The Reading About Wallpaper Mini-Challenge

 

When I was a little girl, I’d fall asleep staring at the wallpaper. The tiny pink and blue flowers and the dots would blur together and when I crossed my eyes, it would jump out like a Magic Eye page. During the day, I never noticed the wallpaper. But as I lay in bed staring at it, the ordinary became, somehow, extraordinary. It was magic wallpaper to me some nights.

(Maybe I was already turning into a madwoman in the attic?)

I recently received a new comment on one of my old posts about a certain popular modern book. I know I am in the minority for not liking the book, but I still have a right to give my opinion on my blog in contrast to all those praising it. At any rate, this commenter criticized my not liking the violence in it and said,

If you’re not into it, go read a book about wallpaper or something.

My initial reaction was “Huh? Wallpaper?” Then I tweeted it, and Emily said she’d join me for the wallpaper readalong. She mentioned two choice short stories on the subject of wallpaper, including the first that probably comes to mind for all of you “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

That got me thinking about other short stories that are about the minutiae of everyday life, and I decided Emily was right: we need to celebrate the wonderful literature about ridiculous and seemingly insignificant things. Just like my childhood walls became “magical” to me when I gave them attention, stories about the normally unnoticed minutiae of the world reveal complexities that we take for granted the rest of the time.

Therefore, I hereby introduce The Reading About Wallpaper Mini-Challenge.

This is a mini-challenge to read a classic or literary work about something insignificant that becomes important (define that as you will). These are the quiet works that may not be full of action. These works shows that the little things of life may still have an impact on a reader in a powerfully written work. You could read a short story, a poem, a novel, an essay, a nonfiction book, a newspaper article, a picture book: anything.

If it’s not clear, I want to emphasize: you do not need to read about wallpaper specifically. Just read something about the normally unnoticed things of life.

This is a mini-challenge with very few rules. There’s no deadline. You can read one or one hundred works.  You can post thoughts on them, or not. If you post about it and you feel so inclined, leave a link in the comments to this post. If you don’t want to post about what you read, you can also leave your thoughts about what you read in the comments.

Here are some short works that come to mind. I have not read all of them, and I know there are obvious ones I’m missing. Feel free to add your own.

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. The first wallpaper story to come to mind. A woman begins to see things in her wallpaper.
  • “The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf.
  • “The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield. A fly gets caught in the inkwell.
  • “Small Fry” by Anton Chekhov. A clerk finds a cockroach.
  • “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin. A woman goes to town to buy stockings.
  • “A Piece of String” by Guy de Maupassant. A man finds a piece of string.
  • “A Fly in the Ointment” by D.H. Lawrence.
  • “The Last Leaf” by O. Henry. Johnsy watches the leaves fall from the vine out her window.
  • “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville. The phrase “I prefer not to” has power behind it.

My choice for this mini-project is the Virginia Woolf piece that Emily mentioned to me: “The Mark on the Wall.” I skimmed the first page and I can’t wait to give it my full attention when I get a chance!

Will you read about the wallpaper of life with me?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. This is clever. It gets at one of the essential things a writer can do. Lots and lots (and lots) of modern poems do little more than describing some object or moment or wallpaper pattern exactly right, or in some new way that no one ever saw before.

  2. This is the same inspiration I get when writing poems or doing some illustrations. I usually look at anything. Just staring for few seconds will start a glare producing an image. Depending on the image, I would either write a poem about it or sketch an image out of it. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing!

  3. What an excellent response! 🙂

    I’m listening to a book right now that definitely fits this criteria: The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerlof. It’s more like a series of interconnected stories and there is no real plot. Actually I dreamed the other day that I was telling someone about it and described it as a cross between Cranford and Beowulf, which actually is not a bad description! I can’t wait to review it.

    1. Amanda, what an interesting story. I thought Cranford would fit on this list wonderfully. And I just read Beowulf. Which I’m a bit blah about, but the Cranford connection makes this sound interesting!

  4. Ha! I like how you’re handling it. I have One: The Davenport by Jack Ritchie. It’s a weird one, a very short story.

    I might join in. The Melville story looks good.

  5. I recently read “The Mark on the Wall” in a Woolf collection so when I review it that can be my contribution!

    Another Katherine Mansfield example that applies is “The Doll’s House” about the miniature lamp that is from inside. Like Woolf, Mansfield is exquisite on the minutiae of life.

