Sunday, October 4, 2009

Welcome to the Bloomsbury Cafe!

I really miss being part of an English literature department. I love books, I love putting them in conversation with other books, and I love discussing these threads of thought with other people. When we can afford both the time and money for me to do so, I want to go back to graduate school. I even found an online program through an accredited university . . . but that is for another day. For now, I have founded an online "cafe," where we will be discussing one book every four months, rotating between four friends who will pick the book and host the discussion. The first book that we will be reading is . . .
NPR has a great article and a podcast of Morrisson reading the novel here. My copy is on its way from Amazon, and I am so excited to start reading and studying again. There are superficial readings, and then there are readings that help me change the way I think, open my mind to new ways of knowing, make me see the world and people in different ways.

Plus, it is a wonderful opportunity to spend "virtual" time with some of my favorite people in my little virtual coffee shop/bookstore that I have always dreamed about. Here are my literary companions (please check out their blogs, they are wonderful, beautiful, smart girls!)
:
1. Name: Krystal Nanette Downs (http://krystaldowns.blogspot.com)

2. Favorite place you have lived: Camarillo, California

3. Place you would like to live if you could: Can I pick more than one? Ireland. Southern California. Italy.

4. What do you do when you aren't reading? I WORK. Right now I have a full-time job and and what feels like a full-time internship. When I have the occasional spare moment, I enjoy swimming, riding my bike, going to bookstores (that doesn't count right?), dancing, listening to a wide array of music, laying in the sun, meeting new people, traveling, watching trashy T.V. shows, and going to the beach if I'm near one.

5. 3 favorite films: Right now they are: Fargo,The Hours, The Departed

6. 3 favorite foods: Sushi, fruit, Indian

7. Major, specialty in major if any: English. Minors: sociology and women's studies

8. Favorite literary time period: Post-modern lit/post 1950's.

9. 3 favorite books and why: 3 favorites! Well if I have to choose...

God of Small Things by A. Roy. I read this book a long time ago, and so cannot completely explain why I love this book so much. I always loved the fairy tale type storytelling that one find in Indian literature, so I know that is part of it. I remember this book touching me on so many different levels. It was one of those books that stays with you long after you read the last line. I love Roy's language that seems playful and tragic. So many simple phrases knocked me down with their power. She breaks all the rules of language in all the right ways. Her moral judgements on her characters are clear and brutal. And her judgements on her readers are unbending; not once was I allowed to break free from her words and the critique behind them.

Here is an excerpt: "Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story." AWESOME!

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

I took a Russian Literature class while at BYU and loved it. It gave me an excuse to read so many brilliant books. I had read Anna Karenina on my own before, but fell in love with it the second time around. The characters are all so hopeless; I wanted to shake them all and say look at what you're doing, ruining your life, for what? In this case, most of the characters are ruined because of love or at least what looks like love. My favorite character by far is Levin who is always searching for something, be it truth or love, and never can seem to find it.

His thoughts and speeches are so remarkably poignant, that when I was reading the novel I wanted to underline everything. That is how quotable Anna Karenina is.

Lolita by Nabakov

I know Alicia is squirming right now. I really do love this book though. Yes, the characters and themes are a little disturbing. But I love his writing more than almost anyone else I've read. I feel like each of Nabakov's sentences are words of poetry. He makes pedophilia, incest, and the most vile and disgusting sound and look beautiful. You can really see that he is a true master of language.

Just listen to his genius first lines: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

Nabokov would always tell people that he thought in images and that letters and words for him were colored (literally). Not surprising considering language like the above, no?

10. How do you like to approach literature? Do you have a particular reading strategy you usually employ? My inclinations push me towards a feminist approach, although I do think that if one is a true critical reader, one must look at literature from many, if not all, modes of reading. I also have a deep love of Marxist criticism. Down with the man!

One of the specific strategies I like to employ is a kind of reader response. If I find something profound, I highlight it. If I have a thought that needs out, I write it down in the margins. These notations often help me connect previous concepts to current and future themes.

