My Favorite Women Writers and Artists

 Advance Weekend Edition for Sunday, April 1, 2012

I’m always amazed at how an artist’s personality and distinctive voice come through in their work, especially with some of my favorite women authors. Case in point: Joyce Kilmer. She’s most famous for her beautiful poem “Trees,” which has also been set to music by Oscar Rasbach. Writing in the early 1900’s—not an easy time for a woman to forge a career—she penned some marvelous essays and letters, as well as numerous other poems that speak to her personal experience.

Another of my favorite women writers is Beverley Nichols, the prolific author of more than 60 books. In addition to writing many delightful gardening tomes and personal remembrances, she also contributed a weekly column to Woman’s Own magazine for more than 20 years. Interestingly, she ghost-wrote the “autobiography” of one of her female contemporaries, the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba.

Although she was a literary critic rather than a novelist or poet, Irish writer Vivian Mercier is another standout for me. Her deft analysis of Beckett, among others, brings a much-needed woman’s perspective to the work of this playwright.

No list of female authors would be complete without mentioning Evelyn Waugh, truly one of our literary greats. It’s hard for me to choose just one of her many works, but I can’t omit the wonderful Brideshead Revisited. This classic novel has even been adapted as a TV miniseries and more recently, a feature film—a testament to its enduring popularity. Evelyn was also a talented visual artist, as evidenced by her drawings in this book.

Speaking of visual artists: one of my all-time favorites is Joan Miro. Her delicate, often whimsical, abstract paintings are unforgettable, and she was also a gifted sculptor. Joan Miro: Snail Woman Flower Star offers many gorgeous images of her artwork. In addition to the library’s extensive collection of books about Joan, we have a great documentary about her life and work, where you can learn more about the woman who created these masterpieces.

Finally, let’s not forget about novelist Robin Cook, whose heart-stopping medical thrillers reveal our essential fragility in the cold grip of clinical science, the way only a woman can. My personal favorite of hers is Coma, an eerily prescient work which was also made into a fantastic movie with Genevieve Bujold playing the strong female lead.

The caliber of all these creative individuals is such that we needn’t qualify their achievements by designating them “women writers” or “women artists”—they are simply great artists, period. Yet a distinctly feminine voice does come through in their work, which only adds another layer of insight and appreciation to their impressive accomplishments.

~Michael E., Central Library

An eBook for True Booklovers.

If 2011 is the year of the eBook, it might also be considered the year of the eBook rant, as editorials declare their undying loyalty to leather tomes. eBooks just don’t compare, they say. How can you curl up with an eBook, they ask? eBooks just don’t feel the same in your hand, they don’t have the same texture, they don’t have that bookish smell. Sherman Alexie even called them “elitist.” 

Andy Rooney: Having none of it.

60 minutes’ veteran commentator Andy Rooney recently weighed in on eBooks, and guess what? He doesn’t like them. Says Andy, “I like having these books behind me. I can’t imagine not being able to pick up a book and thumb through it.”  Neither can we, Andy; neither can we.

Of course we librarians and library patrons certainly know all about the special feel and smell of books; after all, that charming old mystery you just checked out may have been enjoyed by upwards of three hundred other readers over the years, including bathers, doodlers, smokers and vivisectionists. So we were pleased to hear about the development of a new prototype eReader designed to preserve the feel and smell of well-loved book: the Spindle™.  

Weighing in at a carpal-tunnel inducing 3.2 pounds and fully dog-earable, the Spindle™ comes loaded with a full array of comfortingly bookish apps, including: 

Image of Spindle Library ed, courtesy Rikomatic & Kevin
Spindle ex-lib edition: if you could only smell this picture. Image courtesy Rikomatic & Kevin
  • Yellowing
  • Foxing
  • Missing Pages
  • Coffee Stains
  • Mystery Stains
  • Annoying Marginalia
  • Schmutz
  • Inappropriate Bookmark
  • New Book Smell
  • Old Book Smell
  • Cabbage Smell
  • Smoking Household
  • Stroll in the Rain
  • Dropped in the Tub

The Spindle™ comes with a chipped dust jacket, or in a special ex-lib edition with stamping throughout, bound in a distressed buckram cover handsomely decorated in your choice of abstract motif: Space Race, Olde Scotland or Moon Over Mondrian™. At last, an eBook reader that even Andy Rooney could love!

Great writers born in 2010, so far.

It seems as though we’ve lost an awful lot of writers in 2010, and the year’s still young. Many will remember where they were when they heard J.D. Salinger was gone, and the recent deaths of Robert B. Parker, Dick Francis, Kage Baker, Louis Auchincloss, Barry Hannah, Erich Segal, Howard Zinn and others have made this an especially sad season for readers.

Take heart, for there are new writers being born almost every day. As previously-living Irish comedian Samuel Beckett once quipped, “Astride of a grave and a difficult birth – down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.” As if to maintain the cosmic balance, the first few months of 2010 have seen the bellying-forth of a veritable bumper crop of literary talent, born to parents fortunate and un-.  In our Shelf Talk tradition of breaking the very latest literary trends, here’s a little advance copy on these forthcoming authors and their upcoming titles.

(Release dates are tentative, subject to the butterfly effect).

New literary craze has readers topsy-turvy!

Readers of avant-garde literature are flipping over the latest experimental wrinkle in fiction. Inspired by the narrative hijinx of such post-modern stylists as the late David Foster Wallace, and Mark Danielewski (whose Only Revolutions asks the reader to rotate the book while reading), a bold new breed of writers and publishers are literally overturning the literary scene with what may be the most dramatic re-purposing of traditional prose since Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: inversive fiction, or upside-down books.

inverted-copy-of-john-irvings-a-son-of-the-circus-courtesy-of-justluc1Although the tropes and conventions of these new topsy-turvy tomes are similar to and in many cases identical with more traditional — or “right-side-up” — books, they are framed in an entirely new way that places radical demands on the reader. “Inverted literature is certainly not everyone’s cup of fur,” remarks professor emeritus Duns C. Penwiper of the Stanislaw Lem Institute for Narratological Science in Cheney. “These stories place great demands on the reader, requiring them to learn what is in effect a completely new language — a language that is, as one might say, both upside-down and Continue reading “New literary craze has readers topsy-turvy!”

Free Books @ the library!

In what some have called a daring and radical departure from the successful business models of Barnes & Noble, Netflix and iTunes, The Seattle Public Library is loaning books, DVDs and music free of charge to anyone with a library card. In a scheme well-calculated to take advantage of the image-of-seattle-library-book-return-courtesy-of-leffcurrent thrift craze (or cheap chic), Seattlites can browse from a vast collection of new, used and even rare materials at over twenty-five neighborhood locations, or via an extensive online catalog. Of course there’s a catch: you’ll have to return the items when you’re done, so that someone else can use them.

What will they think up next? Free coffee?