At The New York Times, book critic and Garner’s Quotations author Dwight Garner shares his decades-long habit of keeping a commonplace book. “It’s where I write down favorite sentences from novels, stories, poems and songs, from plays and movies, from overheard conversations. Lines that made me sit up in my seat; lines that jolted me awake…into it I’ve poured verbal delicacies, ‘the blast of a trumpet,’ as Emerson put it, and bits of scavenged wisdom from my life as a reader. Yea, for I am an underliner, a destroyer of books, and maybe you are, too.” He notes that commonplace books have long been popular, including among some of the most well-known literary figures. “Virginia Woolf kept one. So did Samuel Johnson. W. H. Auden published his, as did the poet J. D. McClatchy. E. M. Forster’s was issued after his death. The novelist David Markson wrote terse and enveloping novels that resembled commonplace books; they were bird’s nests of facts threaded with the author’s own subtle interjections.”
“A vast human action is going on. Death watches. So if you have some happiness, conceal it. And when your heart is full, keep your mouth shut also.” Saul Bellow saw a bit of resurgence this year with the publication of his collected non-fiction, There Is Simply Too Much to Say. Why do we need him now more than ever? According to Michael Weiss at The Daily Beast, it’s because he has “a bit of the opposition in him.” This essay is exhaustive and thoroughly researched and well worth your time.
Dominic Umile takes a look at the Daytripper, a comic by Brazilian brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. The comic, which was selected recently for les Fauves d’Angoulême – the largest comics festival in Europe – concerns the “volley of riches and failure from the desk of an obituary writer.” As Umile notes, the art of obituary writing experienced quite a popularity surge in 2012. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote about the regularity with which obituaries appeared on A1 in the paper, and the column even warranted the creation of its own dedicated Twitter account.
Ever since our literary Tumblr round-up, we’ve been inundated with suggestions for a Part 2. Well, I can assure you, the “Least Helpful” Tumblr dedicated to awful Amazon and Goodreads reviews would make that cut if (and when) that sequel appears. (Hat tip to our own Lydia Kiesling for the link.)
“Skipping or skimming parts of a narrative should not only be expected but encouraged, particularly if an author is writing without clarity or purpose or showing off. Life’s too short to slog through some smarty-pants attempt to demonstrate a mastery of mechanical engineering or botany.” Adam Kirsch and Anna Holmes face off for The New York Times Bookends column about whether there are right and wrong ways to read a book.