11. What does literature "do" for you? Or in other words, why spend the time? My love of books began at a very early age. I used to love to read simply for the juvenile pleasure of it. Now that I am much older and wiser :) books mean so much more to me. Books make the world seem smaller, they make the differences between people seem insignificant. Reading connects me to experiences and feelings I might not have felt had it not been for a book or character. Literature pushes me to think critically, to challenge norms, to question authorities and truths. Literature makes the small things big. It makes me and you and everyone significant. It makes us all beautiful.

12. The really big question--how do you know Alicia? I met Alicia my Junior year of college (Fall 2006) when I moved into the condo at Victoria Place II. She was my room roommate. I was constantly amazed that I had got so lucky; we both got along extremely well, and were both English majors. She would give me advice about what professors to take classes from, and was continually encouraging me to be and do better. I really enjoyed being her roommate for that semester.


1. Name: Megan Elizabeth Welton (let's pretend I wasn't named for a rather whorish character in a book my parents read and say I was named for one of my favorite Austen heroines).
(http://do-what-now.blogspot.com)

2. Favorite place you have lived: The Avenues of Salt Lake City (followed closely by in the same room as Alicia and across the hall from Krystal).

3. Place you would like to live if you could. In Kate Winslet's cottage in The Holiday. If memory serves, it was in Surrey. Jude Law has an open invitation to stay whenever he feels the least bit drunk from a night at the pub.

4. What do you do when you aren't reading? I usually watch TV or go swimming or find something delicious to eat. I spend a lot of time reading though, now that it's my profession.

5. 3 favorite films:
Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice (it's a tie).
Enchanted April
Ocean's 11

Though, I will say that my favorite genre is "Biopic Movies about British Authors, Particularly if They End Tragically."


6. 3 favorite foods:
Cadbury chocolate
Fresh, grilled salmon
Almost any breakfast

7. Major, specialty in major if any: English, with an emphasis in technical writing and a minor in editing

8. Favorite literary time period: Early to mid 19th Century British Lit.

9. 3 favorite books and why:

1. Anything Austen, though Pride and Prejudice has been my favorite longest. I grew up with these books and they managed to grow up with me. I think the writing is at the same time brilliantly clever and flawed.

2. City of Glass by Paul Auster. This was my first taste of my second favorite literary period, which is postmodern American. It flirts with the lines of identity and reality in a great way that left me confused, and gives me a headache if I think of it too long.

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry. I think I first read this book when I was twelve, but didn't really read it until I was about finished with high school. It's the most adult young adult book I've ever read. Genius.

Bonus: Harry Potter. Okay, so sure, these books may not be high-brow works of art, and I'm by no means a fanatic, but I really appreciate the fact that I can constantly find new themes in the stories, and the plot structure and the actual telling of the story were masterfully accomplished.

10. How do you like to approach literature? Do you have a particular reading strategy you usually employ?

It depends on the book. But I learned a lot about reading in my postmodern class. For me, it's nearly impossible to do a close reading the first go around, so I tend to read quickly the first time just to get through, and in so doing I can generally find the overarching theme or purpose of the story. But if I were to read Eliot's Middlemarch, I'd take my sweet time, and probably do a little research as I'm going, to get a cultural and historical context of the book. Generally though, I read for enjoyment first, since I'm not getting graded any more.

11. What does literature "do" for you? Or in other words, why spend the time?

First and foremost, literature is an escape. I've always read to escape stress or fear or loneliness. Second, I love literature that challenges me to broaden my perspective. Third, reading helps me be a better conversationalist, which is important to me, since I love to entertain. Fourth, one day I hope to grow up to be a good writer. And as an editor, I've discovered there is a vast difference between writers who read, and writers who don't.

12. The really big question--how do you know Alicia?

I was her favorite roommate ever, since I made her laugh so hard so often that she didn't need to do a single ab crunch while living with me.


