Month: June 2014

Do I Know How?

I’m reading a non-fiction book, which is very rare for me. It’s called How to Write A Sentence, and it’s written by Stanley Fish. As I say, I’m in the process of reading it. It’s rather short, which I think is all to the good. Mr. Fish has a point to make about thoughtful appreciation for sentence structure, and I’m thankful that he makes his point without a lot of repetitious belaboring.

Still, I do wonder what kind of help this book will be in guiding me as a writer. It’s good to think about how sentences are put together, and still better to analyze what the sentence does and how it contributes to the paragraph that contributes to the chapter that contributes to the novel (or short story or blog post).

I guess what I’m wondering is, if you think about sentence structures enough, does it become ingrained enough in your mind that you don’t have to go through your work sentence-by-sentence, looking at each and asking yourself “What is this sentence doing?” Because I can’t imagine that anyone would ever write anything if that were the case.

Although, I only write this little blog. What do I know?

Is the art of putting together a sentence guided by the intellectual exercise of pulling it apart or by a general feeling of a sentence “sounding right?” Do our great writers have an instinctive sense of what makes a good sentence without having to think about it too hard?

Or is writing well more of an intellectual exercise than I had previously imagined?

That is entirely possible. What do you think?

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

47 Classic Novels Everyone Should Read

Hello, everyone! Here is my very own list of 47 Classic Novels Everyone Should Read.

It’s entirely subjective. But! It has commentary! Nobody else’s list has commentary. I’m pretty sure.

Without further ado:

1) Sense & Sensibility (Jane Austen)

2) Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen)

3) Mansfield Park (Jane Austen)

4) Emma (Jane Austen)

5) Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)

6) Persuasion (Jane Austen)

Yes! All SIX of Jane Austen’s completed novels are on my list! If you don’t like it, go find another list!

7) The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

8) The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)

9) No-Name (Wilkie Collins)

10) Can You Forgive Her? (Anthony Trollope)

11) A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

12) A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

13) David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)

Three Dickens novels are about all I can really take. I’m not a big fan of Dickens, plus there are so many of them. So darn many.

14) Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)

15) Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

16) Agnes Grey (Anne Bronte)

Yes! There are THREE Bronte sisters! Did you know that? I like Anne’s work better than Emily’s. Wuthering Heights is just morbid.

17) The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot)

18) Middlemarch (George Eliot)

In my opinion, Middlemarch is the greatest novel in the English language. I guess I’d better qualify that by adding “that I know of,” because there just may be a few I haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s impossible for me to think of another novel with the scope and power of Middlemarch. Can you?

19) The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

20) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

21) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)

22) Vanity Fair (William Thackeray)

23) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

24) Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (Lewis Carroll)

It occurs to me that I have not yet referenced Lewis Carroll in my blog. I’ll have to remedy that soon. Want to hear how freakish I am? I memorized the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” when I was in the seventh grade. That’s a crazy-long poem. And I still know it by heart. Freakish me. Also, query: do the Alice books really count as “novels?” They probably don’t. I’ll give myself these two, though, but no Alcott or Montgomery. Even though that’s probably going to kill me.

25) The Old Wives’ Tale (Arnold Bennett)

26) The Song of the Lark (Willa Cather)

27) The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)

28) The Custom of the Country (Edith Wharton)

29) A Room with a View (E.M. Forster)

30) Howards End (E.M. Forster)

31) I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

32) Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)

33) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)

34) Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers)

35) Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell)

36) North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)

37) Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)

I’m trying to group these roughly by period, but I’m sure it’s obvious that I made it into the 20th century and was like, “Argh! I forgot about Elizabeth Gaskell!” and I’m too lazy to go back and renumber half the list. Because renumbering is boring. Will you forgive me?

38) The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

39) Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

40) Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)

41) The Awakening (Kate Chopin)

42) The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

43) Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)

44) Cluny Brown (Margery Sharp)

45) The Flowering Thorn (Margery Sharp)

I firmly believe that Margery Sharp is currently under-rated and will be rediscovered one day. She’s most famous for a children’s book you’ve probably heard of (thank you, Mr. Disney) called The Rescuers. I was recently pleased to discover that The Rescuers has been reissued in hardback in the New York Review Children’s Collection. Rock on, Margery Sharp!

46) Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

Yes, all right, FOUR Dickens novels. But that’s all!

47) Tess of the D’urbervilles (Thomas Hardy)

Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I almost forgot Thomas Hardy!

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of the list!

