1. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
The Great American Novel was written by a Russian aristocratic expat, and one of its two main characters is a similar European expat– but then, most of us came here from elsewhere, and until recently, English wasn’t the first language for most Americans. There’s a lot to say about Lolita, but one of the things I want to say is that if you haven’t read it rigorously, you haven’t read it. Many dirty old men taut this book as a celebration of pedophilia and child pornography, but it’s a scathing psychological investigation of a rapist and murderer (I have to constantly remind my students, when they read it, that he’s been institutionalized multiple times and is in jail for murdering another wealthy white man, not for raping an orphaned child). The book covers rarely do the book justice either, as they try to sell it as a “love story” — saying Lolita is a love story is like saying Twin Peaks is a love story. It’s social commentary, it’s a crime novel, it’s a murder mystery… and if it’s a love story, it’s a story of Lolita‘s courageous love for herself (cf. Vera’s diaristic notes, quoted in this review of Chasing Lolita). Runner up: Ada or Ardor.
2. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
I know Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury are often on these lists, and I love them too, but Mrs. Dalloway is, for me, everything I would have wanted in those other two books. Septimus is what I want from Stephen and Quentin. Mrs. Dalloway is shorter than Ulysses and less fragmented, and I have a short attention span. I loved reading Ulysses multiple times in undergrad and grad school, but I don’t really want to read it every year. I like that I don’t need a slew of other books to decode Mrs. Dalloway. Runner up: To the Lighthouse. Although I love re-reading Mrs. Dalloway, I wish I could read To The Lighthouse again for the first time.
3. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
Creepy. Sadistic. Scorpionic. Class, race, gender politics. It’s all there, evil and delicious.
4. Washington Square (Henry James)
Henry James is such a master: I love What Maisie Knew, The Portrait of a Lady, “Daisy Miller”… really everything, which I read in 2005 in Stockholm, Charlottesville, and Ithaca. If I were to pick one Henry James novel, it would be Washington Square because I think it’s does the most “Henry James stuff” in the least space. (Except maybe “Daisy”, but is that a novel?) … Also what’s with the non-feminist appropriation of James? I see him in this feminist novelist line somewhere between Jane Austen and Joyce Carol Oates. Move over, old white male academics — this one is ours.
5. The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)
I can’t believe I’m putting this at 5. This used to be my automatic answer for “What’s your favorite book?” Everyone should read this. It has something for everyone. It’s very easy to teach. And it’s short.
6. Swann’s Way (Marcel Proust)
I can’t argue with the mastery of In Search of Lost Time, but I can say that I have no desire to read it again, except for Swann’s Way. After Swann’s Way, when reading Proust becomes like a reactivation of his life inside your head, like he’s a parasite who came to eat your brain and reanimate himself in the world, it’s all very interesting, but argh, I have my own life! If you, too, have your own life, and don’t have time to read 7 volumes of someone else’s life, just read Swann’s Way.
7. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)
Maureen Thorson told me to read this, and when I saw this cover I was convinced because I like cats. This is a delightful, funny, magical book that I wish I could read again for the first time because it gives one the constant joy of new discoveries (plot twists, jokes, magical realism). What can I say about it that won’t spoil it?
8. Hunger (Knut Hamsun)
I read this after it was suggested to me by multiple friends (Michalle Gould and Matt Henriksen), and it’s such a great novel for starving writers. I’d thought Auster and Hustvedt were the ultimate writers of the pomo American starving artist type, but I was wrong, it was the Norwegian writing 120 years ago who really puts the experience of being an egotistical, slightly crazy, starving artist to paper.
9. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
I read this in high school, and I read it again in preparation for one of my oral exams at UVA, which was soon after Hurricane Katrina. I’d entirely forgotten that there’s a hurricane in TEWWG. What’s not to like here? — Strong women with sex drives, crazy lousy men you love anyway who drive you to destruction and redemption, hauntingly beautiful descriptions laced with mourning and loss….
10. The Ravishing of Lol Stein (and the other India Cycle books) (Marguerite Duras)
Duras is one of my favorite authors– I love The War, the India Cycle books (and the film India Song), the beaches and heat and jungles (reminds me of growing up in Alabama?) and her treatment of trauma. Although most people who read Duras start with The Lover, and I did too and loved it, there’s a lot of great Duras beyond that. (I like The Lover, but I think it’s problematic, and I don’t think it unveils its problems like Lolita does.)
11. Elective Affinities (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
12. Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)
13. Ulysses (James Joyce)
14. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)
15. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
How do you write a Top 10 list? Are these my favorite 10 books or what I would consider the “best” 10? This is a combination of: what books do I think everyone should read? What books would I teach? What books were my personal favorites? What books are the “best” (best-written)? And what books do I wish I could read again for the first time?
These favorites stem from the usual kind of education– my k-12 education and self-education reading through “classics,” my college/grad school education of reading just slightly beyond the “canon.” I didn’t include any contemporary fiction, which would be another list. I think there’s a lot of great literature being written these days.
Links are to free .pdfs (if you have a link to a free .pdf or other ebook format for one of the books without a .pdf, or to an alternative translation, lemme know).
Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference
March 6-9, 2013
Friday, March 8 at 1:30 pm
Room 109, Plaza Level
F197. Poetry & Librarianship: Collection Challenges. Panel. (Jessica Smith, Judah Steadicam Rubin, Dan Coffey, Elise Ficarra, Melissa Eleftherion Carr) Poet-Librarians will discuss the challenges of collecting, archiving, and digitizing literary texts and recordings, including the barriers to collecting small press materials, and propose solutions that will allow libraries to continue to collect literary objects regardless of medium. Of particular interest to small press publishers, book artists, archivists, and librarians.
