On the Subject of Groundhog Cooperation

Today schools, bookstores and other worthy institutions in the northeast,barraged by an ungodly amount of precipitation,were closed. Yet, there is hope. February 2nd, for those of you who aren’t Bill Murray fans(and shame on you if you aren’t), is Groundhog Day. Those with seasonal affective disorder, sore muscles from shoveling or simply a desire to be reminded of what sunlight looks and feels like, wait for the groundhog with bated breath. Well, good news. Our beady-eyed, myopic friend didn’t see his shadow.In spite of this massive blizzardy thing, that means spring is around the proverbial corner. Until then, what is the perfect activity to whittle away the hours? Reading, of course. And, I come bearing recommendations.

But first, another reason, and one a bit more germane, for celebrating on the 2nd of February.

In answer to the question from the last post, today is the 128th birthday of one James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, the father of modernism. If it’s powerful but straightforward reading you value, pick up Dubliners. For the experimental, pick up Ulysses and give it a go. If you’re somewhere in between, check out Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For the openly masochistic, click on Joyce’s name to hear the great man reading from the nearly incomprehensible Finnegan’s Wake.

It’s also Ayn Rand’s birthday. But…her work requires an entirely different kind of masochism. Stick with Joyce.

In the last post, I listed three fiction titles worth checking out this month. This time around, I’ve got some non-fiction worth a look as well as a couple of literary links.

First, the books.

A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates

I have gone on record as not being Oates’ biggest fan. Therefore, I approached this tome with an imbalance: more skepticism than interest. That quickly changed. This is a brave book. At first, the book appears to be an unflinching chronicle of grief, and the way death distorts your life. Yes, it is that. But, it’s more. This is a book about the dichotomous nature of writing, both as art and craft, as savior and menace. I finished the book(in 2 or 3 days, at that) with more interest than skepticism, bulldozed by its power and challenged by its ideas.

The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin

This isn’t too new, but it’s exceedingly important. And, a pleasure to read. Baldwin’s work, as always, is erudite, aggressive, cogent,and perspective-shifting. His is a voice well-settled in posterity, but too rarely brought up in the classroom or conversation. With this, and hopefully his excellent collected essays and novels, one can hope for a bit of a Baldwin renaissance during Black History Month(additional recommendations coming soon) and long afterwards.

The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It. Edited by Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears and Aaron Sheehan-Dean

2011 marks the beginning of the CIvil War’s Sesquicentennial. Relying solely on first-hand accounts, the Library of America has published this first volume in a series(one volume per year) recounting this bloody,and still controversial period of our nation’s history. Gone is the romanticism of Margaret Mitchell, and here are the poignant words of those most affected.

Here’s a look at some literary things happening elsewhere:

If you aren’t up for a challenge, The Huffington Post has listed some better-digested classics.

The Guardian offers a spectacular Top 10 stories of Old Age.

The Paris Review Daily offers another in their excellent series “The Culture Diaries.”

Next week, Powells'(famous used book emporium) in Portland, Oregon will host the first five hours of a 24-hour reading of a certain book about a certain whale.

Isaac Salazar, of New Mexico, makes sculptures out of books. (Via Book Bench)

and finally…..

Flavorwire displays several examples of famed authors doodling very poorly.

That’s all for now.

–Josh

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