More commentary: This was surprisingly difficult to do. Mostly because I had to leave out some of my favorite authors who wrote plays and short stories (Dorothy Parker and James Thurber, for example). Also because, even though I notice that most  classic-novel-list-makers don’t seem to feel the need to define their parameters, I’m limiting myself to the rule of not including any book written by an author who is still living, which means I had to leave out Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, and anything of Margaret Atwood’s.

I’m rather pleased that I’ve ended up with 47 titles. It’s a prime number. I love those.

Now: What did I leave out? Tell me what you think!

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

 

 

 

Everyone Else Is Doing It

What? What is everyone else doing? Do I care? Do you?

Okay, as always when this claim is made, it is an exaggerated one. Absolutely everyone else isn’t doing this. However, enough people and enough groups are doing this to excite comment from me, Hobbie DeHoy, obscure internet blogger.

Everyone else is publishing lists of Classic Novels That Everyone Must Read. The names vary slightly, but that is the gist of these book lists. For a while there on the social media, they were all nice neat lists of fifty, or one hundred. However, this morning I saw a link to a list of 33 classic books to make you forget your smartphone! Well, heck! Who needs nice round numbers?

By jiminy, I’m going to make my own list of Classic Novels That Everyone Must Read, and there will be as many novels on that list as I say there are.

By what authority to I make my list? Well, I’m an English major. I read English and American classics for fun. What do you think? Am I eminently qualified to make my own list? I say that I am. I may not be the BBC, or any of those intellectual giants from RealSimple.com, but I am a blogger and a reader and I’m fairly sure that qualifies me to put some sort of list out there on the internet.

Besides, one of my friends on That Certain Social Media Site said that she would read the books if I made a list. Of course, she doesn’t know about this blog site, and I’m not even remotely tempted to blow my cover. Well, maybe I could private message her…

Anyway, this week I am going to have my kind of fun putting this list together. I will publish it in the next post, so I can name the post Classic Novels That Everyone Must Read.

Because how will the world find my list if I don’t have the right title for my blog entry? I ask you.

This list will be my ticket to internet fame. I can just feel it.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

 

Three Little Bookshops

I’m seeing a lot of bookish types writing and commenting about the whole Amazon Versus Hachette battle, and it made me realize my good fortune. My good fortune is living in a community with not one, not two, but *three* independently-owned bookstores within a couple of  miles of my house. Within walking distance, even, when I’m feeling particularly active.

I, my dears, have options.

Yes, it’s true. I won’t get my book choices in two days flat. It’ll be more like five to eight business days. I will have to actually go out and run an errand to get my books, because they will not be delivered to my door. And I will not get the rock-bottom cheapest prices on the two books I’m hoping to own by the end of this week.

Well, no money can buy the feeling of moral righteousness that I get from buying local from an indie bookshop. I’m well-known at one of them, slightly lesser known at the other two. And I’ll never get any of that warm fuzzy stuff from pointing and clicking online.

I don’t buy books often, anyway. The public library is my very good friend. I won’t buy a book until I’ve read it more than twice, which means I know I will read it at least twice more over my lifetime. Notable exceptions are the Harry Potter books, the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and any of the Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner.

I still have plenty of books at home. People will keep buying them for me.

And I read a lot, which means there are rather a lot of books that I have read more than twice. I’m in the double digits for any of Jane Austen’s six novels.

How weird does this make me? (Oh, look. My blog post is all about me. Again.) I don’t know anyone, except my fellow Janeites, who read books over and over again. Does anyone else do this?

If you read the same books over and over, please comment and tell me what they are. If you want to wax lyrical about how wonderful your favorite books can be upon the seventh reading, please feel free to do so.

Thank you so much.

Love  you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

More where that came from

You know what the best thing is about being an English major geek? There is always something new and exciting out there.

Not even necessarily new. The universe of English literature is so huge, so diverse, that even twenty years after you graduate from college (yes, do the math and find out how old I am) it’s still possible to find authors and novels that are new to you, even if they were published one or two hundred years ago.

That is very, very exciting to me.

A couple of years, I “discovered” Elizabeth Gaskell. Her work had never appeared in any of my college courses, and I had never even heard of her. I don’t even remember how I found out about her. I checked Wives and Daughters out of the library and, of course, it was really a profound and deeply-moving book. I am not going to be able to write anything terribly deep about it here, because I read it two years ago and because this is just a little blog entry, not a dissertation. But I will never forget how disappointed I was to find out, near the end, that Elizabeth Gaskell died before she could finish it.

On the up side, though, I still have to read Cranford. And North and South.  And Sylvia’s Lovers. All that richness, just out there waiting.

