Hobgoblin and I had plans to buy books today, and although the exact nature of those plans shifted somewhat, that’s what we ended up doing. We decided to head down to Manhattan to visit the mystery bookshop Partners and Crime, which, very sadly, is closing soon. It’s a place we visited often. It turns out that their selection is already thinned out, so I didn’t find what I wanted there, but I was glad to be able to visit one more time. We stopped at a couple other stores as well, including the Strand and Three Lives.
Let me just say that if you like literary nonfiction, the Strand is the place for you. Down in the basement you can find aisle upon aisle of literary criticism, essays, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, and other kinds of unclassifiable nonfiction. It’s amazing, and I always head pretty much straight down there whenever I visit. Today I came home with Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton, which I couldn’t resist after beginning Lee’s Woolf biography and seeing that I’m going to like it very much. Lee is a great biographer, and Wharton is a great subject, so there you go. I also found Milan Kundera’s Art of the Novel, which a friend highly recommended to me, and Katie Roiphe’s book Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages, which comes highly recommended by several bloggers.
At Three Lives, I could have come home with a dozen books with no trouble at all (the store is very small, but the selection is fabulous). I chose Tim Parks’s Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic’s Search for Health and Healing, influenced partly by bloggers and partly by this article at the Guardian, and also John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I guess it was a good day for nonfiction, and particularly for books on writing.
As for what I’m reading, I’m nearing the end of the Tom Bissell essay collection, which has a lot of good stuff in it, but is kind of uneven. Not all the subjects interest me; it takes a special talent to make essays on films and TV shows that I haven’t watched engaging — something which Zadie Smith managed to do, but I’m not feeling it quite as much here. But still, Bissell is an entertaining, talented writer, and I’m happy to continue following his career.
I began the Woolf biography, and the first chapter won me over. It was about biography and autobiography as genres and then shifted to a discussion of Woolf’s own views on biography and her (auto)biographical writings, and was really excellent. It looks like the book is going to be more thematic than chronological, as the second chapter is on houses and describes the locations Woolf spent her childhood years, instead of turning to the story of her ancestry, her parents’ lives, her birth, etc. I’m guessing it won’t lose sight of chronology entirely, but won’t move straightforwardly through time either.
I also began my next mystery book group book, which is Sara Paretsky’s Hard Time. I’m only 70 pages into it, and while I sometimes am bothered by the writing quality, I’m absorbed in the story and enjoying it.
Before I go, I want to mention another endeavor of mine, which I haven’t posted about here yet because I wasn’t sure how seriously I would take it. I started a Tumblr to keep track of quotations I like, with a photograph or two thrown in occasionally. I wasn’t sure at first how much I would post on it, but I’m enjoying having the space. It turns out that I mostly quote from and link to essays online rather than from the books I’m reading, for the simple reason that I rarely bring my book into the room where my computer is to retype the quotation, whereas it’s easy to cut and paste an online article using my phone. Anyway, if you are interested, you can find it here.