Monthly Archives: October 2012

Book Acquired Recently: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Amis, Kingsley. Lucky Jim. 1953. New York: New York Review, 2012.

I first became interested in acquiring this novel after reading a post about it at A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff. Shortly thereafter, I saw that New York Review Books had just come out with a new edition. I love NYRB’s books because they are elegantly designed with a minimalist aesthetic that pleases me.

This evening I was shopping at my local independent bookstore, The King’s English, because a colleague had given me a gift certificate as thanks for doing some proofreading. While it is always satisfying to go to a bookstore with a purchase in mind and find the book on the shelf straightaway, I also love going book shopping with nothing particular in mind, letting the store’s selection lead me to something unexpected. The King’s English is a fabulous bookstore for this activity. I always find something there that excites me; it is the best new book independent bookstore I have ever been to. I was browsing their fiction section when I came across Lucky Jim, and immediately decided that it would be my purchase for the night. The store had both the NYRB edition and the Penguin Classics edition, and while I love Penguin Classics even more than I love NYRBs, and both copies were virtually the same price (the Penguin was $15.00 and the NYRB was $14.95), the Penguin’s spine was a little worn, so I went with the newer NYRB.

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Thoughts on Chelsea-Manchester United: Reds Lucky Yet Deserving

Manchester United’s 3-2 win at Chelsea today involved some beautiful soccer and quite a bit of controversy in the second half. Here is my take on the three crucial officiating decisions midway through the second half when the match was tied 2-2:

1. Branislav Ivanovic’s red card for taking down Ashley Young was the correct decision. Young was clear on goal and Ivanovic was the last defender. He made his tackle from behind and got the man, not the ball. The referee’s decision to give him a straight red is mandated by the rulebook. Kudos to Ivanovic for realizing that he was in the wrong and not making much of fuss before leaving the pitch.

2. Fernando Torres’s second yellow card and subsequent sending off was harsh, though it could have been prevented if Torres did not have a deserved reputation for diving. The referee was in a bad position, and from his angle one could see how it looked like a dive because there was only slight contact from Jonny Evans.  It certainly looked like Torres embellished a bit from any angle. I do not think he deserved a card, but again, it was Torres reaping a bit of what he’d sown in the past. I suppose this sounds like blaming the victim, but I would rather have referees err on the side of punishing diving too much rather than too little. These two decisions by the referee are ones that rarely get made (even the correct first decision); I was glad that he had the courage to make them, and wish that more referees would.

3. Javier Hernandez’s game-winning goal was clearly offside. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.


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Books Acquired Recently: Desk Copy Edition

Baldwin, James. Another Country. 1962. New York: Vintage, 1993.

I will be teaching Baldwin’s and Castillo’s novels in my Introduction to Literature course next semester. Another Country has been one of my favorite books since I first read it three years ago, and I have finally decided to teach it despite its length. At 436 pages in this edition, it’s rather long for an undergraduate general education course, but I think it is compelling enough that students will be able to handle it.

Castillo, Ana. The Mixquiahuala Letters. 1986. New York: Anchor, 1992.

I read this book at the end of the summer and loved it! I always like to teach at least one novel that forces students to question issues of form as this one does: it asks readers to choose the order in which they read the chapters depending on what type of personality they have. Students will therefore have read different novels because none of the sequences include every single chapter. The class discussions should be interesting!

Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. 1989. New York: Random, 2008.

I am using Rushdie’s and Shelley’s novels in an Introduction to Literary Theory and Criticism class next semester. They are both incredibly rich texts, and thus serve well as primary sources for reading and writing criticism.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. 2nd ed. 1818. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 2012.

I love Frankenstein, and the Norton edition is perfect for teaching because it includes a wide range of critical responses. I have used the Norton first edition several times; the new edition just came out. I am happy to see that it includes some of my favorite pieces of criticism from the previous edition as well as some newer perspectives.

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Alfred Slote’s Jake

There’s a new short film on by Jonathan Hock about Alfred Slote’s children’s novel Jake, with a great introduction by Bill Simmons here. Like Simmons, I read Jake and one of Slote’s other novels, Hang Tough, Paul Mather, over and over as a boy. They were perfect because they used baseball, something which I and many other American boys were passionate about, as a channel through which to teach us about the difficulties of life. I picked up the books because they were baseball books, but, in hindsight, I kept going back to them because they taught me about compassion. Apparently they are now out of print, which is a tragedy. They are timeless.

