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Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

Discuss Bibliotherapy. Do you believe literature can be a viable form of therapy? Is literary writing more or less therapeutic than pop lit or nonfiction?

Bibliotherapy is not something I would have thought writing about had I not been enticed by this prompt.  To be perfectly honest, this is something I was only vaguely aware of.  Consequently, my answer might appear a bit superficial and not really thought through.  I guess reading other answers might help me to form a better opinion.

Bibliotherapy is most often used in cases of depression (and I will limit my answer to that).  Reading seems to have been recognised for its healing powers, which does not surprise me.  I can understand how reading can be beneficial in helping to relax, but also, as Christina states in her post, in helping people, especially adolescents, to identify with characters in similar situation, thus preventing them from feeling as if they were an abnormality.

However, there are other things that come to my mind.  Reading is a very solitary activity and I wonder if it might not cut the person off from the world even more.  Also, I wonder if it might not aggravate the situation: reading escapist literature might make it more difficult for the suffering person to face reality and reading more serious literature might depress the patient even more.  Literature is a perception of our world and acts as a commentary on it, and, let’s face it, the world is not a rosy place.

Readers often mention the fact that they like to find the book to match their mood and in the case of bibliotherapy I think it is a crucial aspect to take into consideration.  I believe it has to be carefully monitored and coupled with other therapies and group discussions.  In my opinion, walking still remains a more important therapy to undertake in case of depression.  Then again, I am not a therapist and this is only a spontaneous, and not researched, opinion on this topic.

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Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What is one of your favorite literary devices? Why do you like it? Provide a definition and an awesome example.

Metafiction is more a concept than a literary device.  I am going to let Patricia Waugh provide the definition, as she does it so well in Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction:

metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality”;

it involves “the construction of a fictional illusion (as in traditional realism) and the laying bare of that illusion.”

In order to do so, the author of a metafiction will use literary devices such as fragmentation, myse-en-abyme, story-within-a-story, self-reflexive author, address to the reader, footnotes, and so on.  S/he will bring to our attention the fact that what we are reading is a creation and not just a mirror held up to the world; it is a re-presentation.

Metafiction is often associated with postmodernism, because it has become a typical feature of postmodernist writing.  However, there are many examples of metafiction predating postmodernism.  One early and famous example would be Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which was written in the eighteenth century.  Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds is also a great example of metafiction: it contains a story-within-a-story in which the characters of the story lead their own life when the author is asleep.

Metafiction draws attention to the fact that any writing is a construction, or a re-constuction, and is therefore always to a certain extent a fiction, or fictionalisation.  It foregounds the fact that any narrative, even factual ones, is always mediated by an author and is therefore subjective. 

One of my favourite examples of metafiction is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, who begins his narrative as follows:

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

Margaret Atwood’s novel are also often metafictional.  Famous examples include The Blind Assassin and Lady Oracle, both containing a novels with the same name.  These novels are concerned with the politics of storytelling, but so are many of Atwood’s short stories and shorter fictions.  For instance, the narrator of “Giving Birth” tells us how she is sitting at her desk to write the story we are reading:

“This story about giving birth is not about me.  In order to convince you of that I should tell you what I did this morning, before I sat down at this desk . . . Now she’s [her daughter] having her nap and I am writing this story.”

In “There Was Once”, a story that parodies a genre you will surely recognise, the interlocutor keeps interrupting the narrator to ask him to change the story:

“‘There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the forest.’

‘Forest? Forest is passé, I mean, I’ve had it with all this wilderness stuff. It’s not a right image of our society, today. Let’s have some urban for a change.’

‘There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the suburbs.’

‘That’s better. But I have to seriously query this word poor.'”

And so on…  Do you think they lived happily ever after?

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What other outside influences affect your reading experience? Do you think these influences enhance or detract from the experience?

The question is a bit obscure: other than what?  At the beginning of her answer, Meagan explains where the question comes from, which sheds light on it.  She wanted to continue a discussion that took place a few weeks ago about the impact the status of a book might have on our reading (you can see here how I answered this question).

