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Showing posts from July, 2017

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.