Christie Covers

Look at the awesome covers on these paperback Agatha Christie mysteries:

from upper left to lower right: A Murder is Announced, 13 Clues for Miss Marple, Murder in Retrospect, Funerals are Fatal, Murder on the Links, and The Seven Dials Mystery

I should have checked publication dates on these, but regardless, I wish more books still looked like these.

A Murder is Announced and 13 Clues for Miss Marple

My favorite of these: The Seven Dials Mystery

National Poetry Month 2011

April is National Poetry Month, and somehow, terrifyingly, April is also little more than a week away. I really like poetry, love that it has a month devoted to celebrating it, and last year I really enjoyed collecting favorite poems from people I love to post here. This year I want to do something to mark the month as well, but I’m going to try something a little different. Something which may not work at all. Though actually, its success is far more up to you than me.

I don’t think I’ve ever read as much poetry as I have over the past year. Part of this is probably that I’ve been working in a book store where I shelve the poetry section, so the sheer number of books of poetry that I touch on a daily basis has risen exponentially compared with every other period of my life. But part of this is also that I’ve felt really mentally raw and sensitive for large portions of the past twelve months, and this has made my mind open and attuned to the nuances of poetry in a way I’ve never experienced with any kind of longevity before. Also, I’ve had trouble reading anything long. And a lot of poems are short.

I love poetry. Something else I love is getting mail. And for some reason it feels like a really good idea to combine these two things I really like in celebration of National Poetry Month 2011, so what I’m going to do is this: I will mail you poems. That is, I will mail you poems if you’d like me too. I will mail out one poem a week, to the address of your choice, postage on me, for the entire month of April.

I realize this entails giving me your address…but I kind of assume that everyone who reads this blog I actually know, and likely know well enough to know where they live. And if we’ve never met, you should still feel welcome to take me up on this offer. I’d love to send you poetry too. And if you’re uncomfortable giving out your address, or you don’t want actual, real, made-out-of-paper mail, I’m willing to send the poems that I choose to an email address as well. And–within reason–if there’s someone you know who would really like to receive a poem in the mail every week of April, but who (for some strange reason) doesn’t read my blog, you can either let them know about this post and have them contact me themselves, or you can give me an address and I’ll add them to the list.

So, that’s what I’d like to do…whether any of this actually happens is kind of up to you. I really will do pretty much all the work here: I’ll choose the poems, put them on paper, put the paper into envelopes, stamp those envelopes and mail them. I will do this at least four times throughout April. Maybe more if I get really into it (and I’m obviously already pretty into it). All I need from you is a response to this post, either as a comment or as an email to, telling me that you’re interested, and indicating how you’d like to receive your poem (real mail, email) and to what address you’d like me to send them. And I need this response as soon as possible, and definitely before April 1. So! Let’s begin. Happy Almost National Poetry Month!

My Favorite Books of 2010

I won’t speak for the best books of 2010 (if you’d like to read some people who do, read lists here, here, or here), but I can speak for my favorites, and here they are:

Two Serious Ladies – Jane Bowles

This novel is now one of my favorite books. I wrote extensively about how much I loved it right after I finished it this spring.

Here – Wislawa Szymborksa

I love this collection of poetry. I’ve been reading and rereading it for weeks now, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to having it with me for years to come.

Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It – Maile Meloy

This is a terrific collection of short stories. Achingly intense situations, spare writing that spares no one (least of all the reader), this is one of the books I recommended most to people this year. I hope some of them read it and that at least a few loved it as much as I did.

King Lear – Shakespeare.

I don’t know why I’ve read King Lear so many times in 2010 (by so many, I mean I’ve read through it completely twice and returned to parts of it far more often) but somehow this play has been integral to the fabric of my thoughts this year. So many of its themes (self-knowledge, loyalty, friendship, madness, fools and foolishness, aging, loss) have played important roles in my thoughts and writing over the past twelve months.


Oh So Honorable Mentions: The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner; Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut; The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano; The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky; Just Kids, Patti Smith; The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis; Sakura Park, Rachel Wetzsteon; The Open Road, Pico Iyer; The Complete Julian of Norwich; 9 Stories and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, by J.D. Salinger; Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

I also really loved 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, The Anthologist, the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Don Paterson’s Rain, A House and Its Head, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and rereading Milton’s Paradise Lost. I could go on, but I won’t.

I haven’t kept up with this blog very well over the past few months. Most of the major blog-related projects I attempted were abandoned rather speedily. But I actually think that’s for the best. I guess we’ll find out in 2011. Happy New Year!