What could then influence my reading experience?  Reviews of course!  And with the book blogging community expanding constantly, these reviews are becoming increasingly numerous.

However, I cannot say that reviews influence directly my reading experience.  Reviews have an impact on which books I will consider reading.  I do read a lot of reviews and some might tempt me to read a certain book.  However, once I have decided to read a book, I tend to stop reading anything related to it until after I have finished it.  I tend to follow certain recommendations more than others.  If the book is recommended to me by someone who knows and understand what I like, I will tend to follow the recommendation blindly.  There are also some book bloggers with whom I share interests and tastes, whom I will easily trust.  However, I also tend to be wary about many reviews and if they tempt me will try to find out more about the book in question.  However, in none of these cases I can say that it enhances or detracts my reading experience.

The hype, negative or positive, surrounding a book might have an impact on the way I approach a book, but ultimately the writing takes over.  No matter what others think of the book, it will be the way I read the book that will overtake.  Although I believe that conversations about the book might help in changing my opinions on it, but those will usually happen after having read it.

I think that, ultimately, what impact the most on my reading experience are the contexts.  First of all, there is my own personal context: where and when I read the book and my state of mind.  There is also my knowledge of an author and her other works, which will impact on how I understand the book.  Then the knowledge of the context in which the book was written, but also the context of the story itself.  I cannot generalise as to whether they enhance or detract my reading experience.  It depends.  The lack of knowledge might be positive sometimes as the book, then, becomes a way to discover another culture.  On the other hand, knowing might also add more layers of meaning to the text and not knowing might result in the text being difficult to access and understand.

Overall, I think that what impacts on my reading experience are not outside influences, but various influences that I have internalised.  The reading experience is a dialogue between the reader and the book.  Whatever texts we have internalised will enter in conversation with the words on the page.

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon? Discuss the affect you believe a book’s “status” has on your opinion of it.

I do not think that to know that a book is part of the literary canon has any influence on my reading, my pleasure to read or the way I judge a book.  However, I might become aware of a book more easily because it is canonical and be curious about reading it to know why it has been judged so important.

As I have said before, I think the canon is subjective.  Who judges?  Who decides what should and should not be part of the canon?  Why should I trust this judgement?  The canon evolves with time; some classics remain, but many books are rediscovered and become part of the canon because standards change.

What is the canon anyway?  How can we define it?  It is a selection of core books that have been judged as important.  However, certain books might have more relevance at certain times than others, which means that the canon should not be fixed.  The term means very little I think.  Texts are fluid and their relevance and significance will depend on the reader’s own conditions.  The canon depends therefore on the choice of a limited amount of readers.  It is a rigid term and one that loses significance I believe.

Reading is a matter of taste before anything else.  Being part of the canon does not mean I will enjoy the work.  I might be curious about it and wonder why the book has been judged as canonical, but that does not mean I will like it.  I would be more inclined to follow the recommendations of someone who knows my reading tastes well than to read a book because it is canonical and therefore it must be good.

Literary Blog Hop 

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What one literary work must you read before you die?

Are you asking me the ONE book I must read before I die?  You obviously know that it is impossible to answer such a question, don’t you?

There are so many books I must read before I die; the list is endless.  I am not even thinking of the books I don’t even know I must read before I die.

Moreover, if I were to decide on just one book, this book would probably change every week.  Every week I discover new books and I am not the same person today as I was yesterday, so chances are that the book in question will change depending on how I feel.  Some books will be downgraded while others will be upgraded.

I feel that the book I must read before I die is the book that is next on my to-be-read list and it is likely to change by the time I finish the book(s) I am currently reading.

Today, the book  must read before I die is Italo Calvino’s Numbers in the Dark.  It was given to me last weekend by a friend.  When I saw the book I exclaimed “I need to read it!”, so my friend ask me why.  I explained how much I love If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller and that I have wanted to read Calvino’s short stories for a while.  My friend handed me the book and told me to keep it.  It is a pretty special present and I must read it before I die!

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

Can literature be funny? What is your favorite humorous literary book?

