Icefields by Thomas Wharton

IcefieldsI’m often asked why I write about books in my free time (and for free, no less). For a long time, I struggled to come up with a concise answer. Writing about my reading comes with a lot of positives–community, encouragement, inspiration, challenges, exposure, reinforcement–but I’ve always stopped short of saying these were reasons that Another Book Blog exists.

After reading Icefields by Thomas Wharton, I thankfully don’t have to. Suddenly, after five years of doing this, the reason for this blog has become very clear.

There’s a moment in Icefields where two characters are talking about poetry and journalism, and the moving target that is writing. With each field, the goal is never perfection. The best a writer can do, they surmise, is produce something that simply approaches what he or she really feels. That’s because even getting close is incredibly hard.

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Acknowledgments: February

Every month I wrangle up some of the more interesting things around the blogosphere and present them to you in a neat and tidy package. But first, a diatribe about Shakespeare as a potential fraud…

In his novel The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips had the audacity to challenge the infallibility of Shakespeare. He put the Bard on blast, then aimed the gun at the thousands of automatons critics who willfully, stubbornly, and perhaps even negligently evangelize the following dogma: Shakespeare as an irrefutable deity.

As it is taught, Shakespeare is perfection, he is without fault, blemish, or equal, and as a result, to challenge his greatness is to not understand him, to reveal one’s own incompetence, because, surely, he did not make even a single mistake.

Yet, his body of work–which supposedly captures the entire human experience in less than 40 plays–contains hundreds of strange turns, missteps, and jokes gone awry. As Phillips pointed out in his novel, Shakespeare is far from perfect. Was he brilliant? Of course he was. Was he infallible? No one is.

But for some reason, people have been covering for him for hundreds of years. Phillips points it out like so:

“…you have a weak spot where Will’s not thinking very clearly, and the character rambles on, and Will sticks in a joke that he like about flowers that look like wieners. It plainly doesn’t belong there. Any editor would cut it. It breaks the rhythm and the logic of the scene. And your sweet old Gertrude noticed it and rightly points out the weak spot. Anybody else, we’d say, ‘Whoops. Not buying it, Will.’ If I wrote it, they’d send me home to rework it. Instead, what do you all do? You all talk it out until you make it make sense for him. He wrote it, so it must be right. You six very intelligent people form a committee to offer him your help, and when you’ve done the best you can, consulting old books of other would-be helpers, when you actually come up with some very clever solutions, you marvel at him for composing such a subtle moment.”

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“How Should One Read a Book?” by Virginia Woolf

Woolf ReadI used to think that constant hand wringing over book choices was the exclusive domain of anxiety-ridden bloggers.

  • Am I reading enough classics?
  • Should I be reading something “smarter”?
  • Do I read too many dead white guys?
  • Should I read more non-fiction?
  • Do audiobooks even count?
  • Is 50 books a year enough?!

We all do it. We’re all self-conscious. We all write at least a post a year as a solemn decree to read what we want, when we want, and let the snobs be damned. Then we go back to asking the same questions again and the cycle never ends.

As it turns out, this process has been going on for at least a hundred years, as evidenced by Viriginia Woolf’s read-whatever-you-god-damn-well-please essay, “How Should One Read a Book?” (Available for free right here.)

So today, on what is Woolf’s 136th birthday, let us give Virginia the stage. Let her ease our worries, and clean our guilty slates for a year of reading whatever makes us happy in 2018.

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What Makes a Book a Classic?

With another Classics Spin well underway, it’s time to discuss that age-old blog question: What makes a book a classic?

It’s one of the more provocative and unsolvable questions in the literary community. Like an argument over whether or not a book is worthy of five stars, it’s a hopelessly subjective and seemingly pointless affair. But these discussions continue to rage on, and here we are, talking about it again.

Why? Because it’s delicious. Like the proverbial cake that could very well lead to a heart attack, we shout “consequences be damned!” and maniacally devour it.

It’s possible we keep circling back around to it because there are only a few places where a discussion like this one is worth much of anything: a classroom, a bookstore, and a blog with a connection to the Classics Club.

To help me get to the bottom of this conundrum, I searched far and wide for advice from the wisest sages: Italo Calvino, Ezra Pound, Chris Cox, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Mark Twain, and five “normals” from the literary community.

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Making Friends With the Habit of Listening

The best piece of advice I ever received was to wake up in the morning as if I’m doing it on purpose. Getting out of bed with a sense of ambition or eagerness is a simple, yet effective, life hack. It sets the tone for your entire day, it makes every action afterwards feel like a choice instead of an obligation, and it’s healthier than snoozing. Unfortunately, I’ve rarely (if ever) been able to do it.

I’m a night owl by nature and an early riser by vocation, which means getting the minimum six hours of sleep is an accident, at best, and a defeat, at worst. I don’t drink coffee, which means I get out of bed like Garfield on a Monday. So how am I supposed to get up and get going like Winnie the Pooh chasing some honeybees?

To put it bluntly, I am not and I will likely never be that person. Mornings just aren’t my thing. But that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from this “wake up with purpose” attitude. For me, the “morning” aspect of that advice was never the important part to begin with. What it’s saying is that there are huge benefits to be found in a positive outlook and just a little bit of intent.

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