Monday Snax

Another busy weekend in North Carolina: Guion backed Daniel Levi Goans at his CD release show in Greensboro, and I was in Charlotte/Davidson, hanging out with my fam and celebrating with Eva and Peter.

Grace was Eva and Peter’s wedding photographer and has just put up some of her amazing photos from their “first look” on the railroad tracks. Check it out.

Quick selection of photos below:

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We took Ally out for a (belated) birthday brunch at The Egg.
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The beautiful, happy bride gets dressed.
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Eva and Peter get hitched! At the Green Rice Gallery in Charlotte.
The cutest child EVER
Thumbnail from phone picture from a home video. Proof that Sam was the cutest child ever to live.

Snax!

“Cruel,” by St. Vincent. New favorite song (I’m OBSESSED) and album. I can’t wait for her concert here in October! This music video is also totally crazy and creepy. (The Fox Is Black)

The Psychologist. Why novelist Vladimir Nabokov may have actually been the greatest psychologist of his time. (The American Scholar)

The Writer’s Voice. A reflection on the experience of hearing a great writer read his or her own work–with links! Listen to the dulcet tones of Flannery O’Connor, W.B. Yeats, Philip Larkin, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and J.M. Coetzee. (The Book Bench, The New Yorker)

Al Gore’s Excellent Timing. You know all this apocalyptic weather we’ve been having lately? Al Gore chimes in on a reason, and it’s not the Second Coming. These statistics are chilling… or should I say warming? (The Atlantic)

Bookish Illustrations. Lizzy Stewart’s solemn and wonderful sketched book covers for beloved classics. (Wolf Eyebrows)

Meg Gleason: Personalized Stationery. Love these cards, especially the last one in the set of photos. (Design Work Life)

Farm Life. What an idyllic childhood Courtney must have had… Jealous! (Radiate)

Your Wild Horses. Wild, white horses, galloping in the surf? Of course these photos are going to be amazing. (Eye Poetry)

Got a Girl Crush On: Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. Did this really happen?? Has anyone seen this movie? (Got a Girl Crush)

Pen on Paper: A Defense of Writing. Yet another article about why handwriting matters, this time from The Curator. (The Curator)

Chat History. A true and heartbreaking romance, rendered in Gchat. (Good)

The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills. Apparently, if you believe too hard, you can die. (The Atlantic)

Dr. Neubronner’s Miniature Pigeon Camera, 1903. Um, awesome. (How to Be a Retronaut)

20 essential authors

A few weeks ago, when Windy and Mike were visiting, and Tracy was staying at our house, the women were lingering in our apartment, talking about books. Windy and Tracy asked me for my recommendations of the essential authors who need to be read in the Western canon. Quite a question. I didn’t have a good answer–I mumbled something about Joyce and Woolf and Shakespeare–but I’m going to try to prepare one now.

For Windy and Tracy:

My List of 20 Essential Authors in the Western Canon

20. Toni Morrison

Morrison’s novels have always completely enchanted me. I feel she is channeling something similar to Virginia Woolf, an intimation confirmed when I found out she wrote her master’s thesis on Woolf and Faulkner. Nothing escapes her notice. Her characters are raw. Her characters’ experiences are so far removed from my own, and yet Morrison’s undeniable talent lies in the fact that she makes all of her people extremely close. You care for them like family. My favorites: Beloved and Sula. To read: A Mercy, Tar Baby, The Bluest Eye.

19. Emily Brontë/Charlotte Brontë

Maybe it’s not fair to include both of them under one point, but they both wrote one important novel each, and they’re sisters, so, sorry, Ellis and Currer Bell. The Brontës are still so shocking to me. They prove the power of the imagination and the ascension of the artist’s soul above demeaning material and cultural circumstances. How did two sheltered women in the mid-19th century write such dark, powerful novels? Wuthering Heights is one of the most upsetting novels I’ve ever read and yet I cannot deny that it is a masterpiece. Jane Eyre is beautiful and moving. Both need to be read.

18. John Steinbeck

This man can write a NOVEL. If you’ve ever been through an American high school, I’m sure you know that by now. If you didn’t like Steinbeck when you were 15, try him again. He doesn’t write for children. My favorites: East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath.

