The Shelf

The Shelf

From LEQ to LES

Book - 2014
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Phyllis Rose, after a career of reading from syllabuses and writing about canonical books, decided to read like an explorer. She "wanted to sample, more democratically, the actual ground of literature." Casting herself into the untracked wilderness of the New York Society Library's stacks, she chose a shelf of fiction almost at random and read her way through it. Unsure of what she would find, she was nonetheless certain "that no one in the history of the world had read exactly this series ofnovels."
What results is a spirited experiment in "Off-Road or Extreme Reading." Rose's shelf of roughly thirty books has everything she could wish for--a remarkable variety of authors and a range of literary ambitions and styles. The early-nineteenth-century Russian classic A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov is spine by spine with The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Stories of French Canadian farmers sit beside tales about aristocratic Austrians. California detective novels abut a novel from an Afrikaans writer who fascinates Rose to the extent that she ends up watching a YouTube video of his funeral.
Curious about the life of writers across a broad spectrum of time and space, with a keen interest in the challenges for literary women, Rose occasionally follows her reading with personal encounters. One of her favorite discoveries is the contemporary American novelist Rhoda Lerman, in whom she believes that she has found an unrecognized Grace Paley--"another funny feminist humane earth-mother Jewish writer." But Lerman, who becomes a friend, turns out to be not "another" anything: in addition to writing she now raises prizewinning Newfoundlands and "talks of champion canines with the reverence I reserve for Alice Munro."
A joyous testament to the thrill of engagement with books high and low, The Shelf leaves us with the feeling that there are treasures to be found on every library or bookstore shelf. Rose investigates her own discoveries with exuberance, candor, and wit while exploring and relishing the centripetal nature of reading in the Internet age. Measuring her finds against her own inner shelf--those texts that accompany her through life--she creates an original and generous portrait of the literary enterprise.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780374261207
Branch Call Number: 028.9 Ros
Characteristics: 271 pages : illustrations, map.


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Nov 11, 2015

I really enjoyed this book. The author randomly selects a shelf at the library and commits to reading through it. She then shares her thoughts on the work and the authors. Those who enjoy literary fiction will enjoy this book.

Oct 20, 2014

I practice "random reading". When I go into the Gabriola branch of VIRL my usual route is to drop off books I've finished, look at the culled books that are for sale, and then to browse and pluck from the new books display.

THE SHELF - from LEQ to LES is a new book (2014) and the subtitle: Adventures in Extreme Reading caught my attention. I wasn't disappointed. Using self imposed rules, the author Phyllis Rose decides to read the shelf of fiction books from LEQ to LES. I found her experiment fascinating and productive. Phyllis Rose is an accomplished author and she amended her reading rules as she went along. She even made direct contact with a couple of the authors she discovered on this shelf from the New York Society Library.

I enjoyed the chapter LIBRARIES: MAKING SPACE which is about the culling process used by libraries. I have wondered often why such quality books are available to me to purchase from the discard cart. Read the book to find out what the acronyms CREW and MUSTIE stand for in the culling process.

I had already read one of the books on THE SHELF, and I am going to track down and read A HERO OF OUR TIME in the newest of three translations that she read in here experiment as I do try to be not totally random in my reading.

jtrousdell Sep 11, 2014

I have just discovered Phyllis Rose's book of brilliant literary criticism, which explores books picked at random off a library shelf. Phyllis Rose is a funny, humane, supremely intelligent writer who has broadened my world of reading enormously. I cannot understand why we have so few of her books in our library. Please, please, I would love to read "Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages" (Knopf 1983), "The Year of Reading Proust" (Scribner 1997) and "Woman of Letters: Biography of Virginia Woolf" (l979).

'The Year of Reading Proust" (Scribner 1997)

hgeng63 Jun 30, 2014

Enjoyable, though I expected more precision from the author of Parallel Lives. Don't miss chapter 8: Libraries: Making Space, about deaccessioning.

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