The Homes of Famous British Authors (Shortlist)

This Shortlist article on famous British authors’ homes is pretty fascinating, and it certainly calls the “poor, starving writer” stereotype into question. More like posh, thriving writer. (I mean, seriously, P. G. Wodehouse?? Alexander McQueen picked up your digs.)

I was a little sad that they left out Virginia Woolf’s Fitzroy Square home, because I lived just down the street from it for two years. Sadly, despite mentioning briefly in passing proudly pointing this out to everyone I know, exactly one person cared. 

It’s OK, V. I’ll be your fan club.

Literary References in The Simpsons (The Atlantic)

Sometimes, but usually on Tuesdays, too many troubles and too little tea make for a long, long day — a day so long it cannot be fixed with various forms and flavors of cheese. On those days, I turn to The Simpsons, the other family I grew up with, for a bit of cartoon sunshine.

The Atlantic put together this slideshow of literary references in The Simpsons, and every time I click through it, all my troubles seem so far away.

When I grow up, I want to be Lisa Simpson.



Travel Websites Worth Reading

Books are fun, right? Like, really fun, most of the time, unless they’re about the Great Depression or written by a celebrity. Any celebrity. Even the ones who think they are writers.

My only competing passion is travel. Reading and travel are pretty much the same thing — a window into another world, and other such clichés — except for the fact that you can do one of them on your couch. Travel can only be achieved by venturing toward other people’s couches.

The two can be combined in the oh-so-satisfying stew of glory known as travel literature. Bill Bryson’s hilarious and informative books are in permanent rotation on my bookshelf, and I have strict travel guide preferences when it comes to trip planning (Fodor’s for cities; Eyewitness for countries or regions, in case you were wondering). But too often overlooked are travel websites.

There are hundreds of great travel websites that play host to personal essays, destination guides, tips and resources, and topical feature stories. Short and easily digestible, these articles can be read during your coffee break — and the really great ones can inspire you to stop working entirely. Have you ever wondered what a French nudist colony is like, how to use a Chinese toilet, or where to find the best mititei in Romania? Lonely Planet’s not going to tell you that. (OK, they might, but the internet is faster.)

These are some of my favorite travel websites:

Happy reading, and happy traveling.




50 Books! a.k.a. Halfway There! a.k.a. Nap Time!


It’s a day of celebration here at The 100 Greatest Books Challenge. I just finished my 50th book off the List, marking the halfway point in my Challenge. In other words, I deserve half a trophy, and half a pie party. Preferably gold, and preferably pumpkin, respectively.

I feel obliged to acknowledge that this was the “easy” half of the List. I had read 16 of the books prior to officially undertaking the 100 Greatest Books Challenge — meaning that, since 2011, I’ve really only read 34 books from the List. (Of those, I read 16 in 2014 alone.) And while I have tackled a handful of lengthy, challenging works over the last three years (Vanity Fair; Middlemarch; Anna Karenina; all three volumes of Lord of the Rings), I have yet to touch Proust and the six volumes that make up his infamous In Search of Lost Time… except for that stint in college that still makes me shudder to this day. Over half of the books left on my List are 400+ pages in length, and several were written by James Joyce or William Faulkner, my literary archenemies.

Anyway. Let’s focus on the positive: 50 books finished, and many of them so, so Great. Here are some mini-lists about my experience pursuing literary fame and glory a slightly maniacal to-do list, each and every one created exclusively for your my entertainment:


My favorites (so far) among the 100 Greatest Books of All Time:

1. Anna Karenina

2. Beloved

3. To Kill a Mockingbird

4. Vanity Fair

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude

6. The Catcher in the Rye

7. Pride and Prejudice

8. The Age of Innocence

9. Slaughterhouse-Five

10. Dangerous Liaisons


Books that are not among my favorites, but still undeniable works of genius:

1. The Divine Comedy

2. The Canterbury Tales

3. Hamlet

4. 1984

5. To the Lighthouse


Books that made me go “Wait, why is this famous, again?”