17. Ernest Hemingway

I like to say that Hemingway is the only “macho” writer I’ve ever liked. He writes about drunken brawls, war, hunting, and bullfighting. His writing style is be the polar opposite of Virginia Woolf’s. And yet. I like him. I even love some of his novels. This is because Hemingway doesn’t succumb to the common path of many male writers strung up with their machismo. He doesn’t write women who are tired, sexy stereotypes and he lets his tough guys cry. Hemingway writes like a real man–not one who is trying to prove that he is. My favorites: A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, his short stories.

16. Eudora Welty

In basic description, she may be difficult to distinguish from Flannery O’Connor: Both native Southern women who wrote collections of compelling short stories. I was first introduced to Welty when I was quite young. Our family friend, Dave, who is a writer, gave me a collection of her complete short stories. I started reading them when I was about 12 or 13 and have been enchanted by her and her world ever since. Another writer I’ll always return to.

15. William Faulkner

By all accounts, I should be in love with William Faulkner. He’s a modernist and he’s Southern. I love both of those genres. But I confess that I’ve never loved one of his novels. This could be because I’ve only read two (The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!). But he’s consistently called one of the greatest writers ever to have lived (or THE greatest writer ever to have lived, if you’re this lit blog). This to say, I think Faulkner is important because everyone says he is important. Lame, I know. But I’m not giving up on him yet. Next up: Light in August, which should be arriving by post any day now.

14. Emily Dickinson

Who has ever written such short and such profoundly beautiful lines? No one can match Dickinson in this regard. One of my most prized books on my shelf is my giant anthology of her complete works. You can read just about any page and leave with your mind inspired and your heart illuminated.

13. Homer

Obligatory inclusion for the Father of Western Literature. Blah blah blah. I can never really make it through “The Odyssey,” but he has to be on this list somewhere.

12. Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard has a ravenously curious mind. I also think she’s read almost every book that was ever written. The amount of information that this woman KNOWS is simply astounding–and yet she writes with simple, direct humility. I have never read one of her novels, but her most famous books have made a sizable impression on my heart. One of the worthiest living American writers today. My favorites: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, For the Time Being. To read: Teaching a Stone to Talk, The Writing Life, her novels.

11. Jane Austen

I don’t tell people that I like Jane Austen now, because her reputation has been ruined by Hollywood. Thanks to silly films, most people write Austen off as a writer of fluffy, feel-good “chick lit.” Yes, there’s always a marriage at the end, but this is a classic trope of comedy she borrowed from Shakespeare; give the woman a break. She’s supremely intelligent, witty, and funny. Her characters evade stereotype. Her novels endure. I wish Austen could be seen for what she really was: A gifted artist who permanently affected the trajectory of the English novel–and got her reputation ruined by Hollywood. My favorites: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility.

10. George Eliot

I like to think of her as the female, British version of Tolstoy, if that makes any sense. Like Tolstoy, she created full-fledged universes in her novels and never wrote on a small scale. Virginia Woolf once said of Middlemarch, “It is one of the few novels written for grown-up people.” I think it is a wonderful description and one that fittingly applies. It’s still one of my all-time favorites.

9. T.S. Eliot

Clearly, I have a thing for the modernists. “The Waste Land” will probably have a similar effect as Ulysses; so dense it’s barely comprehensible without a guide. While that will stand as his great contribution, I think his truly wonderful work lies in The Four Quartets. And “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” will always have my heart.

8. James Joyce

I say that I read Ulysses last year, but I don’t know if I can say that. I looked at all of the words in Ulysses–and there are a LOT of them–but I’m not sure how much of it I really understood. I was using Allusions in Ulysses (UNC Press) as a guide the whole time, and that was a huge help, but it was still an arduous task. If you’re not a native Dubliner, Roman Catholic, and fluent in Latin and classic mythology–basically if you’re not Joyce–a lot of Ulysses will be incomprehensible without the help of a guide. Still. Most people say it’s the greatest novel ever written. It certainly changed the face of modern literature in a way that no other book did. My favorite: Dubliners (collection of short stories), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. To read: Ulysses, again.

7. Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy is probably the best at creating an entire world within the pages of his (usually long) books. He won’t let you escape the figurative boundaries he has created for you. But, as it is in my case, one is usually more than content to stay, to learn about these rich, realistic characters and their challenges. Essentially, he’s famous for a reason. He should be read. My favorites: Anna Karenina, Resurrection, and The Kreutzer Sonata. To read: His letters and essays.

6. Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor is second in my book for master of the short story form, close on the heels of Anton Chekhov. She writes with conviction and wry humor. She always tells it like she sees it. My favorites: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” stands out, as does her other most famous one, “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” But all of them are good. To read: Brad Gooch’s recent biography of her, Flannery

5. Vladimir Nabokov

“Genius” is a word too liberally rendered to authors, but it has never been misapplied in Vladimir Nabokov’s case. He wrote one of (if not THE) greatest novels, Lolita–and he wrote it in English, his fourth language. His mind is enchanted by language. He makes up words. He creates characters so externally appalling and so internally sympathetic that one’s moral compass is thrown entirely off kilter. He’ll make your skin crawl, but you’ll keep returning to him. Because he’s the best. My favorites: Lolita and Pale Fire. To read: Most of his other novels; Speak, Memory, and Lectures on Russian Literature.

4. Anton Chekhov

I believe Chekhov is the greatest short story writer who ever lived, and I’d pick a fight with anyone who disagreed. Just read four or five of his stories and you’ll fall under his spell. His plays are equally incredible, and probably more famous. Chekhov was a noble-hearted country doctor who started writing later in his career. His glimpses into the souls of people are inspiring and chilling. My favorites: The Cherry Orchard (play), The Duel (novella), Grief (short story). To read: His memoir and his letters.

3. Marcel Proust

I’m currently reading Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, although his thesis is not something that I need to be convinced of; I already believe it’s true. For the past four summers now, I have read a volume of his epic novel, In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past). It’s an arduous task. I only read a volume a year, because I think it takes me a full year to recover from it. Nothing escapes Proust’s notice. The whole world is infinitely fascinating to him; all people worth describing; all memories worth mining. Proust captures the beauty and complexity of humanity in a dazzling, astonishing way. How can it be? He writes about rich people orbiting around each other at parties. And yet he writes about all of humankind. My favorite volumes, so far: Swann’s Way and Sodom and Gomorrah. To read: The final three volumes!

2. Virginia Woolf

It’s no secret that this woman is my hero. I spent a year and a half re-reading all of her novels and essays and then I wrote a sprawling, 130-page love letter to her, in the form of a mismanaged and somewhat poorly executed undergraduate thesis. I could talk about her all day long; consider that your warning. Woolf does something to me that no other writer does. I think all readers have a writer who affects them in this way. When I read her novels, I feel perfectly understood, completely reached–and yet constantly drawn in and mystified. She refashioned the novel in a way that no one else did or has done since. I will return to her for the rest of my life and I’d encourage all readers to do the same. My favorites: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, A Room of One’s Own. To read: Her extensive letters and the rest of her diaries.

1. William Shakespeare

The man invented most of our commonly used phrases and puns. That alone should get him some quality read-time. Aside from that, he just has to be read, thoroughly, for his influence on English literature extends beyond what anyone else accomplished. Yes, the language can be dense sometimes, but with a good annotated copy and a Shakespeare dictionary–and the willingness to read aloud to yourself–he’s a guaranteed great time. He’s merry and bawdy and the greatest wit you’ll ever meet. My favorites: King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, and Richard III. Still to be read: Julius Caesar and about five or six other plays.

Who would be on your list? Who do you think I’m missing?

Monday Snax

Chillin' on the couch with Windy!
Happy birthday, Granddad! He looks very much at home in his chair, which is now taking residence in our house.

We had a lovely weekend with Guion’s parents and his grandfather, aka Granddad; they came up to celebrate my confirmation at Christ Church and Granddad’s birthday! We had such a great time squiring them around town, eating tons of amazing food, and exchanging stories and memories. Brother Win was greatly missed, of course. Wish they could only have stuck around longer!

Snax with roasted kale and butternut squash, because, believe me, this week’s Snax are super-delicious and good for your heart:

With Love from Chitwan. To my heart’s relief, Grace is alive and finally well in Chitwan, Nepal! Read about her adventures and go see how totally adorable she looks on a bicycle by a rice paddy. (Como Say What?)

