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thanks to your high praise for The Name of the Rose (which i find very trustworthy), i went and picked up a copy for myself! i’m very intimidated by it though, and have barely gone past a few pages at each time. do you have any advice for reading daunting, dense books for someone who normally only reads for leisure? thank you in advance!

Nice! I hope you’ll like it as much as I do. I think it was one of my first grown-up taste of displayed, clever, aware intertextuality—of a text brimming with playful rewriting and conscious references, which, even not knowing and catching them all, you can feel pulsing underneath the words. You’re not far enough yet, but there is a biblical kitchen scene… There is a biblical kitchen scene, and it’s something.

I do agree that the book can be a bit daunting at first—I have recommended it to many, and people tend to feel shy because there is quite a lot of historical and religious contextualisation, and because the tone is clever. And then, William is so smug, it’s just not easy to be at ease. But I think it’s just a matter of changing your perception. There is a lot of information, but it’s presented with warmth, don’t you think? Eco treats you as an equal, because you are. He’s generous and he gives you a lot to think about, but you’re absolutely free to embrace this supplemental information, to memorise it, to cherry-pick through it, to dig deeper with other sources, to skim ruthlessly. 

The story itself is not difficult. The context is an enrichment, because Eco is clearly having fun and wants to set up a vivid scene and take you by the hand and guide you through time. But you won’t not understand if you miss a few cues or if you don’t remember the intricate differences between Franciscans and Benedictines and where Pope John XXII’s interests lie. Whatever information you need in order to understand the subtle digs and jokes and hints, you will be provided again at the right time. And, don’t forget, you are supposed to be a wide-eyed reader, passive and naive and not used to the ways of this alien world. You are Adso, after all. 

So just take it easy! Treat The Name of The Rose as much as a leisure book as the ones you read usually. It is. What’s important is that you have fun. Trust Eco with it, he’s a lovely companion and an attentive teacher.

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Omg this is probably fate XD Ok let's try one last time: if by any chance you had some book recs on 'light themed' books (comfort, happy ending, nothing too dark) that you could share with us during this quarantine, I would be eternally grateful, Pauline. Stay safe

Aw, was that it, suspense anon? Well, of course, no worries. My favourite happy, light reading include: L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey and Emma, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sylvia Towsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes, and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Speaking of Austen (when am I not, though?), if you can get your hands on it, I really recommend the new Autumn de Wilde’s film adaptation Emma. I cackled a lot. 

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Hi! I've followed you for a long time and I really loved the explicit history - I downloaded it in 2017 & it really helped me understand certain contexts in tsh better. Do you have any book recs about strong, ambitious women? I love books about women that have political themes and show them as being powerful characters in their own right.

Oh, thank you for suffering years of silliness! I don’t know if that’s exactly what you’re looking for—mostly these are old and I’m sure there’s much more in contemporary literature—but I’d recommend Jeannette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and The Robber Bride.

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hello, love. i've been finding everything that i write to be abhorrent lately, and i have no clue how to amend that. any suggestion on how i can get back on track? what is your writing process like? where do you draw inspiration from?

Mmh, it’s been a long time since I haven’t judged anything I write very harshly, but I think the trick is circumventing the obstacle altogether. Just keep writing even if you think it’s shit. Spend more time actually putting words down rather than editing what’s already there. If you don’t re-read yourself for a bit, and come back to your text with fresh eyes a few days or weeks later, I swear that you’ll come across flashes of brilliance that you weren’t even aware you could produce; words that don’t feel like your own, impressions you didn’t know you had expressed like this. Genuine surprises. Maybe share your words with someone you trust—they’ll see something they love and that you haven’t even thought about. 

As for my writing process and what I draw inspiration from—I haven’t written anything new in years, now (well, except for a brief foray into fanfiction hommage because Fallen Hero made me itch to write too damn much and still begs for continuation when I really shouldn’t). My creativity and self-discipline get sucked dry by a, uhm, sustained rhythm of translation work and my research work—I don’t want to embark on any “for-me” idea when I should be writing my PhD thesis or the poetic translation (a constant brainpain which is also creatively excruciating) that accompanies it. Long story short: I’m hoarding my creative juices like a madwoman and injecting them into my current projects, for now. [Maybe these are excuses, though. Most likely I’m just not ready to construct something as complex as a novel and put in the work that it requires and face the criticism that could arise from it (mine included); hiding behind responsibilities is as good a cover as any.]

But first and foremost, I’d say reading feeds my inspiration. A well-turned image that makes me see differently, a vivid character that spurs the ones that live in a corner of my head, a witty come-back that makes me long to write a spunky dialogue in turn. A peculiar writing voice that either puts mine into perspective or inspires me to try something new, even just with a pastiche exercise. I think intertextuality and emulation are the best catalysts. Foundations that become steppingstones.

Anyway, be nice to yourself. Writing is not easy and doing it is already a feat. You don’t have to like it right this second; I’m sure your future self will be more indulgent (or less unfairly critical) than you are.

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Hi!! I sent an ask about that i tried to find a poem about death but i found it now so you don’t need to answer it!!! It was called ”death barged in”!

Oh, thank you for telling me, I was just try to look for it! I didn’t know it at all, but that last stanza…

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.

Very, very good. It’s Death Barged In by Kathleen Sheered Bonanno for anyone else interested.