1. The Sun Also Rises

2. A Passage to India

3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

4. Wuthering Heights

5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Easiest reads:

1. The Wind in the Willows

2. The Catcher in the Rye

3. The Call of the Wild

4. Brave New World

5. On the Road


Most difficult and/or boring reads:

1. The Grapes of Wrath 

2. The Sound and the Fury

3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

4. Women in Love

5. Heart of Darkness


Biggest surprises:

1. Hemingway had no discernible talent. Yes, that Hemingway.

2. The Call of the Wild was incredibly interesting and not at all cloying, despite being narrated by a dog.

3. Wuthering Heights: blithering idiots.

4. Anna Karenina was a piece of cake, and a tasty one at that. I’m actually looking forward to the remaining Russian classics, as long as I can get my hands on the Pevear & Volokhonsky translations.

5. I’d be embarrassed by any personal attempt to articulate how amazing Beloved is. Even this one has left me cowering with shame.


Next up: Don Quixote, supposedly the Greatest Book of All Time. And then maybe I’ll tuck into the winter with some Proust.

#14 The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

“Like a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest.” (The Simpsons)

If I had to describe Faulkner’s writing in one word, it would be ABSTRACT.

If I had to describe the experience of reading it in two words, they would be ARMY CRAWL.

Literary critics called Faulkner’s style “experimental.” This is kind and decent of them. I, on the other hand, have to wonder if at some point toward the end of his life, Faulkner’s eyes went wide during a conversation with a reviewer, or his publisher, or his mom, and he said in shock both utter and genuine: “Oh—you mean people actually want to understand my novels? Oops.”

In The Sound and the Fury, there are two major characters named Jason (and two named Quentin); long series of intermingling flashbacks; four separate and unreliable narrators (including one with no notion of time or chronology); and stream-of-consciousness ramblings with little distinction between the past and the present. In short, it’s very difficult to know what is going on, who is involved, when it’s taking place, and how anybody feels about it.

And yet. In spite of Faulkner’s lifelong determination to confuse his readers, The Sound and the Fury is wildly intriguing. It’s about a family so dysfunctional that when Caddy, the only daughter, gets pregnant out of wedlock, her own brother falsely attempts to claim paternity. Yes, you read that correctly: He lies to make people think he’d committed incest with his sister. I think the gesture came from a place of love, or shame, or something properly literary, but sheesh. Even fictional brothers should stick to traditional gifts, like The Mindy Project on DVD. Or Post-its.

The first quarter of the novel is narrated by Benjy (a.k.a. Maury), a mentally disabled brother/son of the Compsons who is unable to comprehend abstract concepts such as time and morality. Upon sharing a set of non-sequential (and barely navigable) memories, he passes the narrative torch on to Quentin, a Harvard student and brother to Benjy and Caddy. As his incestuous inclinations might suggest, Quentin has a delicate grip on sanity, as well as a tendency to overreact to the “harsher” facts of reality (such as his sister’s promiscuity). He succumbs to his obsession with obsolete Southern ideals via suicide.

From there we move on to sections narrated by Jason Compson IV, the family patriarch and asshole, and then Faulkner himself (in the third person). Caddy, around whom many of the novel’s events revolve, never takes the mic.

Should she? Probably. In a story meant to depict the deterioration and eventual collapse of Southern ideals and values, as represented by one aristocratic household with no hope for perpetuation or salvation, Caddy is the seismic wave that triggers the Compson family’s avalanche of a downfall. But instead of being dragged down by her roots, she frees herself from them—and is ultimately better for it.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

I’m going to give Faulkner the benefit of the doubt here, unequipped as I am to penetrate his genius.

OH WAIT—no I’m not. Try being a little less experimental next time, Faulkner.

Favorite Quotes:

It used to be I thought of death as a man something like Grandfather a friend of his a kind of private and particular friend like we used to think of Grandfather’s desk not to touch it not even to talk loud in the room where it was…

“Whut you gwine do ef hit rain?”
“Git wet, I reckon,” Frony said. “I aint never stopped no rain yit.”

The air brightened, the running shadow patches were now the obverse, and it seemed to him that the fact that the day was clearing was another cunning stroke on the part of the foe, the fresh battle toward which he was carrying ancient wounds.

He could see the opposed forces of his destiny and his will drawing swiftly together now, toward a junction that would be irrevocable.

Read: 2013