1. Name: Kristi Peters Millett (http://poetryinembryo.blogspot.com)

2. Favorite place you have lived: Williamsburg, VA (where I am now), though I suspect most places on the East Coast would work just as well--I adore the East Coast.

3. Place you would like to live if you could: London. No question. They have sarcastic window displays--show me a better definition of contentment.

4. What do you do when you aren't reading?: I handle scheduling, publicity, and a desk at the College of William & Mary Music Department. When not at work I enjoy attending performance events (Medieval instruments, Performance Art, a Jazz trio, Shakespeare, a Symphony, or Deathcab for Cutie--whatever really as long as it's well done), staring like a love-struck freshman into my husband's eyes, trying on clothes at Banana Republic, preaching the Gospel of Barack Obama, and not writing my poetry. When I don't want to think I watch HGTV :). David Bromstead is a magician.

5. 3 favorite films: Much Ado About Nothing (1993), The Incredibles, Stranger than Fiction AND (I'm a cheater) The Hours, The Matrix, Shakespeare in Love, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Beauty and the Beast (Disney), Pride and Prejudice (2006) ok I'll stop now :).

6. 3 favorite foods: 5 Guys french fries, real Italian chocolate gelato, most non-seafood Italian pasta dishes

7. Major, specialty in major if any: English with emphases in theatre and poetry (my first majors were Theatre and then Political Science before I found the one true path)

8. Favorite literary time period: oooh that's hard...probably American Modernism--good stuff, especially the poetry. I hope you're happy making me pick--I feel like I just flipped off Pablo Neruda...

9. 3 favorite books and why: I'm not really going to list anything particularly unique here--I've read many things that I've loved and thoroughly respected, but the following are the books that just kept me.
A. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is the first novel that did more than just pass the time for me. It's also, I suppose, the first "sad" book I ever connected with. I had always loved reading and writing, but this book, at the age of 15, really showed me what literature could be and how it can move people, how it can stay with you always. The devastation of human apathy continues to be a favorite motif of mine.
B. A Coney Island of the Mind by Ferlinghetti. Beyond being good Beat poetry it's just damn good period and simply must be heard.
C. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Quite frankly, I still don't know specifically why I love this piece so much. Just mentioning it now, though, makes me want to read it again. I'll never be sick of it, every time I tear through it I'm affected. In my opinion, it's by far the best of Woolf's works and a masterpiece of our language.
D. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I can't help adding this one too :). Nothing cheers me up faster, and has there ever been a more fantastic read? Austen's characters are deliciously concrete and there will never be a more perfect couple than Lizzie and Darcy. Never ever.


10. How do you like to approach literature? Do you have a particular reading strategy you usually employ?: I don't dig into novels as much as I used to--I attempt (attempt) to not dissect them too much on the first read through at least and just let them wash over me. When I do analyze, I tend to do so a bit politically with a lot of feminist analysis. I've also always enjoyed New Historicism. With poetry I re-read a lot, silently and out loud--there is always another facet or layer to a good poem--something I can learn.

11. What does literature "do" for you? Or in other words, why spend the time?: I couldn't do without it. I need the intercourse of ideas. I can think of no better way to converse directly with humanity. Often when we speak to our contemporaries we miss the larger context of who we are, but when we read and write we are at once speaking with those who came before us and those who will come after us. When we read we come closer to understanding the inscrutable private motivations of not only other people, but other times and cultures. I describe poetry as recreating an emotional moment inside another person, and that in essence is what the process of making literature is to me: step by step moving closer to perfect communication and understanding. It's fantastic.

