The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading

Phyllis Rose

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Phyllis Rose embarks on a grand literary experiment—to read her way through a random shelf of library books, LEQ–LES

Can you have an Extreme Adventure in a library? Phyllis Rose casts herself into the wilds of an Upper East Side lending library in an effort to do just that. Hoping to explore the “real ground of literature,” she reads her way through a somewhat randomly chosen shelf of fiction, from LEQ to LES.
     The shelf has everything Rose could wish for—a classic she has not read, a remarkable variety of authors, and a range of literary 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 those about aristocratic Austrians. California detective novels abut a picaresque novel from the seventeenth century. There are several novels by a wonderful, funny, contemporary novelist who has turned to raising dogs because of the tepid response to her work.
     In The Shelf, Rose investigates the books on her shelf with exuberance, candor, and wit while pondering the many questions her experiment raises and measuring her discoveries against her own inner shelf—those texts that accompany us through life. “Fairly sure that no one in the history of the world has read exactly this series of novels,” she sustains a sense of excitement as she creates a refreshingly original and generous portrait of the literary enterprise.

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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.

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Praise for The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading

"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. As Grace Paley said in another context, you’ll learn something." —Amy Bloom, author of Away

"Phyllis Rose calls her irresistibly charming journey through the LEQ–LES shelf an experiment in Off-Road Reading. But the lesson I drew from it was that no matter what bookish road you take, whether it’s a superhighway or a bumpy track that requires the literary equivalent of four-wheel drive, you’re bound to enjoy the scenery if you’re as interesting a reader as Rose." —Anne Fadiman, author of Ex Libris and At Large and At Small

"In her brilliant and original The Shelf, Phyllis Rose proves how much you can learn about yourself and the world just by reading any book you come across and thinking seriously about it." —Alison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Foreign Affairs

"The Shelf is a surprising and wonderful book—a magnificent treat!" —Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

"It’s always a pleasure to read Phyllis Rose. She ignites our imagination with her own intellectual curiosity, encouraging us to read widely and take chances." —Judy Blume, author of Summer Sisters

"Exhilarating, adventurous, original—Phyllis Rose’s The Shelf is a reminder of what reading and writing are all about." —Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

In the Press

Book Keeping with Phyllis Rose | Book Keeping
All my personal writing goes back to Montaigne. Although he was a modest man, who didn t think himself extraordinary in any way, he believed that everyone s mind was unique, and he wanted to leave a record of his own.
- Book Keeping

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About the Author

Phyllis Rose

Phyllis Rose is the author of A Woman of Letters, a biography of Virginia Woolf that was a finalist for the 1979 National Book Award; 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. She divides her time between Key West and New York City.

Phyllis Rose

© Sigrid Estrada
Phyllis Rose


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Available Formats and Book Details

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading
Phyllis Rose


Farrar, Straus and Giroux
May 2014
ISBN: 9780374261207
ISBN10: 0374261202
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 288 pages, 13 Black-and-White Illustrations/Notes/Index

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
May 2014
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9780374709792
ISBN10: 0374709793
288 pages, 13 Black-and-White Illustrations/Notes/Index
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Range: 7 and up

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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