Today please welcome Lady Vowell Smith,
who blogs at The Snail on the Wall.
What's the meaning behind the name of your book blog?
The Snail on the Wall comes from Virginia Woolf's essay "Mark on the Wall." In the essay, the narrator sees something on the wall of her drawing room and then lets her mind wander on all the possibilities of what it could be: a leaf, a nail hole, or a crack. And this makes her reflect on some serious subjects, from war to history to life. At the end, the mark turns out to be nothing more than a snail. So, basically, one small snail on the wall can inspire some unexpected thought and conversation.
Tell us a bit about your book blog. What makes it unique?
I used to teach literature and writing to college students, so blogging is an outlet for the teacher in me. I use my blog as a place to share ideas about literature, from contemporary fiction to classics and poetry, and I hope it opens mental or emotional doors for people who may not have read a particular book, or may have even read something and not liked it. Rather than doing book reviews, I tend to explore personal or cultural connections with what I'm reading and writing about.
What genres do you write about most, and why?
When it comes to genres, I don't discriminate. One day, I might be writing about Modernist poetry, and another I might be posting about my kindergartener's favorite picture book. As a longtime student of literature and a former professor, I love what we've come to call the classics. So I can't resist trying to get people to share my passion for Victorian novels, the Romantic poets, or Elizabethan drama. But I mix it up at The Snail—you never know where the discussion might lead.
What's your earliest memory of reading?
I can remember reading my mother's cookbooks while she made dinner, and I wrote in the margins then as much as I do now!
What was the first book you read over and over, or the book you've reread the most?
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. From my first reading in college, the ambiguity of the ending hooked me: in drowning, does Edna accidentally let herself slip from life to death, or does she selfishly choose to leave her family behind and willfully commit suicide? I love that several different people can read this book, and have several different opinions. And I love that even the same person could read it at different stages of life and reach different conclusions.
Writing in books: Yes or hell to the no?
Absolutely yes—I believe books are meant to study and interact with. But I do practice more restraint these days. When I look back to my copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from my days as an undergrad, about half of the text is underlined. There's such a thing as too much.
Do you have any reading accessories you can't do without?
Sticky notes and a pen. I know I've enjoyed a book when it ends up a colorful mess of sticky notes on important passages that I want to return to, reread, and write about.
Finish the sentence: My bookshelves are...
Embarrassingly organized. I keep my books in sections by geographical region (British, American, world), some by genre (poetry has its own section, as do anthologies), and, of course, alphabetical within each section. I confess to being type A, below!
My TBR pile is...
Big and growing bigger all the time. Now that I've entered the blog world, I spend my time reading many, many other book blogs, which means I discover books I never would have known about before. Thanks, fellow bloggers!
What's a book that's changed your life?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. It's been on the bestseller list for a while now, and for good reason: it's a validating book for the one-third of us who are introverts, who feel like we spend much of our lives swimming upstream in an extroverted culture. (It's worthwhile reading for extroverts, too, because it will help you understand all those quiet people in your life.)
One book you like that no one else seems to, or vice versa?
Anything by Henry James: Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, etc. Most people don't like his style of using 100 words when you could use 10, but I feel love to get lost in his long, convoluted sentences.
To DNF or not to DNF?
Until recently, my type-A personality always made me a book finisher; even while hating a book, I would insist on finishing it so that I could offer educated reasons about my opinion. But after I hit the age milestone of 40 a few years ago, I've noticed that I can put a book down in the middle. That old cliché about life being too short is true.
If you could go to any literary destination, where would you go?
Although I spent a year in Dublin studying Irish literature, I didn't have the chance to visit England. British literature is my specialty and my passion, so I have a whole host of sites in England to visit, from London to the Lakes District.
How about non-book related hobbies? What do you do when you don't feel like reading?
Singing, playing the piano, listening to music of all kinds, acting (only occasionally), cooking, eating, raising my three kids, being active in my community.
What are 3 of your must-read blogs?
Thank you for joining us today, Lady Vowell Smith! Remember to check out Lady Vowell Smith's blog, The Snail on the Wall, and leave a comment or question.