Bookaholics Anonymous

I have a confession to make. I am inexplicably obsessed with the musty smell of old papers bound up in leather covers. I love holding a book in my hand, flipping through its creamy pages, and feeling history beneath my fingertips. However environmentally unfriendly it is, the physicality of owning a book is an experience that cannot be replaced by e-books or the Kindle.

But then again, I am a bookaholic. My desk in my dorm room is covered with tall stacks of books and my book shelf is completely filled with anthologies, reference texts, poetry, plays, and fiction (and a DVD collection). I also have two bookcases at home that contain the rest of my growing book collection. And yet I keep buying more and more books like an addiction. 

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This weekend, I went to the LA Times Festival of Books and bought The World According to Garp (John Irving), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon), About a Boy (Nick Hornby), and I’m a Stranger Here Myself (Bill Bryson). 

I also bought a very nice copy of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court from a booth that sold rare and fine books. It’s really nicely bound with gold lettering and beautiful script on each page. I was also looking at a leatherbound copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but it was unfortunately out of my price range. 

(Perhaps even more exciting though was the fact that I got to see Kristin Chenoweth from Wicked in person!)

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Inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as a child I dreamed of having an enormous grand library with the books piled up to the ceiling. I will probably never own a house big enough to house such an ambitious library, but I still dream of having bookshelves line every wall of my future home (which I imagine to be cottage-like and cosy with the rooms painted gold like in Bridge to Terabithia). To this dream, I have added the desire to own tasteful artwork and fine wine. 

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My research (and thesis) advisor is a fellow bookaholic. He has five or six book shelves in his (tiny) office filled with books about Shakespeare, Renaissance culture, and other topics related to his research. One meeting while we were talking about purchasing books out of print, he told me that whenever he goes to England, he would peruse the bookshops there and sometimes he would find really rare books for only £20 or so. He is currently registered at the British Museum as the owner of the earliest edition of this one 16th century book and owns some very nice editions of rarely printed plays such as John Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize. My professor has so many books that he can’t put them all in bookshelves at his house (his American literature collection lies in sad little stacks in his garage – sorry AmLit majors :D). Shelves and shelves of books, rare book collections, books categorized by genre and author (I’m an organization freak). This could be me in thirty years!

In addition to my new Mark Twain acquisition, my fledgling special books collection includes autographed copies of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and most recently Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia. Next week, I plan to get another book autographed by David Sedaris. 

I have caught the book bug (worm?) and I’m loving it. 

It's nice to see that reading isn't dead at all.

It's nice to see that reading isn't dead at all.

Also, happy belated 445th birthday (April 23) to Mr. William Shakespeare! Even though that might not be your real birthday… But I’m sure you don’t mind that we think of you as the literary St. George. 🙂

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A Five-Star Diatribe

Such-and-such movie got 57% on Rotten Tomatoes!

Really? It got a 7.1 on Metacritic.” 

One of my biggest pet peeves about reading entertainment reviews is the employment of the five-star rating system (and its many cousins such as the score out of 100, and A-B-C grade). Some argue that such a system allows readers to quickly gauge if a movie is worth their time without having to read through the entire article. Other times, the individual opinions by critics are averaged so that the reader can get an idea of the general consensus. 

Unfortunately, the fact that a movie is rated 23% or 2.3 or C- tells the potential movie-goer absolutely nothing about whether or not they will like the movie. (Thus producing a crowd of angry consumers commenting that the critics must be crazy or stupid because such-and-such movie was completely awesome/horrible). 

thumbs-up1In exchange for its simplified convenience, the number scale sacrifices meaning by obscuring the subjectivity of the ratings. Movie reviews are completely useless unless you know the theoretical stance of the critic (Do they care about… the acting? how realistic it is? representations of women? What is their own social/religious/political background?). No writer or critic is objective or innocent in this respect. If the critic is judging the movie with standards that are not in line with your own, then their numeric rating says nothing about how much you will appreciate said film. By turning an expression of taste into numbers, language is undermined and meaning subverted. 

The five-star rating system makes the faulty assumption that a person’s perspectives on a book or movie can be characterized as  an objective degree of excellence. Most importantly, it assumes that taste is the same for any audience. It fails to consider either sociohistorical context or individual response. 

thumbs-downBut numeric rating systems are only the tip of the problematic iceberg of reviews. The truth is our society places too much value on emotional appreciation, reader response, the pleasure principle, or whatever else you want to call it. People assume that their emotional reaction to a literary work is equivalent to how “good” the work is (i.e. its literary value). Too often I hear students talk about how much they dislike the novels they read in lit class, wondering “Why are we reading this? It’s so boring/bad/lame/hard.” Unfortunately, their aesthetic “judgment” of a text is based on a visceral reaction rather than intellectual analysis.

Perhaps my beef with those silly stars is that they are a gauge of society’s Id-driven pleasure principle rather than an actual examination of aesthetics. Anyone and everyone can write an amateur review and talk about what they liked or disliked, but I am wholly uninterested in that kind of instinctual subjectivity. Reviews push prescriptive agendas of taste; criticism, on the other hand, speaks of technique and device, interpretation and meaning. 

(This is not to say that I hate all reviewers. Some are actually able to get past individual response (or assumed audience response) and I’m quite fond of New Yorker reviews – which happen to be sans stars. :))

Permission to Go Insane? Granted.

The smell of brand-new books waiting to be opened and annotated. The fresh pages of notebook paper. The bright-eyed students eager to bury their heads in books, neglecting the beautiful sunny day outside. Spring quarter has arrived! After a difficult but rewarding winter quarter, Sophia Literaria is ready to… go through the torture all over again. 🙂 With the GRE out of the way, I decided to take on extra (22) units this quarter, resulting in the following reading list:

  • Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • shakespeareglobeShakespeare, As You Like It
  • Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
  • Shakespeare, Sonnets
  • Shakespeare, Richard II
  • Shakespeare, Henry IV, part I
  • Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
  • Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • Dryden, All for Love
  • Inchbald, The Mogul Tale
  • southerne_oroonoko_Colman the Younger, Blue-Beard
  • Southerne, Oroonoko
  • Bickerstaff, The Padlock
  • Rowson, Slaves in Algiers
  • Gay, Polly
  • Colman the Younger, Inkle and Yarico
  • Sheridan, Pizarro
  • Steele, Conscious Lovers
  • Lillo, London Merchant
  • Williams, Craft of Argument
  • Booth, Craft of Research
  • Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

Not to mention secondary works, the books I’m reading for my independent research project, submissions for Aleph, and articles for my Information Studies seminar. Lovely. No wonder I indulge in television and comic books/manga in my spare time (the less words the better!).

200px-delirium_sandmanBut the truth is I love being crazy busy. I love the challenge of making sense of a hard passage, the adrenaline of filling up a bluebook during a midterm, the sense of achievement when all those late nights pay off, and the satisfaction of turning in a paper that you’re actually proud of. Maybe I drive myself crazy with work because I like the affirmation at the end of the quarter that, despite all the pain and frustration, I still adore English. Even after struggling (and complaining) through The Faerie Queene all winter quarter, I can still say that there’s nothing else I’d rather be studying. Literature is my soulmate. 🙂

Brownie points if anyone can guess what three classes I’m taking based on this list (One of them is really easy, but let’s see how specific you can get)! AND extra brownie points if you know where the last picture is from!