Of course literature can be funny.  It is not because a book is literary that it has to be dry and serious.  I believe that wit and sarcasm are an effective way to discuss serious topics.  Plain humour is also enjoyable.

The first titles coming to mind are not literary titles per se, although it is always difficult to figure out where you draw the line.  Maybe the fact that they actually had me laughing out loud is a sign of the quality of the writing?  However, I will not discuss these now.

I am quite responsive to sarcasm and Margaret Atwood’s writings often make me laugh for this reason.  Her novels, as well as short stories and non-fiction, often display such sarcasm or just plain humour.  I am thinking of The Penelopiad, for instance, with its parody of The Odyssey, or Payback in which Atwood creates a revision of Scrooge called Scrooge Nouveau, who is a stereotypical modern business man:

“As you know, there are two Scrooges.  There’s the squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner we meet first in the story about him – I’ll call this one ‘Scrooge Original’, following the lead of certain soft-drink and potato-chip companies.  Then there’s the second Scrooge, the one that emerges after his born-again experience.  I’ll call him ‘Scrooge Lite’ . . .

But let’s contemplate a third Scrooge: as he would be if he were among us in the early twenty-first century.  I’ll call this one ‘Scrooge Nouveau’, because when you’re introducing a high-end quality product it’s just as well to make it sound a little French.

Scrooge Nouveau is the same age as Scrooge Original, but he doesn’t look it.  He looks much younger, because, unlike Scrooge Original, he does spend his money: he spends it on himself.  So he’s had hair transplant, and some facial adjustment, and his skin is tanned from the many voyages he’s taken on his private yacht, and his very white and expertly restored teeth gleam eerily in the dark.”

One cannot remain cold to the humour displayed in her short fictions either.  The examples are numerous.  It is a sarcastic humour that has me grin and think at the same time.

“All men are created equal, as someone said who was either very hopeful or very mischievous.” (“Alien Territory”, Good Bones)

Another book I read not too long ago that had me laugh or smile a good bit is Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.  I find the tone of passages such this one humourous:

“Everybody in America was supposed to grab whatever he could and hold onto it.  Some Americans were very good at grabbing and holding, were fabulously well-to-do.”

I also enjoy playfulness, which in itself can be humourous.  If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino would be a good example of a book that made me giggly because of its form.  I found the first chapter addressed to the reader quite fun, and then I found the fact that each beginning of a story-within-the-story is abruptly interrupted for one reason or another hilarious.

“You have now read about thirty pages and you’re becoming caught up in the story.  At a certain point you remark: ‘This sentence sounds somehow familiar.  In fact, this whole passage reads like something I’ve read before.’ . .

Wait a minute!  Look at the page number.  Damn!  From page 32 you’ve gone back to page 17!  What you thought was a stylistic subtlety on the author’s part is simply a printers’ mistake: they have inserted the same pages twice.”

These are just a few examples.  I think that literature is often infused with humour, so I could be going on all night.  What type of humour in books makes you laugh?

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which literary book would you take and why?

This is an interesting twist on the classic “desert island” question which sees people bringing their favourite longest book.  Here, we are going to war and the question consequently becomes more interestingly personal and psychological.

Would I want to bring a light book to uplift my spirits?  Or a book that gives me hope despite the terrible state of human condition?  Maybe I would prefer a philosophical book that would help me rationalise the incomprehensible human nature?

I think my choice would go for a book that gives me hope, hope that all is not lost, hope that there is still some good somewhere in the world, hope that maybe one day human beings will be able to live in peace.  The problem is that I do not believe this is possible, so I might have to choose a book that gives me hope that I will once more be able to enjoy the little pleasures of life and human encounters that make me smile.

To be honest, I find it difficult to find the book that would satisfy what I would be looking for in such a situation.  I am thinking about the books I have recently read, and the one coming closer is After Dark by Haruki Murakami.  As it happens, I have been meant to review this book for a few months, but have not come around to doing it.  Now is as good a time as any.

