in Italy soon after marrying Rachel. Said uncle suspected he was being poisoned. He also probably had a bra…

Wilke Collins Readalong: Introductory Post

WELCOME TO THE WILKIE COLLINS BIOGRAPHY READALONG. We are very cazh-like reading the Andrew Lycett bio Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation. This week's introductions! I have QUESTIONS.

1. Where are you located!
Chicago, IL. It's currently emphasizing its swampy river nature with 90-something degree temperatures and 65% humidity, but I STILL LOVE IT.

2. What do you know about Wilkie Collins already?
I know he has a giant forehead. And enjoys the back view of a lady the most. And was Dickens's BFF and MAYBE responsible for pushing Dickens to be a better writer.

3. What have you read of his?
THE MOONSTONE AND WOMAN IN WHITE, of which I loved the latter much more than the former.

4. How much do you love the cover of this book?
SO MUCH.


We're splitting this book into 4 sections, and a schedule will be posted here be Friday!

Made for Love by Alissa Nutting: SEX DOLLS AND DOLPHIN LUST

Y'know when your life is falling apart because your husband is the head of an omnipotent technology company and you feel disconnected from humanity and all you want to do is live in a trailer park and bang a drifter? Then you will SUPER RELATE to Alissa Nutting's Made for Love, aka That Book With the Airbrushed Dolphin Cover.



I like to think of this cover choice as "bold." Partially because it reminds me of my second grade Lisa Frank folders and partially because, similar to her previous book Tampa, it's another "hide the cover on the El" book. But for a DIFFERENT reason. I have a paperback galley of it, but I'll bet the juxtaposition of this airbrushed dolphin scene with the niceness of a hardcover is interesting.

When first encountering this book, I did in fact wrinkle my nose at the fact the author wrote Tampa. "Oh, the sex book," I said. I'd like to point out I never readTampa, but I most definitely associate it with tastelessness, c…

BookExpo 2017: Who Doesn't Need More Books?

One of the best things about a convention is most people are there for the same reason: they have some deep interest in whatever it's about. Hopefully. If they don't, then it must be hell on earth. But let's focus on those who do!


BookExpo America is like Comic Con for book nerds, especially if you're attending for press coverage and not on behalf of one of the many publishers. I went as a Book Riot contributor and wandered around for 2 days with Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness. Kim covers a lot of non-fiction, and I tend towards history/lady-things/LGBT books, so we had some nice crossover in what ARCs we wanted to grab. Most of the books given out at BEA are fall releases, so you get the ARCs, then have a nice couple months to read them.

Our first book we bee-lined for was about baking powder. Obviously.


Baking Powder Wars is NOT ONLY being published by University of Illinois Press (so, my alma mater), but also has an A+ cover. We basically ran to their booth at 9 AM…