288 pages, 8.48 × 5.77 × 1.04 in
September 24, 2015
Farrar, Straus And Giroux
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0374261202
ISBN - 13: 9780374261207
Read from the Book
OneTHE EXPERIMENT BEGINS This book records the history of an experiment. Believing that literary critics wrongly favor the famous and canonical—that is, writers chosen for us by others—I wanted to sample, more democratically, the actual ground of literature. So I chose a fiction shelf in the New York Society Library somewhat at random—it happens to be the LEQ–LES shelf—and set out to read my way through it, writing about the experience as I went. I had no reason to believe that the books would be worth the time I would spend on them. They could be dull, even lethally so. I was certain, however, that no one in the history of the world had read exactly this series of novels. That made the project exciting to me.I thought of my adventure as Off-Road or Extreme Reading. To go where no one had gone before. To ski fresh powder in the backcountry of the Rockies. To hack through a Mexican jungle and discover a lost city. To be the first to cross Antarctica, reduced to eating the sled dogs, leading my men through the frozen wastes, across the Strait of Magellan, and over the treacherous mountains of South Georgia Island. To be the first. However, I like to sleep under a quilt with my head on a goose down pillow. So I would read my way into the unknown—into the pathless wastes, into thin air, with no reviews, no bestseller lists, no college curricula, no National Book Awards or Pulitzer Prizes, no ads, no publicity, not even word of mouth to guide me. In the fifteenth century, Poggio
Table of Contents
1. The Experiment Begins
2. The Myth of the Book: A Hero of Our Time
3. Literary Evolution: The Phantom of the Opera
4. The Universe Provides: Rhoda Lerman
5. Women and Fiction: A Question of Privilege
6. Domesticities: Margaret Leroy and Lisa Lerner
7. The Nightingale and the Lark: Lernet-Holenia and LeRossignol
8. Libraries: Making Space
9. Life and Adventures: Gil Blas
10. Serial Killers: Detective Fiction
From the Publisher
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 of novels."
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.
About the Author
Phyllis Rose is the author of A Woman of Letters: The Life of Virginia Woolf; 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.
"Simple but radical." -Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune"Rose is consistently generous, knowledgeable, and chatty, with a knack for connecting specific incidents to large social trends." -Christine Smallwood, The New Yorker"Immensely appealing . . . In encouraging us to be more independent thinkers, less swayed by convention and the critical consensus, more empathetic and open-minded, her book teaches us much about how to approach life as it does about how to read books . . . Irresistible." -Priscilla Gilman, Boston Globe"Readers of 'The Shelf' will feel befriended." -John Williams, The New York Times"It's thrilling to see, in The Shelf, the happenstance and whimsy that sprang from a random grab bag of books. And the vastness of possibility those books (good or bad) possess is a terrific match for the vastness of Rose's intelligence, which swerves from scholarly to oddball, and from sophisticated to fun." -Diane Mehta, Bookforum"A seasoned, open-minded, and passionate reader, inquisitive thinker, and delectably lucid and witty writer, Rose rallies readers to affirm our love of literature and libraries." -Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)"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
Imagine visiting your local library to peruse a randomly chosen shelf of fiction. Then imagine deciding to actually read each book on that shelf, regardless of your interest in the genre or your familiarity with the authors. The essayist and biographer Phyllis Rose did just that, challenging herself with what she thinks of as an adventure in "extreme reading" in the wilds of a historic library on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Working her way through books by authors whose last names begin with LEQ through LES, Rose takes on the early-nineteenth-century Russian classic A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, contemporary fiction by extraordinarily inventive women, detective novels, and a 758-page picaresque novel written about three hundred years ago. Describing her experiment in The Shelf, Rose considers the role of fiction in our personal lives and cultural landscapes. With reactions ranging from exuberance to exasperation, she serves up a refreshing tour of a singular adventure.
This guide is designed to enrich your discussion of The Shelf. We hope that the following questions will enhance your reading group's exploration of this inspiring literary enterprise.