- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
Shelf, The Hardcover – 13 Jun 2014
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
If the world's greatest librarian held hands with the greatest English teacher you ever had and they led you into the middle of the Forest of Literature, Phyllis Rose's The Shelf would be right there, waiting for you. The Shelf is an exceptional, goofy, erudite, deeply thoughtful, and completely enchanting foray into the world of books. As Grace Paley said in another context, you'll learn something. --Amy Bloom, author of Away Phyllis Rose calls her irresistibly charming journey through the LEQ-LES shelf an experiment in Off-Road Reading. But the lesson I drew from it was that no matter what bookish road you take, whether it's a superhighway or a bumpy track that requires the literary equivalent of four-wheel drive, you're bound to enjoy the scenery if you're as interesting a reader as Rose. --Anne Fadiman, author of Ex Libris and At Large and At Small. In her brilliant and original The Shelf, Phyllis Rose proves how much you can learn about yourself and the world just by reading any book you come across and thinking seriously about it. --Alison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Foreign Affairs. The Shelf is a surprising and wonderful book--a magnificent treat! --Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. It's always a pleasure to read Phyllis Rose. She ignites our imagination with her own intellectual curiosity, encouraging us to read widely and take chances. --Judy Blume, author of Summer Sisters. Exhilarating, adventurous, original--Phyllis Rose's The Shelf is a reminder of what reading and writing are all about. Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran --Various
About the Author
Phyllis Rose is the author of A Woman of Letters, a biography of Virginia Woolf that was a finalist for the 1979 National Book Award; Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages; Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time; The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time; and two collections of essays. She divides her time between Key West and New York City.
Customers also shopped for
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Indeed, there are many lovely parts. I was fascinated by her descriptions of the impact of different translations of the same book. I learnt a great deal also about the process of 'library weeding' where old books are discarded to make room for the new. Towards the end, I also loved her take on how difficult it can be for writers to create their own 'voice', while the conclusion was simply charming.
However, there were many sections I really disliked. Somehow her own voice often came across to me as that of a sneering reviewer's (which is maybe why so many professional reviewers seem to adore this book...). This is curious considering that she also writes, "Negative reviews are fun to write and fun to read, but the world doesn't need them". Even when Rose describes the books she read that she enjoyed, I found nothing to encourage me to also go and seek them out for my own shelf. She states that literary critics wrongly favour the famous and canonical and then peppers her writing with constant reference to, you guessed it, the famous and canonical. There's a whole chapter decrying the gender inequality in prose, but she compares Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner to Jonathon Franzen. To me, that's almost like comparing Lee Child to Hillary Mantel. I have nothing against any of these writers (don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading them all) but in an argument about pervasive sexism in literature, I can't see how they can be considered comparable texts.
Rose is an excellent writer herself. In particular, I loved her phrase about a bad review becoming the 'death of the book baby'. This is certainly not what I'm trying to achieve here! I would suggest that if you want to expand your ideas on reading, then give this one a shot. There are parts to love: I just wish there weren't so many parts that I personally hated.
I found it a fascinating book to read as it didn't just cover the books she read but also took a look at libraries and how they decide what to keep and what to buy in the first place. She discussed different formats of the various books and found that in some instances she found the format of the book got in the way of her enjoyment of it. If the book was very old and tatty or was printed in a very small font it was easier and much more enjoyable to read an e-book version where there was nothing to get between the reader and the text.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on 'Phantom of the Opera' as it takes in not just the original text but film adaptations of the story as well as the musical versions. I enjoyed the author's comments on literature in translation and how the translator’s desire to over inform the reader with a plethora of footnotes and explanations can interfere with the enjoyment of the text. Nabokov apparently did this with his translation of ‘A Hero of Our Time’ and the author turned to other translations which she found she could read with much more enjoyment.
If you enjoy books about books then you will probably enjoy this one. The author writes in an easy low key style and while she makes references to other more famous authors I think she succeeded admirably in her stated aim of reading outside the perceived canon of literature as taught in schools and universities. I enjoyed the book so much that I even forgave the author her trenchant comments on mystery and crime novels – which are my particular favourites. The book contains notes and an index.
Unfortunately, there's a *lot* of casual ableism, which annoyed the hell out of me. This included use of the 'r' word, which is pretty inexcusable unless you're pointing out how bad the 'r' word is (she wasn't.)
The writer also has a tendency towards snobbishness and pretentiousness, although she tries admirably to break this within herself.
This review first appeared here, in this review-posting, on Amazon UK.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Rose writes for thoughtful readers, giving only a short synopsis of plots, but delving into all sorts of related matters such as the varying backgrounds of her group of unknown authors, how the style of the writer fit with literary trends of his time, and how writing about women's domestic sphere as a subject is held in low esteem. She learns about how libraries pare down their collections, and how different translations of a book elicit different reactions.
Rose is a game gal, giving every book her best shot, though some books were beyond her appreciation. But she makes silk purses out of those sows ears, writing as entertainingly as ever.
I'm barely coherent here, as I just finished the book and can't wait to recommend it to my reading group. It's like a great chat with your most bookish friend. Don't miss this one!
This author has a lot more discipline than me because she chose to read a single book shelf in a New York library; multiple books from multiple authors some of which I had heard of and some of which I hadn’t. She’s a good writer because despite the possibly very dry material of writing about other people’s work it was never boring and I was able to finish it in less than a weeks’ time.
I’m weird. I like reading about what other people read but to be honest I don’t know if I’d read anything that she read, if that makes any sense. Still I learned a lot because Rose was very in-depth she didn’t just read she researched a book, the time period, the author’s life and in some cases multiple translations of the writing along with reviews from the time it was published. It was a little like a lit class that I was choosing to take. The most interesting part to me was the discussion about the inherent prejudice about women writers. The idea that if a male author writes about domestic situations it’s considered great literature but if a woman writes about the same subjects its chick lit. There was also a fascinating section (to me at least) about how libraries decide what to order and what to get rid of- which made me really want to run to the library and see if I could save any poor unread books from obscurity.