Books, not which afford us a cowering enjoyment, but in which each thought is of unusual daring; such as an idle man cannot read, and a timid one would not be entertained by, which even make us dangerous to existing institution—such I call good books. - Henry David Thoreau
With the coming of 2011, it is inevitable (and healthy, I would argue) that we all reflect for a time on the year gone by. I began TLM in March with my very first blog post on The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald and, with the help of Aaron and Greg, we proceeded to genarate another 50 posts (including this one) in the following 9 months. I have my personal favorites, of course: our Declaration of War on All Things Twilight is a poor (but honest) man's literary manifesto; Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, which continues both to haunt me and to climb the ranks of my top ten novels of all time (it's currently number seven); and Ulysses, which represents a hard-won personal battle over the forces of literary intimidation and general laziness.
Objectively speaking, I think that we've been modestly successful in 2010. This past November, we received more than a thousand page views in a single month, which I consider a real achievement. And, in December, we briefly achieved 100 followers before someone dropped off the face of Google Earth and reduced us to 99 once again. Of course, many, many book blogs carry several hundred or even several thousand followers as a matter of course (and we applaud them for it). But our focus is a little different--we've tried to stay true to our mission: promoting the reading of literary fiction (and the occassional work of non-fiction) among male readers, an endangered species if ever there was one.
Which leads me to the point of this reflective post--we here at TLM appreciate the support of each and every one of you, and we recognize the strides that we have made in 2010--but we want to refocus and redouble our efforts on promoting the reading of fiction among men in 2011, and for that we need your help.
Based upon the comments that we received in 2010, there are a few promises that we are making to you in 2011:
1. Keep the post titles and tone light and playful--it seems clear that a playful sense of humor or at least a dry wit generates interest, drives readership, and creates loyalty. Relatedly, I vow not to use the first-person plural unless I am actually talking about "us" as a group;
2. Bring insight to bear and focus on unique aspects of each work that we review--there are literally thousands upon thousands of dry, uninteresting, and very opinionated book reviews out there (I'm looking at you, Amazon). But we strive to create discussion, which requires a novel approach, or at least an interesting topic.
3. Be more specific about how each work is of specific interest to men--we've never been nor will we ever be a He-Man Woman-Hater's Club (that's a Little Rascals reference for you youngsters out there), but the point here is to make reading relevant to the lives of our male readers (which we hope may also be of interest to our female readers); and
4. (Related to number three above) Incorporate more references to our favorite alcoholic beverages--we've received almost as much comment on our passing references to microbrews, scotches, and rums as we've received on the books themselves. And they seem to go hand in hand--a good book and a nice warm tumbler of single-malt scotch. It's always after five o'clock somewhere.
And now it's your turn. What else would you have us do? What do you love about your favorite book blogs? What do you hate? How can we improve the quality of our posts here at TLM? How can we generate/maintain more interest among our target demographic--men and the women that love them will push them to read again? Please do comment, and do so with brutal honesty, for we are committed to improvements in 2011.
Cookies, anyone? They're fresh out of the oven. How about some egg nog? We're flavoring it with Ron Zacapa, which our wife assures us is the finest rum in the world. When you're settled in, please pull a chair up to the fire. All set? Good.
We bring you a bit of a holiday treat today, that being our brief review of Immoveable Feast, A Paris Christmas by John Baxter. Now, we here at TLM love Christmas--and we love Paris--and we would love to spend Christmas in Paris. But to say that we love Immoveable Feast is probably going a bit too far. Not that it's an unenjoyable work--in fact, we quite enjoyed it--but we found it difficult to find substance in a series of essays about yet another foreigner bumbling his way through the field of French haute cuisine after reading Joyce and Melville for the last two months. And now we can't believe that we just wrote that--seriously, have you ever read a more pretentious statement? And at Christmas too. Shame on us. If anyone deserves coal this Christmas, it's us. Maybe we should stop writing in the third person ...
Let's start this again. Immoveable Feast is the year-long story of Australian author John Baxter as he scours the French countryside to prove his culinary self-worth to his French wife's traditional family by cooking them a traditional French Christmas feast. I enjoyed the book at a very superficial level, which is where it deserves to be examined. Like my grandmother's sprinkled, tree-shaped Christmas cookies, Immoveable Feast is light and sugary and completely devoid of nutritious substance. And just like a nice round Christmas fruit cake, Immoveable Feast is the type of book that, if you don't pick it up during the holiday season, is destined to sit--increasingly brick-like and forgotten--in the back of your cupboards until it sparks to life and consumes you you get around to throwing it out.
But if you do pick up Immoveable Feast during the holidays, like that cute family that makes the rounds singing Christmas carols every year, you will very likely enjoy it for at least an hour or two before it begins to grate on you. Seriously, though, the prose is light and easy, the humor plentiful, and the book is strewn with illustrations that give it an added Christmas appeal. And the descriptions of the touch, taste, and smell of traditional French Christmas dishes, as well as their ingredients, are genuinely mouth-watering. All kidding aside, I did enjoy it and I do recommend it.
So, what are your Christmas (or holiday) favorites? An extra cookie for anyone that comments without mentioning Dickens.
It's Thursday again, and our friends over at The Blue Bookcase are once again hosting the Literary Blog Hop--a capital idea if ever there was one. This week, I must admit, they've unsettled me. This week's discussion topic (from the very well-read and articulate Parrish Lantern) is "Who is your favorite poet and why?" And like a boot to the head, I suddenly came to the realization that The Literate Man has entirely ignored the topic of poetry for nearly nine months now. That said, there is plenty of poetry (or at least dirty limerick) in Ulysses, and it is based on Homer's Odyssey, and Joyce's prose is nothing if not poetic, so I give myself a half point for our two reviews of that book (here and here). But that does little to ameliorate this deplorable situation, which really deserves some serious attention.
So, there's no time like the present.
My favorite poet, hands down, is Walt Whitman. The why of my choice has everything to do with Whitman's poem, Song of Myself, included in Leaves of Grass. I grew up in a very small, one stop light town in Western New York, where I had a vague notion that the world somewhere out there was large and busy and exciting, with limiteless possibilities for those that were willing to dive into it, but it wasn't until I read Song of Myself that I knew it for a certainty. Song is nothing short of a celebration of the great variety of human existence and endeavor, admittedly focused on a post-frontier America, but also universally applicable. In Song and elsewhere, Whitman captures the harsh reality of human existence--the blood and sweat and decay--and places it in the larger context of the wonder of physical existence and the endless cycles of birth and death that bring us all together, both physically and emotionally. If I'm honest with myself, I think that Whitman still provides at least one of the pillars of my own individual world view.
And so, we owe a debt of gratitude to Parrish Lantern and The Blue Bookcase for bringing this glaring omission to our attention. It shall be rectified. In the meantime, what do you think of Whitman? Is there a particular poet that reaches your heart or tickles your fancy more directly? And to whom do you owe your own particular world view?