Playing catch-up, part 1.

Here’s a list of lots of things I’ve seen, read and thought about over the past few weeks.


  • A girl reading Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water in the crêperie near my apartment. This made me really happy.
  • A Daunt’s book bag identical to the one I’ve got, slung over the shoulder of someone walking past the store where I work.
  • Multiple copies of Franzen’s Freedom being read on the T, in coffee shops and outside, when it’s sunny.

What I’ve been reading:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Murial Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (in the middle of this one), Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I, Nicole Krauss’ Great House, Bernd Brunner’s Moon: A Brief History (in the midst of this as well), Best American Essays 2010 edited by Christopher Hitchens, and some dabbling about in different collections by David Sedaris.
  • J.K. Rowling on “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination,” poet Don Paterson (whose new book, Rain, contains some really beautiful poems, especially the title piece) on Shakespeare’s sonnets, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on metaphysics, and various pieces from recent New Yorkers.

Posts I’ve thought about writing but haven’t:

  • A post about dialogue and conversation, spurred by the fact that I think Shirley Jackson writes conversations really, really well, capturing the way speaking to other people can really be just a part of a full-scale psychological guessing game.
  • A post about characters in mystery series, spurred by reading Margery Allingham, who seems really gifted at creating characters in a line or two. In mysteries, character is often subservient to plot. There is usually only one fully developed character: the detective. And the detective’s character development is usually arched not just through a single book, but through the series as a whole. The other personages in a single book all function as parts of the game the detective is trying to solve, as suspects, red herrings, and distractions. So they get to be 2-dimensional, but often in flamboyant, deeply suspicious ways, and I thought this was interesting. Maybe I’ll come back to it.
  • Forthcoming: some thoughts on Nicole Krauss’ Great House and other contemporary fiction.
  • Multiple posts apologizing for the general lack of posts…

Happy June: Three New Types of Posts!

Hello there and Happy June! I know I’ve been more than two-weeks-worth of remiss with my posts, but I’ve got some new ideas and am excited to get started with them. I’m introducing three new types of posts: Connections, Reading ‘Round the Nation, and to-be-titled section on literary awards and prizes (and their winners).

First, Connections:  As the appendices to The Wasteland or Ulysses clearly show, literature is full of references and allusions. Authors create their texts in relation to other works around them, so novels, poems and plays etc. are filled with intentional and unintentional references to other writing and other writers. This dense and ever-growing tapestry of connections threads the broad expanse of literature together, bringing disparate works into conversation with one another. The more I read, the richer these connections become for me, which apparently is lucky, because “reference and allusion” are major chopping blocks for the GRE Literature in English Subject Test. Joy.

I’m hopeful the GRE will stick to references as direct as Faulkner titling The Sound and the Fury after that line in Macbeth or John Steinbeck refashioning the Genesis story of Cain and Able into East of Eden. That way, I can pretend I have a fighting chance. For my purposes, however, “connections” mean resonances as well as references: passages whose tones remind me of one another, disparate images which coalesce in the bizarre arena of my headspace, or single lines from one text which seem as if they could have been drawn word for word from another.

I love these connections because they remind me of the role my own mind plays in my reading, and they show me the improvements I’ve made as a reader, how much broader my reading experiences have become. So look out for new “Connections” posts, which will likely come in the form of “I was reading this, which reminded me of this, which reminded me of this…” Thrilling for you, I know. And probably, for the psychoanalytically-minded among you, far too revealing of my mental landscape. Please keep your observations to yourself…I don’t want to be told anything about myself that I don’t already know.

Next new post type, Reading ‘Round the Nation:  I’m not exactly sure what form this project will take, but the basic premise is that I’ll read a book a week from a particular state (I’m starting with this moment’s home sweet home: Rhode Island) and write about it. I think I may choose to only write about books by contemporary authors, as that will be the surest way to expose myself to as much new literature as possible. Stay tuned.

And finally: I’m going to start writing more about the world’s myriad literary awards and prizes. There are gazillions of these, even if you’ve only heard of the Pulitzer. All sorts of organizations give out prizes to writers, and I’m going to uncover a lot of prizes and a lot of writers I’ve never heard of before.

That’s the theme of this summer for me: discovering new writers and new writing. Realistically, my theme should probably be “Memorizing the Norton Anthology in preparation for the GRE” but that doesn’t sound like much fun. Especially not for summer. Cramming works much better for me in the fall.

More coming soon, and promptly this time!