A Few Literary Jokes for Your Thursday Afternoon

Via Annie Evett:

Charles Dickens: Please, sir, I’d like a martini.
Bartender: Sure thing. Olive or twist?

@DanWilbur on Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set a Watchman:

Can’t believe Harper Lee didn’t go with: 2 Kill 2 Mockingbirds

From someecards.com:

“Let’s not bother Mom right now, she’s reading,” said no child ever.

And finally, from Jim Benton.com:

Nevermind

New York City Quotes

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My father and brother are visiting this week, so every day brings a new touristy itinerary and the suspicion that New York’s climate has turned tropical this summer.

Anyway, our metropolitan meanderings inspired Sunday’s Quote of the Week as well as today’s post: my favorite quotes about New York City. Like most people, I find it crowded and fascinating and dirty and unique and loud and inspiring and ugly and beautiful. (And hot.) (And then very cold.) And while I may not belong here, for now, it’s home. So we’re doing our best to get along, New York and me.

It’s been seen and written through the eyes and fingers of so many unfairly talented writers—so, naturally, great New York quotes are easy pickings. Here are the best of the best, according to me:

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I would like to live in Iceland someday. It sounds like a fun place. Much more fun than Manhattan, where people sometimes spit at you for no reason.

-Meg Cabot, The Princess Diaries

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

For in that city there is neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy.

-Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

And still, on the summit of that hill he paused. He remembered the people he had seen in that city, whose eyes held no love for him. And he thought of their feet so swift and brutal, and the dark gray clothes they wore, and how when they passed they did not see him, or, if they saw him, they smirked. And how their lights, unceasing, crashed on and off above him, and how he was a stranger there. Then he remembered his father and his mother, and all the arms stretched out to hold him back, to save him from this city where, they said, his soul would find perdition.

-James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain

Who would’ve thought an island that tiny would be big enough to hold all our old boyfriends?

-Miranda Hobbes, Sex and the City

Cut off as I am, it is inevitable that I should sometimes feel like a shadow walking in a shadowy world. When this happens I ask to be taken to New York City. Always I return home weary but I have the comforting certainty that mankind is real flesh and I myself am not a dream.

-Helen Keller, Midstream: My Later Life

Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.

-Ezra Pound, Patria Mia

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If I Could Only Have One Bookish Adventure in My Life, I’d Choose This One

If you were around last time, you’ll remember that I promised a life-altering post about bookish Bath, a town that smelled terrible a couple centuries ago but is fine now. I’m delivering on that promise today.

A year or two ago, my friend Anna mentioned a bookstore in Bath that offers what they call a Reading Spa. It was the coolest thing I had ever heard of, and I vowed to follow in her footsteps at the earliest opportunity.

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The best bookstore name since Shelf Indulgence

When you arrive at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights for your Reading Spa appointment, you begin by sitting down with a staff member in the “bibliotherapy room” to have a one-on-one chat about your favorite books, authors, genres, themes, and so on. The bibliotherapist feeds you cake and tea and then disappears for ten minutes or so.

Scenes from Tintin grace the staircase.

Why hello, Tintin. Didn’t expect to see you there

When they return, it’s with a huge stack of books specially selected for you based on the chat you had. The bibliotherapist then talks you through each book, one by one, offering a plot teaser and the reasons it’s recommended for you. That done, you’re left alone to make the agonizing Sophie’s Choice of which books to take home (the voucher comes with £45 toward purchases), all the while stuffing yourself with tea and cake.

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The preciouses

My husband (let’s call him Spiderman) quickly jumped on board my Reading Spa bandwagon, because:

a) it sounded ridiculously cool, obviously,

b) we bought a new bookshelf recently and decided it was time to grow our book family, and

c) we both struggle with the age-old conundrum “don’t-want-to-waste-time-reading-books-we-don’t-like-but-can’t-possibly-know-if-we-like-a-book-until-we’ve-read-it.”

When I called to reserve a time slot, I was asked whether we wanted to share a spa session or book separate ones—in other words, is our taste in books similar or different? I LOLed and said our favorite books would scoff at each other if forced to use the same sidewalk or elevator. Separate spas was the way to go.

My bibliotherapist’s name was Nic, and he is someone I’d happily share a canoe or a bunker with. I came prepared with several lists and specified that classics should be avoided at all costs. (This seems like the appropriate time to mention my rosy-cheeked glory at being 2/3 of the way done with The 100 Greatest Books Challenge.)

My lists looked something like this:

Likes:

  • Contemporary and historical fiction
  • Travel writing
  • High-quality YA
  • Intelligence, insight, and wit
  • Lots of humor and a little bit of romance

Dislikes:

  • Poor/lazy writing
  • Weak female characters
  • Dark/depressing themes

I included an utterly incomplete index of my favorite authors:

  • Nick Hornby
  • Bill Bryson
  • Jane Austen
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Mhairi McFarlane

And a quick briefing on a few of my least favorite authors:

  • John Steinbeck
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • John Updike
  • Veronica Roth

I told Nic that I would especially love to find another Nick Hornby and/or Bill Bryson, and his reaction was a well-masked but resounding “Duh.” He said that Bill Bryson is, frankly, in a class of his own—a huge talent who is often underrated because his books are funny instead of S.E.R.I.O.U.S. I inched toward mild anxiety (Has Nic given up on me already???), but by the time our book chat was over, he claimed to have, if anything, too much information to go on. Plus I’d eaten a whole cake by that point.

