phyllis rose's the shelf (in which she reads her way through the LEQ-LES shelf at the new york society library, a subscription library on the upper east side i'm ashamed to have never visited) has been sizzling across my synapses for the last few weeks. her curiosity is a thing of beauty—i adore how she develops extratextual relationships with some of her authors, hunts down answers about cover art from a designer, and watches and rewatches footage from one author's funeral on youtube—and i thrill to the way she accepts responsibility for keeping literary culture alive (and urges other readers to do the same). i'd love to curl up and make myself inconspicuous in a wrinkle in her brain for a day. a smattering of favorite passages:
A friend of [Rose's daughter-in-law] attended high school where the drama teacher was a megalomaniac control freak. Although everyone knows that musicals for amateur performance should be chosen to provide the maximum number of easy singing roles, he chose to do Phantom of the Opera, which has relatively few parts and difficult music. The drama teacher himself played the Phantom, and the best singer in the school played Christine. All the other kids played candlesticks in the chandelier.


I remember taking a ship from Naples to Istanbul in the summer of 1974 and seeing a man reading Fear of Flying in Spanish, laughing out loud. I never saw such universal appeal again until a Samburu warrior in Kenya asked me to send him tapes of the Harry Potter movies.


A woman who was hired as an editorial assistant at a major publisher in New York in the early 1960s recalls how, on the first day of work, the twelve new assistants were separated into male and female groups, the men set to reading manuscripts, the women to typing. Another woman recalls learning that she had scored the highest on a chemistry final in college, asking if that meant she was getting an A, and being told that only one A could be given and a boy needed it more than she did. Others recall days when Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth didn't admit women, to say nothing of the Century Association in New York and Mory's in New Haven.* Someone else reminds us that in France, women could not vote until after World War II.**


I asked a friend who works for a small public library how they choose books to get rid of. Is there a formula? Who makes the decision, a person or a committee? She told me that there was a formula based on the recommendations of the industry-standard CREW model.

CREW stands for Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding, and the manual uses "crew" as a transitive verb, so one can talk about a library "crewing" its collection. It means weeding but doesn't sound so harsh. At the heart of the CREW method is a formula consisting of three factors—the number of years since its last copyright, the number of years since the book was last checked out, and a collection of six negative factors given the acronym MUSTIE, to help decide if a book has outlived its usefulness. M. Is it Misleading or inaccurate? Is its information, as so quickly happens with medical and legal texts or travel books, for example, outdated?*** U. Is it Ugly? Worn beyond repair? S. Has it been Superseded by a new edition or a better account of the subject? T. Is it Trivial, of no discernible literary or scientific merit? I. Is it Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the community the library serves? E. Can it be found Elsewhere, through interlibrary loan or on the Web?


Since every system of elimination is based, no matter what they say, on circulation counts, the number of years that have elapsed since a book was last checked out, or the number of times it has been checked out overall, if you feel strongly about a book, you should go to every library you have access to and check out the volume you care about. Take it home awhile. Read it or don't. Keep it beside you as you read the same book on a Kindle, Nook, or iPad.**** Let it breathe the air of your home, and then take it back to the library, knowing you have fought the guerrilla war for physical books.


Traditionally, fiction assumes that an event like the death of a wife and child should be dramatized at a length appropriate to its gravity. [Alain-René Le Sage, author of Gil Blas] pivots from one state to another with no more than "But, alas!" and although Gil Blas tells us he couldn't eat, fell into a deep depression, and might have died if Scipio had not forced him to sustain himself, there is no plumbing the depths of his soul. We are left to imagine his anguish: "Let the reader conceive...the sorrow with which I was seized."

There is a certain wisdom to this approach in fiction, as in life. When a child dies, when a spouse dies, one feels the grief that one feels when a child dies or a spouse dies. There's no point in trying to describe it. How much does it hurt to have your arm pulled from the socket? It hurts as much as having your arm pulled from the socket.
rose writes that she enjoys hearing from readers of her books when they contact her to offer praise and is rather displeased when they pepper her with inquiries, which makes sense; i'd be pretty displeased if someone wrote me just to ask me to prep for their book club on their behalf. it has been brought to my attention that i tend to ask a lot of questions when i meet people, so it's probably not a good idea for me to reach out to rose—but i might not be able to resist a fan letter. the shelf has wound me up.

it's been a good year for reading thus far, so good that i have yet to make much progress in 2015's version of BOOKS I READ, IN ORDER OF HOW INTERESTED I WAS IN SLEEPING WITH THEM BENEATH MY PILLOW (STRONGEST CANDIDATES FIRST), AND HAIKU DISCUSSION. i forced my sister to take the first of elena ferrante's neapolitan novels back to california with her last week; i'd have insisted on all four, really, but it's impolite to inflict that much ballast on air travelers. if you, dear internets, have yet to read them and can endure the phase shift they could precipitate (i found myself reading for an extra three or four hours a night, which meant that for most of january i turned off my light and rose again in the morning with the people of hawaii rather than my neighbors in new york city), get on that.

i'll be turning in a piece on my third half marathon this friday. how did i get here?

*stanford has been thoroughly coed since it admitted its first students in 1891, by the by.

**a full timeline of women's suffrage is here. in 1919, belgium extended the right to vote in national elections to "the widows and mothers of servicemen killed in World War I, to the widows and mothers of citizens shot or killed by the enemy, and to female political prisoners who had been held by the enemy." other gals weren't welcome at the polls until 1948.

***similarly, ye olde charity bookstore cafe doesn't accept donations of textbooks, tech manuals, or travel guides.

****don't read it on a kindle. fuck amazon, now and always.


IN DYLAN THOMAS'S COLLECTED POEMS, 1934-1952 (1971) (2016)*

These boys of light are curdlers in their folly,
Sour the boiling honey; Spoilers / ruined by time-ruining

And boys are full and foreign in the pouch. Sex

Shut, too, in a tower [removed imprisoned] of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees Organic erect phallus

Left by the dead who, in their moonless acre,
Need no word's warmth. "Stench of mortality" Conrad

Sexual A candle in the thighs

These five kings [fingers] did a king to death.

Then, penny-eyed, that gentleman of wounds, Christ baby

On this high hill in a year's turning. May he live another year.

On to the ground when a man died Can not react to life

Now break a giant tear for the little known fall, heaven / Death of Everyman
Death of enemies For the drooping of homes

The sundering ultimate kingdom of genesis' thunder.
Out of desolation comes birth

Youth gives feeling of immortality Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

*(notes in small, careful script, pencil and pen)