12. The really big question--how do you know Alicia?: English classes at BYU! I might get this wrong, but I think our first one together was Kristen Matthew's 293 class? I just adored, Alicia: complicated without being needy, intelligent without being pretentious, she was well-read and an excellent conversationalist. We edited each other's work and helped each other through a few drama-full semesters. She was and is a good friend :).
Name: Alicia Johnson

Favorite Place I have lived: My favorite city is probably Portland, OR. It is absolutely gorgeous, you don't have to pump your own gas, there is no sales tax, and I love the cultural atmosphere. Plus you are like an hour from the mountains, and an hour from the beach.

Place I would live if I could: England. Without a doubt. I would have to ship my parents there as well, but definitely England.

What do you do when you aren't reading: Change lots of diapers, wash and fold diapers, ha ha. I love spending time with my family, hiking and camping (when I can get Randy to come with me--he's afraid of the bugs and the dirt), knitting and sewing, writing (when I can get my brain collected enough to produce lucid thoughts)

3 Favorite Films: Roman Holiday, Emma (the Gwyneth Paltrow version), Casino Royale (Randy just came in and reminded me that I need a good extended-version Lord of the Rings fix about every year, so throw that on the list as well . . . )

3 Favorite Foods: really good chocolate, Pesto Gnocci with foccassia bread and fresh grape juice, Indian curry (I like lots of food--it's hard to narrow)

Major, Specialty if any: English literature--my emphasis was on women's ethnic literature (mostly black and Chicana)

Favorite Literary Time Period: My focus has been on mostly American modern and post-modern women's lit, although I also really enjoy the British Romantics (Austen, Brontes etc) and the British moderns (Yeats, Elliot) and Post-colonials.

3 Favorite Books and Why: The Oxford Complete Yeats. I am pretty much in love with Yeats--his poetry, his drama, his eccentric way of thought. He was brilliant and incredulous his whole life. He never stopped searching for answers and truth and beauty, and I really admire that.

Possession, by A. S. Byat. The text is beautiful, the characters' journeys are amazing. I couldn't put it down. Plus it was written by a literary nerd so it was full of theory and complexity, so I was in heaven.

The last one isn't in book form yet, but I hope it will be. I worked with a professor compiling the complete works of Lorraine Hansberry, and I completely fell in love with her. She is best known for her play, A Raisin in the Sun, but she wrote poetry, articles, and other plays as well. A tiny overview of some of her other works are found in the volume, To Be Young, Gifted and Black.

How do you like to approach literature? Do you have a particular reading strategy that you employ? I approach most of my reading through a Marxist/feminist lense, but I particularly enjoy American Studies approaches as well as reader-response. Certain books really call for certian theories (it is hard to read something like The Hours without using Queer Theory for example). But generally speaking, I go through the good old feminist approach.

What does literature "do" for you? Or in other words, why spend the time? Literature helps me understand other points of view, opens my mind to new ideas, helps me consider the world around me and my place in it. I think literature has great power for good in enabling us to learn in an objective manner that we might not otherwise be open to. As long as ones time is spent reading quality things, I think that one can gain a great deal of knowledge and compassion for people and the world in general. Plus--it is really fun to just get lost in a good story!

I am goint to alter the last question a little to suit me. What I love about Krystal, Megan and Kristi: Krystal is very bright, impassioned, knowledgable and compassionate. She is open to new ideas and tolerant of those who disagree with her standpoints. She is creative and one of my favorite people to talk to, especially about difficult subjects. Megan is so darn fun, I can't even stand it. She is a great storyteller- if you get her going she will make you lose control of your bladder. Plus she is very smart and has great taste in books and movies, so she is great to have around. Kristi is one of my few friends who doesn't believe that poetry is dead--which is a completely refreshing quality to have in a friend. I can talk to her about a wide range of the arts and she always has interesting things to say and new ways of looking at things. Plus she is tolerant of new ideas and has a sense of adventure that I really admire. She helped me get through a couple of very emotional semesters--a very good friend.


So, there you have it--the girls of the Bloomsbury Cafe. It would be wonderful if anyone out there reads along and joins in the conversation. We hope to publish on our blogs an article a month about the books we are currently reading.

Happy reading!
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