  6. I’m in! I’m not sure what I will read yet but it is a great idea.

    Talk about making lemonade out of lemons — I’m sure the person who left you that snarky comment didn’t expect you to turn it into something positive.

    1. Suzanne, as I said, I was all “huh?” and then Emily gave the suggestion, so I do have to give her the props for the positivity here…

  7. REBECCA! You are making my day, lady! (And believe me, after the week I’ve had that’s really saying something.)

    “We need to celebrate the wonderful literature about ridiculous and seemingly insignificant things” – yes, yes yes. I’m not sure what I’ll read for this but I’ll definitely read something, possibly several somethings. Looking forward to scouring the bookshelf when I get home.

    1. Emily, yeay! Well thanks for the idea to return snark with a challenge of it’s own. I’m getting excited as I think about the stories I have…

  8. Wow, that comment has gotten my back up! How rude!! What’s that saying? “If you can’t say anything nice. . . ” I think it’s fine to disagree, respectfully, but that was uncalled for. I’m not sure which book review you’re referring to, but just because it’s popular doesn’t mean you have to like it and you are CERTAINLY entitled to your opinion.

    Anyhow, the first thing that jumped into my mind was of course “The Yellow Wallpaper” (did you know they’re adapting it into a movie?) but now I’m going to put my thinking cap on and see what else I can come up with. My other thought was a Persephone (of course!) called “The Victorian Chaise-Longue.” I’m working on this. Even if I don’t participate I want to think up some more of these titles!

    1. Karenlibrarian, oh it’s okay, I thought of a nice way of responding and I feel a lot better about it now 🙂 I kind of wish she’d read the response I gave her….

      yeay for helping me think of titles! I did NOT know they were making it into a movie, but that always worries me at bit….

  9. As an unemployed librarian, I am always intrigued by a challenge. Here’s what I found on my to-read shelf:

    A Pound of Paper by John Baxter
    The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
    Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
    Perfume From Provence by Lady Winifred Fortescue
    Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson
    The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

    Plus I always have the Persephone Catalog at the ready, and here’s what I found there:

    The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
    The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Would any of these work? I realize not all of them are classics or literary works. I look forward to the other suggestions this post will generate!

  10. I just finished and wrote my review of Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann, which could be summed up as “two ordinary sisters go to an ordinary dance.” It’s the minutiae that make the book.

    1. Teresa, isn’t it great to focus on the minutiae now and then? I love it. Will read your review (I am SO behind on commenting these days).

  11. This is a great idea-I recently read a number of short stories by Elizabeth Bowen and a lot of them fit in with your idea-I hope to read a few more short stories by Colette along with some Irish Short Stories soon so I should be able to participate

    1. Mel u, I’m thinking of which James Joyce stories I’m going to reread for the Irish challenge — and I can think of a few that would work for this! I haven’t read Elizabeth Bowen may have to look her up!

  12. I love your response to that comment and I’d like to join you. I’m not sure what I’ll read, but hopefully I get to contribute at least one thing.

  13. Great idea! I’ve read “The Yellow Wallpaper” it is a fantastic book. It had so many layers and elements to it, it also help me find a talented author. I highly recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read it. I may also have to add the Virginia Woolf book to my TBR list.

    1. Jules, I need to reread The Yellow Wallpaper! And yes, I’m looking forward to the Woolf story — it’s not a book, just a short story, and I’ve found it online!

  14. I love this idea! I think I might read “The Yellow Wallpaper” and join you, since it has been so long since I have. 🙂

  15. Rebecca, I love this idea! Of course I can’t think of any examples on my own, but I love the way authors can do this — make an apparently small thing incredibly important to the characters (and thus to the reader). I’ll love seeing what people read for this!

  16. What a great idea, Rebecca! Thanks to the commenter, lol. I’d love to join. Do you have a timeline for this? I have Bartleby the Scrivener on hand. I know I’ve read many stories on the minutiae of life, but for some reason nothing comes to mind right now. I’ll get back to you when my brain starts working again.

    1. claire » nope, I don’t have a timeline. I was just going to read and post about it for as long as I feel like. I do hope you find a chance to join in.

  17. I’ll take this challenge – Yellow Wallpaper is on my reading list now. Haven’t read it in about 20 years, so it’ll be interesting to see what I think now.

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