In Which There’s a Girl in New York City Who Calls Herself a the Human Trampoline. A thoughtful reflection on and celebration of the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s magnum opus, “Graceland.” Who doesn’t love that album? (This Recording)

Proust Questionnaire: Tina Fey. One of my all-time favorite women answers the classic questions from one of my all-time favorite authors. What do I have to do to become BFFs with this woman? (Vanity Fair)

A Guide to Crying in Public. As you know, I cry in public often, so I found this especially helpful. Retreat! (The Hairpin)

Big Laughs, Cheap Grace. Thank you, Rob Hays, for finding the words for my dislike of “Modern Family.” Thanks for finding the words when I could not. It is entertaining, but perhaps that is all one can say. (The Curator)

How Dancers Prepare Their Pointe Shoes.  I had no idea this process was so involved! (Behind Ballet)

Iceland Part 1: Roadside Horses and Geysir. Here is a Law of the Universe: If anyone on the Interwebs posts photos of Icelandic ponies, I shall immediately repost photos of said ponies. This law is immutable and shall remain unbroken for the duration of time. (Kris Atomic)

Here’s Another Thing Julianne Moore Will Ruin. FOR REAL. (Best Week Ever)

Dog-Friendly Paris: Doggy Etiquette in the City of Lights. Kelsey and Grace regaled me with stories of the impeccably well-behaved and countless pooches in Paris. I’m not one for big city living, but this account of Paris is tempting! (HIP Paris)

Origami Animals. Origanimals. My dad had a client who once made me an intricate Japanese beetle out of a $5 bill. He would have liked these paper animals. I like them, too; they look like they want to be friends. (Miss Moss)

The Desktop Wallpaper Project. I change my desktop image every Monday on my work computer, and my Mac desktop rotates every 15 minutes, so I guess you could say I’m a bit of a stickler for change. It makes me happy to have a new, pretty image on my computer. If you are like this, check out this site. A collection of beautiful, graphic designer-friendly desktop wallpapers! Artist Michael Cina’s work (around page 7) is my favorite. (The Fox Is Black)

Is Ulysses Overrated? Now I feel a little bit better about giving it only spot no. 7 in my top 10 books of 2010. This guy from Slate thinks it’s a crock and not worth all of the hype. He says there’s only one chapter worth reading. (Slate)

Happiest States According to Twitter. As far as useless and unreliable maps go, this one may rank quite high, but I like its findings. According to a mood map of Twitter, the top three happiest states are: 1) Tennessee, 2) Colorado, and 3) North Carolina. I like it! I can definitely attest to Colorado and NC making that cut. (Daily Intel)

I Am Only 6, But I Think I Can Do This Job. KIDS! Killing me again with cuteness! Application letter from 6-year-old Andrew Scott, who applied for the position of Director of the National Railway Museum. What is it with little boys and trains? It will never fail to make my heart melt. (Letters of Note)

Top 10 Books of 2010: #7

Ulysses

#7: ULYSSES, James Joyce

For the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking back through the books I read in 2010 and ranking my favorites in a top 10 list. Today… (cue Jaws music) meet number 7: The Greatest Novel of All Time, Apparently, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

I know, I know. Of all the books I read this year Ulysses only got ranked number 7. Number 7!? This is mainly because I’m not nearly smart enough to understand it. And because I’m not Irish or Catholic and have perilously little memory of The Odyssey and all the Latin I learned in middle school. But I did read it. I think the better verb phrase there is “labor through it,” but it was remarkable, as everyone says it is.

I am not going to presume to give you an intelligent review of this behemoth of literature. Rather, I am going to give you a list: a brief collection of thoughts on the least “brief” novel probably ever written. So, here we go.

EDITION I READ: A beautiful hardback Modern Library edition, which I just happened to find for a mere $10 at The Bookstore on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Naturally, I haven’t read Ulysses in another edition, but I loved this one. The margins are wide and the references are complete and easy to find. Recommended.

ESSENTIAL COMPANION: Unless you happen to be a modernist scholar, or a true Catholic Dubliner fluent in Latin and Greek mythology, I’m going to presume to say that you might need a little help with the allusions. I certainly did. Which is why I absolutely relied on this marvelous book, Allusions in Ulysses (which, I’d like to note, was published by UNC Press, where I enjoyed a year as an intern). It is a perfect and clear line-by-line guide to the entire novel and it saved me lots of frustration along the way. I feel that Joyce, like his difficult modernist counterparts, is more deeply and fully enjoyed if you actually understand what he’s saying. Weldon Thornton’s Allusions in Ulysses will help you do just that.

FAVORITE CHAPTER: Part II, episode 4, Calypso. We first meet Leopold Bloom as he makes breakfast for his wife, Molly, while she languishes in bed. It’s a funny, domestic chapter, and yet very sexy, too.

READING ALOUD: I highly recommend reading difficult portions of the novel out loud. If you can find a place where this will not cause you undue awkwardness, by all means, read this book to yourself. I can guarantee that your comprehension will be aided tremendously. I know mine was. I recall reading it aloud to myself and Guion as we drove to Southern Pines for a party, and I can still remember what I read because it was that much easier to understand.