Deep in discussion on crucial book matters

Deep in discussion on crucial book matters

When he returned from his quest, a tower of 22 books was cradled in his arms. He picked them up one by one and told me about:

  • The son of a drug baron who desperately wants, for his eighth birthday, a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia (Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos)
  • A blind French girl and an orphaned German boy who cross paths during World War II (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)
  • Hiking adventures in Afghanistan penned by a literary “ancestor” of Bill Bryson (A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby)
  • A series of interconnected short stories that won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan)

And much, much more:

  • Almost Heaven by Martin Fletcher
  • What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
  • The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  • Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  • Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir
  • May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  • The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
= happiness

= happiness

I took home the ones in bold above and began reading The Knife of Never Letting Go (the first installment of Patrick Ness’ YA trilogy Chaos Walking) on Sunday. I finished all three books in the series by midday yesterday, having put work and social life on hold until I’d reached the heart-stopping finale. Gripping and superbly written, Chaos Walking turned out to be the very definition of un-putdownable, if un-putdownable were an actual word. If it’s possible to read a book ferociously, then that is what I did. I could hear the pages shouting “Ow!” in protest as I tore through them.

So I’d say Mr. B’s is a tentative success.

My husband, Spiderman, arrived with enthusiasm for his own Reading Spa and left with a crush on his bibliotherapist, Ed. His prep looked like this:

Likes:

  • Fantasy and sci-fi (especially post-apocalyptic)
  • Historical fiction
  • Well-paced plots with unpredictable twists and conclusions
  • Rich, in-depth world building in new settings

Dislikes:

  • Long, tedious descriptions
  • Plot points that are “too easy”/any sort of deus ex machina

Some favorite books/series:

  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell
  • Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
  • ASH: A Secret History by Mary Gentle
Ed and Spiderman, stroking a nonexistent goatee

Ed with Spiderman, stroking a nonexistent goatee

And his eventual book tower looked like this:

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Children of the Days by Eduardo Galeano
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • City of Stairs by R. J. Bennett
  • The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  • A History of Histories by John Burrow
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
  • The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
  • Pastoralia by George Saunders
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
  • The Red Knight by Miles Cameron 
  • The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon
  • Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy
  • The City & the City by China Miéville
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In case you were wondering how Spiderman spends his time when he’s not out saving NYC from itself

The most exciting find for Spiderman was Ancillary Justice, winner of every major science fiction award in 2014 and written by a woman.

So there. I hope I’ve done my book advising duty for the day and paid Mr. B’s its proper tribute. Nic and Ed are largely to blame for our titanic suitcases on the way home, and for this mammoth blog post. Also my friend Anna. But let’s all stop pretending I minded for even a second.

YOU'RE WELCOME.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

Book-cation

My recent disappearing act was one symptom of a (much-needed, but everyone says that) vacation, and now I’m back with a vengeance as well as some sunburn.

But all is not lost, blog-wise, since I managed to fit in a tidy handful of readerly, nerd-tastic, bookish fun-tivities on my holiday. I spent last week in Cornwall, where Daphne du Maurier lived and wrote, then ventured to London for the wedding of two close friends. (Check out this list of some of my favorite London-based novels if you are so inclined.) And yes, I’m aware of the irony of spending July 4th in England.

Early on Monday, bleary-eyed and droopy-tailed, I took the train to Bath in Somerset. A trendy spa town in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bath is a touristy spa town in 2015. Sightseeing itineraries revolve around the Roman baths (built in 60 AD), the medieval abbey, and the stunning Georgian architecture featuring local limestone (highlights include the Royal Crescent and the Pump Room).

The Royal Crescent

The Royal Crescent

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Another significant draw for tourists is Jane Austen, who lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and wrote about the city in both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Her favorite place of residence in Bath was just off Great Pulteney Street, opposite Sydney Gardens.

Chez Jane

Chez Jane

On Gay Street, a few doors down from another Austen address, the Jane Austen Centre houses permanent exhibitions on her family, her life in Bath, and the social customs of the era. I tried to write my name with the quill and ink provided in the writer’s desk area, but it turned out splotchy and took an hour to dry.

Things I learned about Jane Austen at the Centre:

  • Her parents were married in Bath.
  • Two of her biological brothers were adopted outside the family.
  • This came in handy later because one of them grew up rich and gave them a house.
  • Jane and her sister Cassandra were the only girls, and neither ever married.
  • She wrote very little while in Bath; her years in the countryside were much more productive.
  • £400 a year was enough income for two servants, one groom, and one horse.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part of literary Bath yet. I think it merits its own post, though, so I’m going to save it for next time and leave you in Kafka-esque suspense. Suffice it to say that local bookshop Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights hosts a Reading Spa for book addicts that had me rushing to secure train tickets to Bath four months in advance even though I’ve visited twice before.

Oh, and I almost forgot: When all of us found our seats at the wedding reception, we discovered that the bride and groom had hand-selected a book for each of us to take home as a wedding favor. Mine was Life: Great Short Stories by Women, a collection chosen by Victoria Hislop. My husband’s was A Song of Stone by Iain Banks.

Friends like that—thoughtful and book-obsessed—are, I think, a compliment to me.