"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Presents for myself: holiday book haul

Since graduating from my MA in September, I've applied for quite a few jobs and landed one. It's part-time and not highly lucrative. But it also happens to be one of my dream jobs, and the one thing it does subsidize is my serious book-buying habit. You guessed it: I'm working in a bookstore! And at the staff holiday shopping night last week, in addition to getting gifts for some bookish friends and family, I made myself an early present and bought these four beauties.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, is obviously a good bet because it's author's name is unpronounceable. Just kidding. (Although have you noticed how many highly regarded authors cause people embarrassments at dinner parties when they try to pronounce them out loud? J.M. Coetzee is my personal favorite in this category. Oh, and let's not forget the publishing house that's joined the trend: Knopf. I had to say their name out loud at work this week and had a split second of sheer panic after it came out of my mouth, wondering whether I'd said it wrong.)

Actually, this is a book that's been recommended to me by all my just-out-of-college friends - apparently it's very relatable for us new grads. I also really appreciated Eugenides' writing in his more famous novel, The Virgin Suicides, although I don't love that book the way thousands of young women on the internet seem to...
But I have higher hopes for this one, and the first few sentences seem to confirm what my friends promised: a book about people reading books. Which is definitely right up my alley.

Next up is something I'm REALLY looking forward to. This book sat next to my desk for a month while I was writing my dissertation. It belonged to my housemate, and at that point I was dedicating all my time to my work, so I was doubly incapable of giving into temptation and flipping open the gorgeous little cover.

Now, though, I'm ready to sink into The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. A year before this book appeared next to me, tantalizingly out of reach, I was writing my undergraduate thesis on film adaptations of fairy tales, and I've been really interested in reading more written adaptations ever since. This book, as far as I know, isn't a direct reworking of any specific tale, but an entirely new tale written in a fable-like style. I can't wait.

And it just looks so luscious, with these gorgeous chapter head illustrations. It reminds me a bit of the illustrations in Harry Potter, but more outrageous and fanciful.

The best part is, this is a series, so I have at least two more books to look forward to. I haven't really researched yet whether there are more to come. Another thing I've noticed during my first month at work is that children's books are usually less expensive than adult books - but they can be as or more beautiful as objects.

In that vein, I finally now own a copy of The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. I've been Tan's books - and this one in particular - since last summer, when I almost saw him speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I believe he's a filmmaker as well as an artist, and this book certainly has a filmic sensibility. There are no words, even within the illustrations. Instead, where there would be words on signs or pieces of paper in the story, there are strange symbols, a bit like a new set of hieroglyphics. This aligns perfectly with the story since, as far as I can tell from flipping through it, it's a story of a man immigrating to a foreign country where he doesn't speak the language.

I absolutely cannot wait to find a quiet moment and sit down with this book. It's just so damn gorgeous.

Finally, to fill out my eclectic little bundle, I got myself a copy of Melymbrosia, by one of my all-time favorites, Virginia Woolf. I'd never heard of this particular novel before I spotted it on the sale table. As I learned from a bit of googling, this is because it's an original version of a novel that Woolf later published as The Voyage Out after her friends urged her to tone down the politics and edginess of her first version. I haven't read The Voyage Out, but I suppose it's only right to start with the original.

In any case, it's always a pleasure to read Woolf. I forget how brilliant she was until I sink back into her writing and find myself wowed and humbled and inspired all over again. I guess to call myself a real devotee I should have already read all her work, but I'm a person who likes savoring things, and it's lovely to think I have many more of her books to discover for the first time.

I will in all likelihood be posting reviews of these books here as I read them. Meanwhile, I'm working my way (very slowly but with great pleasure) through The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. Seriously, it's an amazing read, but I feel like it deserves and demands my full attention, so I've been trying to find nice quiet hours to read it, and that's quite difficult now that I actually have a job! I truly realize now how blessed I was this past year to have my full-time job be to read, study, discuss, and write about books.


  1. You make all these books look and sound so luscious! I can't wait to hear what you think of Fairyland :)

  2. Congrats on the bookshop job! I worked in a bookshop for years and it's really one of the nicest jobs out there, surrounded by books and people who like them. Also, you get to see all the new books before they go on the shelves, and special order anything you like! Isn't Shaun Tan amazing, I adore The Arrival, it's so clever and beautiful. If I could draw like that I think my life would be complete.

    1. Thank you! I do love this job. We've had a spate of rainy days recently, and what better place to spend a rainy day than in a bookstore?

      I'm also jealous of Shaun Tan and other genius illustrators :)