This year, I am reading Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale. I can tell you exactly how I found this one. I am an avid fan of Connie Willis’s work. Have you read any of her books? She writes unbelievably witty and clever science fiction. One of my favorites is Bellwether, a novel about scientific discovery and fads and also library books. The protagonist is in her public library randomly selecting books in honor of the day she’s had. Because she met another scientist named Bennett O’Reilly, she selects The Old Wives’ Tale.

Now, is that not the best way to find a book ever? It’s like getting a personal recommendation from a friend whose writing you already love.

And I am loving The Old Wives’ Tale. And lo and behold, Arnold Bennett wrote many, many other books. I am set for life, even without re-reading Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice or To Say Nothing Of the Dog just one more time.

English literature. The passion never ends.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

 

It was just right

I find, when blogging, that I’m trying to strike a good balance. I don’t want to over-share. I don’t want to lurk. I want my communication level in the social media sphere to be “just right.” (Thanks, Goldilocks.)

I’m sure we’ve all been the victim of a social media acquaintance who is prone to over-share. Her status updates choke our news feed on That Certain Social Media Site. Her new blog posts completely dominate our list of “Blogs You Follow.”

And on top of that, a lot of what she says are things we really don’t need or want to know. Young children’s personal habits, for instance. Good grief, any progress your young child is making in that area is about HIM, not about YOU, plus these topics never counted as polite conversation in civilized society anyway. So, please. Social media isn’t the place. At all. Neither am I interested in anyone’s minute-by-minute reactions to what they’re watching on television. Anyone who does that should consider hosting viewing parties if sharing is so important to the experience. That way, a person may be assured of an interested audience. Not an audience whose brain is set to ignore, ignore, ignore as she hurries through dozens of closely-related posts.

In contrast, we have the person who occasionally “likes,” even less occasionally comments, but never, ever seems to have anything to say. You have to kind of wonder why they bother. It would be kind of creepy, in a way, a little like spying, except because that person never says anything we never think about her. Really, what’s the point?

Well, one algorithm I’d certainly like to see in social media is one that lets users limit the number of posts they see from other users. I may like hearing from a certain person, but not necessarily six times a day. If I could have a setting that allows, say, one post per “friend” or “blogger” per day, I’d become a much more happy fan of the social media experience.

So, come on, social media. Get on it. What are you waiting for?

For myself, I’ve concluded that a couple times a week blogging, plus once a day at the most on That Certain Social Media Site, is just about the right temperature for my porridge. I care about sharing, but not taking over other people’s experience.

Maybe I’ll astonish the online world one day by posting a blog entry on a day that isn’t either a Monday or Thursday.

Hang onto your hats, everyone. It could happen.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy

 

To the Finish Line

I recently had the experience of *making* myself finish a book. The book in question is The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It seems to be The Book Everyone Is Reading This Summer, the book I’m seeing in library book clubs and social media. I think it’s also very much a book of its time, in that the title of the book is also the title of a painting. This seems to have been done noticeably often  in the past decade or so. I’m thinking of The Girl with a Pearl Earring (Tracy Chevalier) and The Music Lesson (Katharine Weber). And if I can come up with just two off the top of my head, you know there have to be a lot more out there. Right?

Are there enough of these to count as a trend? Since when did we as readers start wanting a dash of artwork with our reading? Does this say anything about us as readers?

I (surprise!) don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I think about them. I wonder if, with all the information and all the fandoms and all the new ways to self-identify that are part of our Information Age culture, we have a new thirst for self-identifying as cultured people. You know, the kind of people who go to art museums and who know how to pronounce “Modigliani” and who know how many Bach cello suites there are. I wonder if we get a little kick out of seeing and recognizing a painting or an artist’s name in a work of fiction. I wonder whether our little culture kick plays into writing, publishing, and marketing current fiction.

Well. Who knows?

Back to The Goldfinch… I had trouble with it because I liked it too much. Does that make any sense? I loved the beginning, but found the middle sections very painful because I really had come to care for the protagonist of the book. And it’s very hard to keep going when that means watching someone you care for suffer. But I’m glad I kept on going, because the end made it all worthwhile.

You see I’m determined not to give any details or any spoilers. In any case, this isn’t a book review, it’s only my little blog and that means I can write whatever I want.

I’m glad that, for Donna Tartt, writing whatever she wanted resulted in The Goldfinch.

You should read it. But you’ll probably have to wait a while if you’re requesting it from a library, because everyone else wants to read it, too.

It’s definitely worth the wait.

Love you & leave you,

Hobbie DeHoy