I had heard a lot about Murakami, about After Dark in particular, and had always thought I should read something by him.  When I went to Milan, I quickly realised that I had not brought enough books with me.  I was only in London airport, waiting for my second flight to get to Milan, and had already nearly finished one of the two books that were to be my companions during this trip, the second one being a novella.  I decided to visit the airport bookshop.  I was looking for a book that would not be to heavy, in weight and content, but not a plain holiday read either – I wanted a bit of substance.  Then, my eyes caught sight of a few books by Murakami and I thought that at last I was getting the occasion to read something by him!

I think I can safely say that it was my revelation of the year 2010.  I loved After Dark!  It made me feel good.  I find it difficult to explain why I felt that way.  After all, it is not the most uplifting book: a prostitute gets beaten up, the women working in the hotel have a secret past they are trying to leave behind and Eri, Mari’s sister, has been asleep for months and some obscure supernatural things happen to her.  However, I think that for me the relationships between the characters took precedence over everything else and gave me hope, hope that it is possible to find comfort and happiness in a world where the majority of people are twisted. 

The story takes place in the interval of a night.  During this night, a few characters’ paths meet.  They are strangers who become acquainted for the time of a few hours.  Amongst them are Mari, an avid reader whose sister’s beauty has always overshadowed her, and Takahashi, a musician on his way to a rehearsal.  They are both out for the night and will meet a few times through it.  We leave them at dawn when they separate at the subway station and the story is left hanging but is also full of possibilities for the future.

I thought Murakami utilises interesting narrative techniques.  I was especially intrigued by the “we” point of view he uses.  I do not think it is something I had encountered before, or at least not in the same way.  It includes us in the story as viewers and gives a cinematic dimension to the narrative.  I also liked the way there were a few storylines running in parallel to each other and sometimes intersecting.  Characters might be present in a few of the narratives, but we are never actually told if they are the same people and are left supposing, which gives an air of mystery to the story.  I also found the open-endedness of this story deeply satisfying and more realistic than a nicely tied-up closure.  It is open to the future and its potential; even if life is far from being an ideal situation, there is still some comfort and happy moments to be found.

Here are a few of the reasons why I would choose After Dark.  It is a substantial literary work, which, it seems to me, represents the complexity of human nature and life with a certain simplicity that gives me hope and would actually make me struggle to keep alive.

 Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit? Eudora Welty said that, “Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it…,” so in what location would you most like to hang out?

This question is more difficult than it seems.  I don’t like when local settings are described in too much details, but I like to feel the atmosphere of a place at a certain time. 

I think that ideally, I would like to be in the place described in the book I am reading at the moment.  I think it can enhance the reading experience.  For instance, I thought it gave more atmosphere to The Cousin, by John Calabro, to read it when I was in Italy.  However, I wonder if that might not also reduce to power of the imagination.  Reading is about interpreting language and perhaps knowing too much about where it comes from might spoil that liberty we are given when reading.  I suppose both reading experiences have their appeal.

Since I discovered Margaret Atwood’s works, I have wanted to visit Canada (even more than before).  As you might have guessed by now I am passionate about her writing, but also about the life she led while growing up and the myth she embodies.  Significantly, Atwood says that locations are at the origin of her writing.  This might partly explain my growing desire to visit those places. 

When I went to Canada last June, I was both visiting a real place, but also an imaginary world created through writing.  Quite often, I associated these places to specific stories.  My favourite experience was going to Ward’s Island in Toronto, which is one of the settings of “Isis in Darkness” (as well as The Robber Bride).  As I was taking the ferry, the narrator was sitting next to me on his search for Selena.  Like him, I went looking for her house.  Which one could be Selena’s house?  In the same story, the Bohemian Embassy is also mentioned and it is a place I would like to have seen.  However, the story is set a few decades ago.  I will never be able to experience the Toronto of the late 50s when Margaret Atwood did her first reading in the Bohemian Embassy.  I can still imagine it though…

Is this Selena's house?

You can see my posts on my trip to Canada in the June 2010 archives.  Quite often I have related the place to a piece of writing.  I am still in the process of writing those posts and I am writing the one on Ward’s Island at the moment, but I have already posted the one on the Bohemian Embassy.  I know it is taking me a long time to write that travel diary, but, at least, I get to visit the place a second time!

