"Coffee" was a great essay, but it filled me with fear because of its discussion of all the great people (Balzac being the one I recall most clearly) who would have gotten nothing done and achieved no fame or fortune whatsoever without imbibing copious amounts of the caffeinated beverage of extreme deliciousness. I don't think coffee can make me as gifted and prolific a writer as Balzac was; coffee is no substitute for natural talent. Yet, reading this piece made me antsy about ever getting anything interesting done again. Have I mentioned that coffee also makes me antsy?
As for the rest of Fadiman's collection, it was not as compelling to me as her previous work, Ex Libris, but I think this has primarily to do with the fact that Ex Libris was entirely about books and At Large and At Small is only partially about books. My favourite pieces in the latter (besides "Coffee") were about Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; her other essays—addressing such diverse topics as ice cream, butterfly collecting, and the American flag—were incredibly well-written, of course, but their subject matter didn't draw me in at all.
Reading this book has made it even more embarrassingly clear to me that books are my almost exclusive interest in life. Well, at least in terms of reading; I like cats very much, and travel, and hummus, but I don't care much to read about any of these things. Books that are stories and books about books (sometimes) are all I really care to read. Fadiman's superb writing carried me through the essays addressing topics that I had no interest in, but At Large and At Small didn't grab me the way her bibliophilic romp Ex Libris did.
In spite of its being highly derivative, I still think this could have been a really good book, for Collins gestures towards the hideous underbelly of America's obsession with reality TV in conjunction with its love of sensationalist news "reporting". But she just doesn't and this is part of a larger problem: this book was produced by a lazy writer. Collins brings up incredibly fascinating issues and then doesn't bother to tease them out; her characterization is almost non-existent, and the writing is at best merely adequate. I wish either Philip Pullman or Garth Nix had written this book. That said, I will save the other two books in the trilogy for my next bout with the caffeine withdrawal, to help me pass the time.
I have read very few graphic novels in my day, but I think my husband may have screwed the form's chances of ever becoming a favourite of mine by having me read two of the best examples thereof to begin—Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Watchmen, especially. Broken Bat, in comparison, was amateurish in its story-telling, for each chapter simply detailed the Batman having his ass viciously handed to him by increasingly more dangerous super-villains until he's (literally) broken by the large, hairy, angry, and souped up Bane. I wouldn't say I was exactly bored by the time it ended, but I wasn't sorry to see it go either.
—but it's about Seymour, so it should have been bloody fantastic, and it wasn't. And the story that followed it, "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut", I thought was actually kind of terrible. So, I put the book down.
But then I picked it up again last week, in part out of guilt and in part out of necessity (for it's due back at the library tomorrow) and in part because I thought short stories might help me get through the final days of caffeine detoxification (I'm feeling excellent now, thank you). The rest of the book is a mixed bag of disappointing and brilliant. I hated "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes" even more than I hated the wiggily story, but "For Esme—with Love and Squalor", "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period", and "Teddy" were so good as to make up for everything else; yes, it was worth reading all nine just for these three.
And now my reading brain has recovered, I am reading Anthony Trollope's autobiography while I wait for my next Vic Lit project novel to arrive from the library—Thackeray's The History of Henry Esmond. I actually already have a copy of this novel, but when I picked it up to begin it, all the pages started falling out; this is no way to read a Great Book, so I will wait for the hopefully less abused library copy.