When my days are filled with tight corners, narrow hallways, tall buildings, and tiny glimpses of sky, I need literature to offer me a horizon.
I remembered Willa Cather’s My Antonia did that for me a while back, so I picked up her O Pioneers! today. The first sentence won me over.

“One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.”

That’s what I need. Something that’s mostly wind and field and sky.
I want to feel the danger of being blown away.


Nabokov Book Covers

I’ve seen these wonderful Nabokov books on shop shelves for many years now, but each time I see them, I can’t resist the temptation to pick them up and buy them all.

What I learned today was that these covers were inspired by Nabokov’s love of collecting butterflies.
(Aha! Of course! Why didn’t it occur to me before?)

Here’s what John Gall of Vintage books said:

“Nabokov was a passionate butterfly collector, a theme that has cropped up on some of his past covers. My idea was also a play on this concept. Each cover consists of a photograph of a specimen box, the kind used by collectors like Nabokov to display insects. Each box would be filled with paper, ephemera, and insect pins, selected to somehow evoke the book’s content.”

He ended up asking a group of designers to help create each box – which is why each cover looks so completely original, so different from the next.


See more here.

Some Wise Words from Rilke

One of the books I read over the holidays was Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.
I found his words to be really challenging and encouraging.

Here are two favorite passages that I think of often:

“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this…There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

“If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sound – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories?”

This Side of Paradise

One of things I hope to get around doing this year is to read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s major novels. 
 (In my life, I’ve only read and re-read The Great Gatsby, which I love.) 
I figured I should start from the beginning and pick up Fitzgerald’s first novel – This Side of Paradise, which he published at 23.   
 I haven’t been doing well with books lately (too distracted, too impatient) so I started the book timidly.  
When I got to this one particular sentence though, when I fell upon it, it happened almost like magic: I instantly had a feeling that I was going to like this book and that it was going to like me.

On Reading Aloud

These are old, but I encountered them fairly recently:
Two nice essays on reading aloud (1 + 2)

“Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.”

Well put.

(image via)