Virginia Woolf on How to Read a Book

Via Maria Popova’s Brainpickings (of course!), we get this amazing overview of Virginia Woolf’s amazing advice on how to read a book.

The whole post is worth reading, but here’s a taste:

To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all that the novelist — the great artist — gives you.

Virginia made a cameo here on the Jacke blog once before, when she visited Stonehenge. Glad to have you back, Virginia!

Let’s try a little K.T. Tunstall for our onward and upward. With the legendary Daryl Hall. Can’t we all just go hang out there, at Daryl’s house?

The Magic of Storytelling

Any writer who heads out into the marketplace soon realizes that the marketplace is carved up into sections, organized by genre. Is your book science fiction? Fantasy? Steampunk? Women’s fiction? Literary fiction? Romance? Creative nonfiction? Biography? Historical fiction?

Roughly you can think of this as “Where would you look for this in the bookstore?”

This can be frustrating. Many authors of science fiction will claim, rightly, that their books have the same devotion to character and language that “literary fiction” does.  And authors of literary fiction will say that their books have enough mystery, or romance, that they shouldn’t be lumped in with the highfalutin’. Most if not all authors believe that their books have at least a couple of these elements, and can appeal to readers accordingly.

Aha, you say. Bookstores are no longer physical spaces! We don’t need to choose one shelf on which to place a book. Online, every book can be in multiple categories!

But that’s not how it works. Online bookstores organize things into lists. Forums dedicated to books and reading focus on particular genres. Reviewers have preferences for genres they like to read. And most importantly, readers look for books in their genre (or avoid ones they don’t like). For an author, declaring a genre serves a purpose in a) getting readers to consider your book and b) setting their expectations for what they will find.

I don’t know if this will ever change. I’m just saying that it hasn’t yet.

All of this is a lengthy prelude to what I really want to say. Because there is a different way to think of this. There is hope, people! Continue reading

Getting Dumped by Charlotte Brontë

From the Internet’s best magpie Maria Popova comes the tale of Charlotte Brontë turning down her suitor’s proposal of marriage. As Popova mentions, it’s hard to top this as an example of “it’s not you it’s me.” I’m not sure what my favorite part is, so I bolded a few.

My dear Sir

Before answering your letter, I might have spent a long time in consideration of its subject; but as from the first moment of its reception and perusal I determined on which course to pursue, it seemed to me that delay was wholly unnecessary.

You are aware that I have many reasons to feel gratified to your family, that I have peculiar reasons for affection towards one at least of your sisters, and also that I highly esteem yourself. Do not therefore accuse me of wrong motives when I say that my answer to your proposal must be a decided negative. In forming this decision — I trust I have listened to the dictates of conscience more than to those [of] inclination; I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you — but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you. It has always been my habit to study the character of those amongst whom I chance to be thrown, and I think I know yours and can imagine what description of woman would suit you for a wife. Her character should not be too marked, ardent and original — her temper should be mild, her piety undoubted, her spirits even and cheerful, and her “personal attractions” sufficient to please your eye and gratify your just pride. As for me, you do not know me, I am not this serious, grave, cool-headed individual you suppose — you would think me romantic and [eccentric — you would] say I was satirical and [severe]. [However, I scorn] deceit and I will never for the sake of attaining the distinction of matrimony and escaping the stigma of an old maid take a worthy man whom I am conscious I cannot render happy.


Farewell—! I shall always be glad to hear from you as a friend

Believe me
Yours truly
C Brontë

How awesome is this? Makes me want to read Jane Eyre all over again. (Along with the book this came from, Hell Hath No Fury: Women’s Letters from the End of the Affair by Anna Holmes.)

And let’s all watch this again. Forty-four seconds with the great Orson Welles, if for no other reason than to recall how awesome his voice was:

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Camus on Love

What a great idea! The always excellent Maria Popova has teamed up with the talented Wendy McNaughton to produce a print based on the notebooks of Camus. Now you can have Albert and his thoughts on love gracing your wall:


Could this get any better? It can! 50% of the proceeds will be going toward A Room of Her Own, a foundation supporting women artists and writers. Awesome.

Flannery Speaks!

Have you ever been disappointed by hearing recordings of famous authors? No? Then maybe you haven’t heard enough of them. The sound of Hemingway bloviatiang about the time he “banged” Marlene Dietrich (“that Kraut”) is not something you can ever unhear. Fear not, reader! I’m not going to link to that.

Instead, here’s an illuminating, uplifting experience: listening to the voice of Ms. Flannery O’Connor, the Queen of the Southern Grotesque and absolutely the finest author ever to inevitably surprise me with the shocking perfect word – well, of course, that’s not true. But she was the first and only one to do it with the word  Nome(!) Nome! That is an author with a genius ear, and a genius feel for her region. A genius putting her special empathic genius to work.

And here’s the genius’s voice, courtesy of Maria Popova:

I could listen to that for hours!

Here’s one more.

In this one she says Nome! Not the Nome I was referring to, but close enough. O’Connor is the best. And Popova delivers the goods, once again.

No, I’m definitely not linking to the Hemingway clip. You can check out my efforts to forge a new Grotesque genre – Midwest Grotesque? Big Law Grotesque? – by taking a look at The Race or The Promotion.

Brightening Your Day With a Little Little My

You wake up. Grumble your way to work. Slug down some coffee. Read some horror show news about people cheating America.

It’s the end of March. There’s snow on the ground. Do you really want to blog about these stories?

Like this one?

Workers’ compensation insurance premium fraud is so commonplace that it costs the city’s construction industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year alone…

Or this?

The former owner of an Ohio oil and gas services contractor pled guilty in federal court Monday to ordering an employee to release thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste liquids down a stormwater drain and into the Mahoning River.

Or this?

The former president and owner of a Wisconsin-based cheese company has agreed to plead guilty to distributing thousands of pounds of contaminated cheese...

Tainted cheese from Monroe, Wisconsin – where by God the high school sports team is nicknamed the Cheesemakers! What are we coming to?

Ugh. Do…not…have…the…strength…

Your hand drags the mouse over to Brain Pickings. And…kapow! Instant mood swing!

Yes! Look at Little My! Look at Moomin! If you and/or the kids in your life haven’t read these books, you need to get started. I’ve read a half dozen or more aloud, often through tears of laughter.

And this is about one I haven’t read yet!

Popova has many more pictures, as well as a brief history of the inimitable Tove Jansson, who really should be better known.

Popova and Jansson. What a great combination. The pictures will make you smile. The commentary, as always, makes you think. This is better than espresso!

One more to get the day started…

Okay, two…