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Monday, July 3, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirty-Two, in which your Bibliothecary asks the Questions

While Ella went away for holiday, Box of Books continued to keep us entertained and informed. Her Vacation Q&A Project forced numerous litblog enthusiasts to respond to five nosy questions, thereby baring their blackened souls for all her Concerned Readers to admire, or in our case, ridicule. If she thought she could get away with such strong-armed badgering and escape the consequences, good for her!

Following a nearly month-long absence from the blogosphere, we have been loath to skip many more days (for a while, at least) without posting a new emotionally draining chapter. Still, with numerous projects of our own consuming large chunks of time, to conceive, write, and publish something regularly is sometimes more than we can handle. Finally we came up with an idea that we thought would be perfect – a guest interview with Ella. Not only would we get a chance to ask nosy questions back at her, she would be doing all the work of answering them, and therefore writing the post. It was brilliant. We drafted an email the next morning:
Dear Fellow Bookfiend,
I'd like to post an interview of you on my site. The Q&A would consist of answering five questions about books and blogging. Would you be interested in participating?
So, without further ado, we bring you...

Q & A, Ella -- Box of Books

One of your many projects is reading the Modern Library. Have you ever given up on an ML book that just didn't merit any more of your time? What's next after you have read them all?

The ML project is really my main focus as a reader. It's my hope that by reading the catalog I will get the 'best of the best' - the most important books in Western literature. The really great thing about reading them is that, after a certain point, the books begin to inform each other. Now, of course, with reading Shakespeare, I'm getting a lot of that.

Giving up on a book is hard for me. Even if a book's awful, I feel obliged to finish it, if only to plumb the depths of the awfulness. (And there's always the hope that the last chapter will redeem everything.) Modern Library books I have wanted to give up on include: Nietzsche's Zarathustra, Irving Shaw's The Young Lions, and John Dewey's philosophy. And of course Feuchtwanger's Power, which was terrible on so many levels. So no, I've never been Waterlooed by the Modern Library. Yet.

After I read them all, I'm planning to tackle contemporary literature, especially nonfiction and poetry.

Have you already planned out your boy's reading curriculum? What is it, or what will it be?

I have hopes that he'll be as crazy about books as I am, just for selfish reasons - so I'll have someone to talk about Emily Dickinson with over breakfast. However, my husband is not much of a reader at all, so genetically I guess the baby has only about a 50% chance of being bookish. I'll do my best to push him in that direction, but it won't break my heart if he'd rather be playing baseball.

As for curriculum - I'm trying to wean him off the Seuss. Anything else!

Tell us about The Absent Classic. This is a series that you put together, much like the Modern Library series Bennett Cerf put together. What was his influence on this series, and what makes this endeavor so enjoyable for you?

The Absent Classic is a kind of homage to The Modern Library. It's not a parody, but it's written with tongue firmly in cheek, and intended to amuse rather than educate. Like the ML, my titles include fiction, drama, poetry, biography and a sprinkling of miscellania. I think Cerf and Klopfer's gift was for finding things that were a little esoteric, and TAC takes that one step further into the realm of the weird.

It's enjoyable work for me on a number of levels. First, it's fun just to write something and put it out there for public consumption. And then it's nice to put steady work into a long project, one which (hopefully) will show progress and development over the course of a year. Finally, my subversive little heart likes to toss a little disinformation into the litblog community, not necessarily to fool people, but to make the point that not everything you read on the Internet is true. Really!

Tell us a little more about your shoe collection. How did you begin collecting, and what is your favorite pair?

I started buying shoes when I worked in a fancy shoe store during college. However, after I moved three times and then got pregnant, I stopped. Now I just admire them from shop windows. The greatest shoes I've seen recently were high heels with rhinestones on the bottom of the sole. To walk on diamonds! Genius. My own favorite pair of sandals are lime-green, flat, and horribly uncomfortable. They too have rhinestones, but, alas, on top. I wear them a lot.

Who is your favorite underappreciated author, and what makes them great?

The great thing about the part of the Modern Library catalog that I'm reading (1930-1960) is that it's full of authors who were popular then but maybe not now. I am smitten with Somerset Maugham, for instance, who I found through the ML, but I don't think he really counts as 'underappreciated'. ee cummings, too, isn't exactly an unknown, but his memoir The Enormous Room is, and that's probably the book I'd save from a burning bookshelf. It's a luminescent and wonderful thing.

For really underappreciated writers, I adore WH Hudson, Mary Webb, and George duMaurier. All three have that mix of tension and dreaminess I find particularly nice in a novel.


  1. Thanks for the interview Quillhill and Ella!

  2. Great interview - I think Somerset Maugham almost counts as underappreciated because so few people seem to read him. He's fantastic, though.

  3. Yes, thanks for the interview. I was thinking that Ella got away without answering any questions herself!