Alabama Library Association Annual Convention
April 23-26, 2013
Thursday, April 25 at 10:30 am
K-12 – Using Curricular Programming to Increase Circulation. Poster. Programming that specifically relates to the collection can increase circulation. K-12 libraries have the advantage of orchestrating Reader Advisory, Curricular support, and Programming to concurrently increase traffic, educational value and circulation. The poster will present a case study of the Visiting Writers Series at Indian Springs School, which has increased circulation of related titles by incorporating books into English classes and programming the authors’ talks in class and after hours in the library.
Our library’s major programming efforts are toward The Indian Springs Visiting Writers Series (FB), which I started with my colleague Douglas Ray shortly after starting here. Douglas and I are both poets and our intention was to raise awareness of contemporary poetry by combining curricular poetry (poetry that Douglas, an English teacher, assigns in his classes) with an extracurricular poetry reading series (although we have also had many non-poets). The series and its ties to Douglas’s curriculum have increased circulation of 811.54 and 811.6 dramatically.
Our most recent Visiting Writer was Nona Willis Aronowitz, whose book Girldrive we read in my Feminist Literature class. A recording of her reading and my students’ Q&A with her can be found at the ISS Visiting Writers Series Soundcloud. She wrote about her experience with us for The Nation.
Monday: Transferred files to my new computer, cataloged, researched new releases
Tuesday: Finished Google Power Searching class, substituted for a math class
Wednesday: Guest-taught basic research skills to 10th grade Art History electives, cataloged, tried to help assistant load new plastic into the laminator (how do people do this??),
Thursday: Prepared P.O. for new acquisitions, submitted it, placed order for 50+ new books, faculty meeting
Friday: Subbed for history, graded
Every day: help students with the catalog, copier, or in finding a book; grade; class prep; teach World Lit; try to pry information about upcoming assignments out of teachers so I can be better prepared to help students find what they need; check books in, check mail
Things I’m supposed to be doing: developing a curriculum for information literacy for 8-12th grades; cataloging backlog of donated materials; taking donated materials we don’t want to secondhand bookstore; recataloging a shelf full of “problem” books I found while doing inventory last spring….
It’s October, and I’ve worked at the private school for about 1.5 years. It’s mostly very rewarding, although like all jobs, it’s not all Emerald City all the time.
Some of the perks are hard to quantify. The dining hall, at which I receive free meals, has delicious food. Many of its vegetables are grown in an organic farm on campus where some of the students learn agricultural techniques. The route to the dining hall passes a 3-acre manmade lake that has been here for so long that it no longer seems fake; swans and geese inhabit it. The campus is ringed by 300+ acres of forest. There’s a natural spring and an appropriately spooky old family graveyard. There’s a small band of teenage deer who roam intrepidly through and around campus.
I have nearly complete control over building the collection, which is both fun and challenging. Of course, I order books and DVDs requested by students and faculty, especially where they’re related to the curriculum. But the big challenge is building both a strong core collection and keeping up with new releases when the average age of the books in the library was 1976 (through weeding and acquisition I’ve moved it up to 1984– not a small feat in a collection of 18k volumes). I’m not sure what the weeding or collection development policies were before I arrived, but I know that the librarian who worked here for 1.5 years just prior to my arrival weeded about 2k books, and I have weeded about 3k. Before that, there is no record of weeding in the catalog, but I’m not sure if the librarian before that marked books as weeded as they were removed.
Before I worked here, I had a number of part-time jobs that I strung together so that I could continue teaching as an Adjunct Instructor. Teaching is one of my favorite things to do, and I am lucky that my current position allows me to teach one English elective course per semester. Back when I was an Adjunct, I had almost total control over my schedule. Except for the few hours I spent in class and office hours each week, I had to manage my time by myself (including course prep, grading, and working other PT jobs). In this aspect, adjuncting was a great antecedent to being a school librarian. Here, I have to be almost entirely self-motivated. Whether books are acquired, weeded, and circulated is almost entirely dependent on me. Whether students get standardized in-class instruction in reference and information literacy is up to my efforts to coordinate with teachers and go to classrooms. My success in these areas is partly due to my experience being completely on my own as an Adjunct.
The flip side is that as an Adjunct, I did not have to interact with people very much. I almost never talked with students’ parents, and now I see parents frequently and even have “parent-teacher conferences.” I almost never saw my coworkers, except the other Adjuncts with whom I shared an office, or my supervisor, or the other professors. Here I see my coworkers all the time and often eat lunch with my boss. I don’t always know how to interact with people who are not my students or my close friends. My current job is sometimes more like a traditional “office job” with “office politics.” I am still getting used to this aspect.
I’m a high school librarian. It’s a boarding school, so our collection also serves as a mini public library for everyone who lives on campus. We also have an Archives which is managed by an emeritus faculty member who I advise on protocol.
Thursday: Got to work about 5 minutes late (the baby didn’t want to go to school). Helped a faculty member with the laminating machine. Had a bagel. Checked email and snail mail. Put out new newspapers. Called customer service about the library software acting up. Talked to our IT guy, got it worked out. Answered archives questions. Helped with the xerox machine. Helped a faculty member track down a book. Checked in books. Found “loose” books left out by students. Shelved those books. Ate lunch. Had a tech meeting about the use of iPads in the classrooms. Helped a student with research. Helped a student edit a paper. Picked new carpet for the reading room. Checked the mail. More archives questions. Directed one of the student employees. Cataloged about 30 books.