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Book Acquired Recently: Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole

Villalobos, Juan Pablo. Down the Rabbit Hole. 2010. Trans. Rosalind Harvey. New York: Farrar, 2012.

Last night I attended a reading by the Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos (who was educated in Spain and now lives in Brazil), his first ever in the United States. He read from Down the Rabbit Hole, a 70-page novella about a Mexican boy, Tochtli, who is the son of the head of a drug cartel. I read it last night after buying a copy and getting it signed. Villalobos was one of the best readers I’ve ever seen as far as engaging the audience. He insisted on a Q-and-A session after he finished reading that was not originally part of the program, and was very gracious after the reading, happily autographing books and posing for pictures. I bought the book more because I liked him as a person than because I was interested in the book itself; I wanted to have a memento of the occasion.

It’s a good story on the surface, with just enough humor to help readers get through its crushing sadness. Tochtli is desperately lonely because it’s unsafe for him to leave his father’s compound, so he finds solace in collecting hats and reading the dictionary. Of course I loved these quirks as someone who loves words and has always enjoyed collecting. But the value of the novella is in its political message, summed up in Tochtli’s assertion that “Mexico is a disastrous country” (14). The drug war is making life in Mexico less and less tenable, but most people in the U.S.–including many politicians–are ignorant of this fact, and of the role that U.S. laws surrounding drug consumption play in perpetuating the situation. The violence already affects U.S. border cities such as El Paso, Texas (see Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Desert Blood and Ana Castillo’s The Guardians for well-researched fictional depictions of this violence), and it will only continue to get worse.

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Richard Hugo’s Poetry

I just finished reading through Richard Hugo’s Selected Poems, and the collection is an excellent one. I love the sense of place in Hugo’s poems, whether he is out in nature fishing, or sitting in a small town cafe, or writing about his travels in Italy, or describing his life in Montana. In “Letter to Kizer from Seattle” he writes about “the primal source of poems: wind, sea / and rain,” and while as a city person I am not especially enamored of nature, I appreciate the way Hugo speaks about it in his poems because it is always a specific place rather than a general force. I can always visualize the nature in his poems, unlike its depiction in the work of other nature poets such as Galway Kinnell or Mary Oliver. I like many poems in the collection because they evoke place so well, even when they are about other subjects. For instance, “Letter to Kathy from Wisdom” is a love poem, but it is inspired by “this town I’m writing from, where we came lovers years ago to fish.” “Kennedy Ucciso” is about John F. Kennedy’s assassination on the surface, but really it is about being an American who feels like an outsider in Italy. Hugo’s poems pay homage to their settings, showing that geography can be just as important in poetry as it is in fiction.

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Books Acquired Recently

Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Windup Girl. 2009. San Francisco: Night Shade, 2012.

This book and Walker’s were recently recommended to me by a new friend that I met at Rocky Mountain MLA last week. They both sound fascinating. The reviews of The Windup Girl just inside of the front cover compare it to William Gibson’s writing, which I love, so I look forward to getting to read it as a diversion from my scholarly reading (which is not to make a value judgment of it as somehow being unworthy of study, but simply to say that at this point I have no plans to teach it or write about it), perhaps over Thanksgiving Break. Bought on

Castillo, Ana. Watercolor Women Opaque Men. Willimantic: Curbstone, 2005.

I went to a reading by Castillo last night that was one of the best I’ve ever been to. She only read six poems, but they were some of her most political, and as such were quite powerful, especially because her delivery of them was perfect. I felt the need to buy a book to commemorate the occasion, and this was the only one of her books that was for sale which I didn’t already have (because it’s a novel in verse, blech. But maybe it will surprise me.).  She gave me a lovely personal inscription.

Fry, Paul H. Theory of Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.

I received this as a free exam copy from the publisher. I’m teaching a literary theory course for the first time next semester, and while I won’t be assigning this book (perhaps I will in the future, but it arrived after I had to turn in my textbook list), I find that it’s always helpful to get several different perspectives on the subject that one is teaching, so it will come in handy.

Rushdie, Salman. Joseph Anton: A Memoir. New York: Random, 2012.

