From the Vault: The Power of Books

Because the pen is mightier than the sword.

Feeling inspired by our look at the Paris literary scene, or our recent musings on the power of the written word? Come with us as we turn the page to yesteryear and revisit some of our favorite essays on the power of books to stir us into new ways of thinking, living and working together.

“Several years ago, I decided to write the entirety of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time word for word on grains of rice – about 1.5 million words. I don’t remember how I initially thought of it. Maybe it was just something meditative to do. The intent is to house all the grains of my “translation” in a single, giant hourglass, where the rice kernels replace grains of sand. This project will take at least a few more years to complete…”

Heartbeat: Trong G. Nguyen Writes On Rice In His Library Series

It would be nice to say that the books you’ll find here are a little off the “Best of 2011″ beaten track on purpose – that, after pouring over the year’s more mainstream winners, these less-nodded-at tomes are overlooked gems that deserve more attention than they’re getting. But the fact is I have The Marriage PlotSwamplandia! and The Tiger’s Wife sitting right here on my desk, uncracked for no other reason than different books – the following choices among them – happened to catch my interest…

Book ‘Em: 10 Best Reads From 2011

“As someone who has written about ‘women in pain,’ women dealing with the death of a child, for example, I think that the premise of your question is problematic,” novelist Ayelet Waldman tells me. “All interesting stories are about someone in crisis – in ‘pain’ if you will. Who wants to read about happy people doing happy things? Story is conflict, conflict is story. The Corrections was about people in crisis. Does that fall into your category of ‘victim-literature?’ If it doesn’t, then I think you should take a good look at the question you’re asking, and consider whether it isn’t inherently sexist.”

From Chick Lit to Victim Books: Problems with the Woman’s Book Club

“There is a place for radical stances – Greenpeace with the whales, some of the anti-mountaintop-removal stuff going on in Appalachia. And you can actually sometimes succeed by taking the really hard-line position. But much more often, if you talk to the people doing the work and getting things done, it’s a gut-wrenching compromise every day. You have to cultivate extremely wealthy people. You have to cut very imperfect deals with industry.”

January’s EcoSalon Man We Love: Jonathan Franzen

No one would advocate handing material on complex subject matter to young students without teaching it. Try this on: Material regarding safe sex has unsettling terms and concepts that teenagers can’t “get” on their own. Best not to teach it. Doing so might create a (gasp!) uncomfortable classroom situation. Come on, people. Our job is to teach our children – to offer them context. This is not always a comfortable task – for them or us.

Teachers Teach, Parents Parent, But Leave Huck Finn Alone

For some people, a good book makes life better. It’s that excited feeling of discovery that usually hits somewhere around the first chapter – you’ve found a page turner, and you’re not going to stop until you’re finished. A good book means you get to step away from the computer, hang your feet over the edge of a chair, and lose yourself completely for as long as you can spare…

20 Must Read Books For Women

Images: Trong G. Nguyen, Paul Lowry, shutterhacks, david_shankboneeflonkhrawlings and Horia Varlan.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.