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i saw your book recommendation post! hope you're doing ok - would love a recommendation of something dorian grey-esque - (specifically lord henry energy) the over the top morally grey consumptive is a vibe i love :)

Thank you, I’m doing okay! I think The Secret History could do the trick for you if you’re looking for elitist bastard energy, and Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons would feed your need for glitz and social insolence. Valmont is a delightfully cruel character, but there’s emotional depth behind the mask of acid wit. I’m sorry, I’m bad at this, I like my prickly characters to have a soft core. For another morally gray, destructive trio on a decadently rich decor, I can’t recommend Julien Gracq’s The Castle of Argol enough. A bit obscure for non-french readers, but Gracq is extraordinary. Visceral, cloying, velvety. His style is so picturally weighty that reading him feels like drowning—not reassuring, but it is a compliment, I swear.

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Hi ! Do you have a book rec with passionate and tragic love (queer or straight, idc)? With love story bigger than life ? In any genre, as long as it doesn’t talk about politics. I need an epic adventure. Thanks !

WELL, my boring mind went straight to the usual suspects—Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise’s letters (though brace yourself for a lot of bible study with just a sprinkle of “I love you almost as much as I love Jesus”), Tristan and Yseult, Wuthering Heights and Albert Cohen’s Belle du Seigneur (which I love but is so toxic it’s suffocating.) It’s not necessarily romantic love but I would also recommend Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It’s beautiful and melancholy and open and it’s a well of love. 

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to add to the political books list, i highly suggest This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. Climate Change by Naomi Klein!! it’s a long read but so so worth it, she has some amazing insight on the state of the climate change movement and the role that our economy plays into it

Thank you! That sounds like something I need to get my own hands on, actually. 

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To the anon anon asking about political books to get more woke, I highly recommend Audre Lorde's "Sister Outsider", and the compilation "This Bridge Called My Back" to read some unheard voices in politics and about intersectionality and femism. Ta-Nehisi Coates "We Were Eight Years In Power", same thing more focused on racism. Elizabeth Kolbert has some great stuff on climate change. "Just Mercy" on prison reform and justice. I'm sure other readers have additional recs.

Thank you! I’m writing those down myself, you’re a star.

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Hi! For the book rec do you know any books that feature queer people, or a queer couple, in a historical setting?

You have to pick up Sarah Waters’ books if you haven’t, her work is right up your alley. Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet, The Paying Guests are all really good and the characters… will get you hooked. My favourite of hers is actually The Little Stranger and though one could argue easily that Caroline is not straight, it’s not clearly stated or the focus of the story—still, I’m putting it here because it’s so good and it has something to say about toxic masculinity and gender expectations and the male gaze and peer pressure and all that.
Also gorgeous? Maurice by E. M. Forster. 

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Any recommendations for VERY dark, very funny, thought-provoking books? I don't like horror/thriller much, more dark in just a human struggle kind of way. Some of my favourite things I've read are The Glass Castle (memoir) and Waiting for Godot (drama) but I would love to find more really good fiction that uses black (or at least bleak) comedy

Oooh, interesting—well it’s not my forte, but first of all I’d recommend going for most of Beckett’s works—the dude was not holding back. I particularly liked Endgame, which I found even better than Godot, and Happy Days (spoiler alert: it’s not that happy). Also, Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald is savage. And have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? It’s a pentalogy and it’s much lighter than the two former, but the parody? And some of the digs at humanity and politics? Brutal, exquisite, and with just the right amount of absurd (i.e., a lot.)

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Hi. Anyone quick reads recs?

I’m staying in the realm of fiction but if you’re into drama and poetry, a lot of it is super quick because of format! Jeannette Winterson’s The Passion is short and packs a punch, also Shirley Jackson’s super short story The Lottery (and her other horror short stories as a rule). Can I recommend Henry James’ the Turn of the Screw as well? I’m incorrigible.

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Hi, do you have any advice on how to structure a research paper when you’ve never had to use a theoretical framework (what even is that?) or a specific method of analysis? I’m totally lost and the deadline is coming up fast :( ty

Oof, hmm. I’d need a lot more than an ask to explain it all to you, and I’m not sure I’m the best for that. Let’s see. In terms of theoretical framework, it’s a fancy term for the academical concepts and authors you’re using as the stepping stone for your own argument. Basically, what you’ve read and studied and is already “accepted” as theories in your field (or other fields), and that you want to draw from; or, what others have said on the same subject as you before, and what you want use, what you refute. How your ideas will go further, give more details, or counter what comes before. You need theoretical foundations so that your reader knows what you’re getting at, basically.

Method of analysis is rather subjective and personal, and I need to know what you’re analysing if you want (weak and general) advice. It also depends on your argument. For example, my own ideas are steeped in the whole interpretation, creative freedom framework; so obviously, interpretation and hermeneutics are my analytical tools of choice when I pore over a text. But your argument may require more objective tools, even engines, and the list goes on, especially if we don’t share the same material to analyse in the first place. Obviously, you won’t analyse a map or a terminology corpus as you would a novel or an engineering issue like fractures, etc…

I don’t know if this helps? Good luck! Shoot me a message if you need more.

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What about recs for a good historical romance? Anything set in the early 1900's and earlier would be appreciated since I tend to read a lot of wartime romances and am looking to spread my wings a bit. :)

My friend, I’m in the pit right now! Look into Georgette Heyer, she’s incredible! So witty and meticulous about her historical setting/use of language, I’m super impressed with her. She’s also an expert on several eras, all before 1900s. I’m reading The Grand Sophy next (it’s Regency), but I also have my eye on The Convenient Marriage (Georgian) and My Lord John (1300+). Daphné du Maurier is good at historical romance as well; I really recommend Frenchman’s Creek

EDIT: Also I’ve had my eye on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy for ages, I might go into that soon. It’s not romance, but it looks like top-notch historical fiction.

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