Literary Blog Hop
The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university?  Why did you dislike it?

This question brought me a bit of a surprise: I can’t remember most of the books I studied in school! 

I remember very clearly the three books I studied one year and that is because the teacher was the best I ever had.  The three books we studied that year were: Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo, Le Pigeon by Patrick Suskind and La Fée Carabine by Daniel Pennac.  I loved La Fée Carabine.  I liked Notre-Dame de Paris; it was a difficult read, but worth it, and our teacher was intelligent enough to beg us to skip the third chapter, which is a detailed description of the cathedral.  I did not like Le Pigeon, simply because I found it boring; however, I remember it created a good discussion in the classroom.  Those books are different and I remember our teacher made us think about them and discuss them, rather than just providing us with her analysis.  If all my teachers had been like her, I would have had a much better experience of literary studies at school.

As for the other years, my memories have faded.  Is it because I did not like the books and blocked them out?  I have a vague memory of reading Manon Lescaut by l’Abbé Prévost and Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal.  If I remember well, my feelings were mixed about both.  I also remember studying Les Fleurs du Mal by Baudelaire.  I like reading it, but was never really good at analysing poems.  Unfortunately, the text I had to present at my French oral for the baccalauréat was one of them: “A une passante”.  It was a disaster and I left the room in tears.

My memories of university reads (in France) are much more vivid and generally good.  I loved discovering all those new books and I guess the way of teaching was really different.  This is how I discovered Austen’s Emma, Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Plath’s The Bell Jar (what a revelation it was!).  Of course, these were a bit difficult to read at first as English was not my first language, but I easily got into the stories. 

Now, Shakespeare was a different matter altogether!  The first year I read two of his plays (Macbeth and ?), I did not like them at all.  In fact, I hated them.  The language was difficult and I could not connect with the stories.  These plays meant nothing to me.  I failed the module.  Second year, I had a different lecturer and she put a whole new perspective onto Shakespeare.  She explained the context and helped us to read and analyse the plays.  That year, we studied Macbeth and Richard III, and I really enjoyed them.  I will always be thankful to this lecturer.  I have actually had the occasion to talk to her again lately and told her the impact she had on my literary studies.

Literary Blog Hop

 

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What literary title (fiction or non-fiction) do you love that has been under-appreciated?  We all know about the latest Dan Brown, and James Patterson isn’t hurting for publicity.  What quiet masterpiece do you want more readers to know?

When I saw this question, I thought it would be easy to answer.  It isn’t!  It is so difficult to judge the attention books receive and, of course, it varies with countries.  For instance, an Irish book might receive attention in Ireland, but not worldwide.

The first book I would name is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.  I do not know what kind of recognition this book has received.  I studied it as part of a course, but I had never heard of it before and when I talk to people, few have heard of it, so I believe it did not receive that much.  I think it is a great novel, which is a perfect example of metafiction.  I personally love it and would recommend it to anyone who likes stories that are not all tied-up.  It is confusing and dizzying.  I reviewed it a while ago here.

The second novel I want to mention is John McGahern‘s That They May Face the Rising Sun.  McGahern is better known for his novel Amongst Women and I think that, even in Ireland, That They May Face the Rising Sun has been under-appreciated, probably because of the success Amongst Women received.  Many have told me that you can only appreciate That They May Face the Rising Sun if you were born and raised in Ireland.  I agree that the book might take on another dimension if you are familiar with Irish history and culture, but I believe that it also speaks of universal experiences.  It is a book set in the Irish countryside, which follows the lives of country people at the pace of the seasons.  It brought me back to my youth when I used to spend all my holidays at the farm.  It is beautifully written and describes simple human emotions.  Its concern with change in rural Ireland is one that has happened in other countries and could touch anyone.  I love this book and I would urge you to read it; it’s my favourite Irish book, I think.  I read it a while ago and feel that it is too late now to do a review, but I would be happy if this post encouraged one of you to read it and, one day, to see a review of it on one of your blogs….

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