MOLLY’S SOLILOQUY. Insulted that I keep talking about strategies for comprehension? OK. Fine. Just take a gander at the famous, oft-quoted Molly’s Soliloquy from the novel, written in its entirety here. Got all that? Good.

WORKSHOPPING ULYSSES. I think I used this in a Snax post, but I’m going to use it again because it’s hilarious: A McSweeney’s writer imagines the comments that James Joyce would have received from his imagined MFA workshop. Especially hilarious once you’ve actually read it, but still, worth it.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT, AND WHY I’LL READ IT AGAIN: I think reading Ulysses extends beyond the “shoulds” that are tossed out by the literary elite and our diligent English professors. I think we read it because Joyce changed the landscape of the novel forever with this book. He started a conversation that is still happening today: What is a novel? Why do novels matter? And do they still matter? For those reasons, I’m looking forward to returning to Ulysses in a few years.

Monday Snax

Kelsey is turning 21 on Thursday! Happy birthday, Kels. I love you and this picture.

Guion and I had a good chat on Saturday morning at Panera about how these are the Best Days of Our Young Lives and how we don’t want a baby in at least five to six years. Good to establish these things early.

When I’m up at 6, still shaking off my barrage of vivid dreams, the first actual thought in my head is, “I have GOT to go to bed earlier.”

This weekend, Mom booked a room for all of us family women at this resort in the Meadows of Dan (the most dramatic name for a town ever). We’re celebrating Kelsey’s 21st birthday and I can’t wait! So excited. We’re going to try to get Mom tipsy, do lots of yoga with The Teacher, and probably watch “Little House on the Prairie” re-runs, while Mom reminds us, “I learned everything I know about parenting from this show.”

All I can think about are the winter holidays! All!

Snax in a brown paper bag with googly eyes:

Feedback from James Joyce’s Submission of Ulysses to His Creative-Writing Workshop. I have to credit my genius spouse with this one; he sent it to me as a consideration for Snax publication. Definitely merits the attention. “Kick-ass work, JJ, but way too long. Have you considered turning this into a short-short?” (McSweeney’s)

40 Things You Didn’t Know About Tina Fey. For instance: Her first name is actually Elizabeth, and she is a UVA graduate! I asked some UVA grads the other day to name some famous alums–besides Edgar Allan Poe–and they couldn’t come up with any. Tina Freakin’ Fey went to your school! You should know this! I love this woman. (Flavorwire)

Hard to Kill: Houseplants for the Inept. I love taking care of living things, whether they are betta fish or plants. We have a few plants surviving in our little home, so it was nice to read this article about other organisms that are fairly hardy. I’m all about the orchid; we have one that’s still going strong, even though it dropped its petals months ago. I was actually able to get my previous orchid to bloom again after a full year of hibernation. (New York Times)

A Livable Bento Box. I know most of my links pertain to Japan or the Japanese, but I can’t help it! I love them so much. This house is so sleek and minimalistic. I don’t know if I’d actually like to live there, but one can certainly admire this family’s peaceful architecture. (New York Times)

Living In: Breathless. We had a showing of this charming, iconic Godard film at our house a few weeks ago. Everyone loved it! All of the women wanted to go out and get her hair cut. (Design Sponge)

The House of Fake. People dress up and act out famous paintings! This is always fun to me. Makes me think of Arrested Development, too. “THERE IS NO GOD!” (Miss Moss)

Pretty Girls and Floral Paint. Enchanting little paintings. (Design for Mankind)

Women Reading. Last year, my grandmother bought me a beautiful day planner that contained paintings of women reading. I saved almost all of the paintings and have tacked them up in various places (like in my cubicle at work!). There are lots of images of women with books, and this is just a small collection of them. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

The Impatient Pirate of Cornelia Street. I really want to know what was in that chest… I love the continued exchange, too. (Passive-Aggressive Notes)

Sarah Palin Is in a Fight With a Wall Street Journal Economics Reporter About Economics. Because, well, I just feel like sometimes no one realizes how purely idiotic this woman is. Stupid people get WAY too much attention in modern American politics. Way too much. (Daily Intel)

Eight Things That May Have Caused George W. Bush to Make This Expression. I have no idea, but I love the suggestions! What’s your guess? (Daily Intel)