Rushdie is one of my favorite writers (and I think he is one of the best writers alive, certainly more deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature than this year’s winner), so I didn’t need an excuse to buy this book, but I have one anyway: we’re reading The Satanic Verses in the aforementioned theory course, thus his new memoir about the novel’s political aftermath will provide some helpful background knowledge. Bought on

Walker, Frank X. Affrilachia. Lexington: Old Cove, 2000.

I love poetry, and African American literature is one of my academic interests, so when I heard about Walker I wanted to read him right away. I got this book used via, and when it arrived I happily discovered that Walker had inscribed it to one of his students, a “Michele.” I would never get rid of a book that was inscribed to me even if I knew I was never going to read it again, which makes me wonder what this particular copy’s story is. Did the student die and her family took all of her books to a used bookstore without looking through them first? Did she sell the book because she was desperate for cash? (probably not, because I got it for less than five dollars, though I’ve had students sell their books back to the bookstore for less because they were just that desperate) Did she–it’s horrible to think about–forget that it was inscribed? Did she have a falling out with Walker? Did she join a religious order that forced her to get rid of all of her possessions? One could write a fascinating short story about this volume’s history. Anyway, I am happy to add it to my library.

As regular readers of the blog will note, I have acquired thirteen books in the last nine days. This is a lot, even for me. But it’s been the perfect storm of events: a conference, visits to two new-to-me excellent bookstores, a powerful reading and signing, and the need to begin preparing for next semester. Also, I’ve just finished teaching Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I’m feeling especially sensitive about the necessity to surround myself with books since both novels remind us how much of a privilege it is to be able to interact with literature. In my further defense, I have already read three of the thirteen, so they aren’t just sitting there looking pretty on the shelf.

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The End of Newsweek

I read today that Newsweek will cease publication of its print version at the end of 2012:

This is sad news. The magazine is another casualty of the shift toward electronic texts, which, as I have written about here before (and yes, I am aware of the irony of writing against digital culture in a blog), is not nearly as positive of a trend as it is made out to be. From a practical standpoint, I question whether this decision will help Newsweek. I don’t think many of their print readers will shift over to the electronic edition, nor do I think that people who primarily read news online will be interested in getting it from Newsweek. In other words, the magazine’s declining sales aren’t just a result of a decline in print readers, they are also a result of a shift in people’s view of the news. My late teens/early twenties students make it clear that “getting the news” is not important to them, whereas for someone even of my generation (I was born in 1980), reading the news has always been an essential aspect of being an educated person. The shift from print to electronic texts is problematic in part because we lose the ritual aspects of reading that makes reading something fun to do, and without this ritual people read less and society gets dumber.

Newsweek‘s demise saddens me in part for personal reasons because my mother has subscribed to it for all of my life, and it was the first magazine that I read on a regular basis, simply because it was around. Being exposed to it at such an early age is what helped me to realize that educated people care about the world around them, and helped me begin exploring other ways of learning about the world as well. My mother is an example of the audience that Newsweek will lose as a result of it shift to being a web-only publication. She uses the internet some, but is not enamored with it enough to use it for tasks other than keeping up with what her children are doing. She’ll just continue to get news from her local newspaper and do without the extra information that she gets from the magazine.

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Paul Lukas’s Permanent Record Blog

I just got around to checking out Permanent Record, which is a blog written by Paul Lukas of UniWatch fame. Here is the address:

As someone who is also fascinated by print culture ephemera, I think Permanent Record is fantastic! The blog’s description mentions writing about topics including “things left inside of old books,” which is a subject near to my heart. I sometimes intentionally leave a variety of paper objects in my books, including receipts (especially if I bought the book at a memorable bookstore), plane ticket stubs, business cards, cut-out New Yorker cartoons, and so on. That way, whenever I die (which is when I will get rid of my books, no sooner), some of my books will have interesting things in them for their new owners to discover.

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The USA Continues on the Road to the World Cup

The USA advanced to the final round of qualifying for the 2014 (Men’s) World Cup last night with their 3-1 victory over Guatemala. The Yanks won their group, which was expected, though they put in several terrible performances along the way. The USA is still a favorite to grab one of the three automatic qualifying spots from the six-team final qualifying round, but it must be said that they go into the Hexagonal with poorer form than any of the other five teams aside from possibly Jamaica or Panama. The USA was able to skate through their first qualifying group with a makeshift roster (due in part to injuries and in part to head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s experimentation with different lineups) because of a lack of quality competition, but the level of play in the Hexagonal will be much more intense. The Yanks need to get their act together sooner rather than later.

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