Home > 2000, 21st Century, American Literature, Literary UFO, Miano Sarah Emily > Whirlwind of words, all about snow

Whirlwind of words, all about snow

Encyclopaedia of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano 2003. Not available in French.

Encyclopaedia of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano is a quirky little book about snow, with articles going from Angel to YHWH, all somewhat related to snow. Some are short biographies, some are literature, some explain a word or a concept. It’s really hard to describe. The book is well constructed, the style is poetic, the content literate. All literary techniques are used here: classic narrative in the short stories (WINK AND WHISTLE), verses for poems (NAGA NAGASHI YO), dialogues, epistolary fiction for the letters between Butterfly and Moth (HARMONY), theatre (POLAR-ITY). For some articles, the layout is original, bringing back poets like Appolinaire or writers like Raymond Queneau.



Some articles or passages have footnotes to enforce the idea of encyclopaedia, like here:

I could smell him before he even got there. Not because of potency but because of extreme familiarty—I saw Marc every day at school, and oftentimes after school, and his cologne always travelled with him. It was a fresh cool water smell that reminded me of scuba-diving and Acapulco, though I’d never experienced either.*


* The male Danaide butterfly travels from one flower to another, collecting scents in a pocket on each hind leg until he creates the ultimate perfume to attract a female.

Miano_Snow The general impression is as disorienting as being in a middle of a snow storm, flakes flying around you. Each article linked to snow plays its part to create the global snowy atmosphere. It’s lovely, artistic but not exactly agreeable. Snow is cold, remember? I liked parts of the books, was nonplussed by some articles, and totally lost in others. I enjoyed the short stories but struggled with the rest. Clearly, I lack the cultural background to understand everything. The book’s variety resembles snow: you can lose yourself in a blizzard, be swallowed by an avalanche, slide slopes on skis or on a sled, build a snowman or have a lot of fun with snowballs. Snow can bring peace, as its blanket muffles sounds like nothing else and early morning in a city covered with snow has an eerie and peaceful sound. Snow is stressful when you have to drive. Snow is fun when you’re a child or a skier. The book mirrors all these emotions through the various themes and forms of its articles.

If Encyclopaedia of Snow belongs to a specific literary genre, I don’t know which one it is. It unsettled me because I was left behind, lots of time. You know the feeling of contemporary art exhibitions? It’s supposed to be art since it was chosen by more knowledgeable people, you stare and you wonder what the hell the artist meant by that thing. I usually feel stupid in front if these works of art. Well, I also felt stupid reading Encyclopaedia of Snow. I still don’t know what Sarah Emily Miano meant to achieve with this book. It’s been carefully put together but what does she mean by it? The next question is: does a book have to mean something or can it just be beautiful and nothing else?

This is the Humbook Stu picked for me last Christmas and I thank him for the challenge. This is not a book I would have chosen by myself. But like when I read Sleeping Patterns by J.R. Crook, I liked that it forced me to follow another literary path, for a change.


  1. May 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Wondeful isn’t it a truly unique book the nearest to Sebald in style I’ve seen not hard she was at UEA the same time as he was


    • May 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      I’ve never read Sebald. He’s not as famous in France and he’s on my daunting list.


      • May 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

        Sebald is strange think he is more famous in English than even in his homeland of Germany but he did live over here for a long time


        • May 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm

          That’s what Caroline says. He’s translated into French, though. I still have to find a German writer who thrills me. I loved several Austrian books but not German ones, so far. I probably haven’t read the right ones.


  2. May 10, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    This looks like a fascinating book and a very experimental work, Emma. Glad to know that you read it though it was outside your comfort zone. I love that cover. I loved the question you asked on whether a book should mean something or whether it can just be beautiful.


    • May 11, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      Experimental is probably the right word for it and yes, it’s out of my comfort zone.
      I’m not so keen on the cover, I find it a bit cheesy. (as often with American/UK covers)


  3. Brian Joseph
    May 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Very odd indeed but certainly interesting.

    I think something like a book can be beautiful in and of itself without a higher meaning. the question is of course is : does this deserve to be called “beautiful”?


    • May 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      I wonder how she got the idea to write this book.

      I don’t think it deserves to be called beautiful, at least not for me. My idea of beautiful in paintings or music is that you shouldn’t need to be highly educated to see or hear it. It should come out of the work of art naturally. Perhaps this perception is naïve and comes from someone whose knowledge of abstract thinking is too thin to appreciate beauty in that.
      I still wondered if it aimed at being a literary Jackson Pollock.


  4. May 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    This sounds like something I would like. When I’m in the right frame of mind, that is.
    I’ll have a look. I see you’re reading Dos Passos. I’m stuck on page 120 – I had to abandon it a while ago and don’t really get back into it now but it’s stunning.


    • May 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      I think you’d like it and you’e right, it’s better to be in a suitable frame of mind to fully appreciate it.

      I’m page 85 of the Dos Passos, I read it slowly, even if I have a French copy. Thank God the translation is good. I’m not sure I could have stood another poor Folio translation in a row. (the ones of A Rage in Harlem and Breakfast at Tiffany’s were dreadful)


  5. May 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    I was about to ask how you came to read this, but you answered my question at the end of the post.


    • May 11, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      You wondered about my picking this because you sensed it wasn’t my usual choice?


  6. May 20, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    The cover isn’t great, very pastel, very tasteful.

    Hm, not sure. What did you love about it Stu? Did you write a review also?

    I don’t think there is anything wrong at all about a book simply being beautiful, being art. This sounds more like poetry than anything else, an evocation of moods perhaps, but clearly not one that worked for you.

    Dos Passos with a bad translation would be unreadable. I’m glad yours is good.


    • May 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm

      It’s the kind of cover they use for women writers…I’m sure they’d have one with a black and white picture of a snowy town or lanscape if that book had been written by a man.

      If you mean that this book is like a collection of poems, it’s not. There are short stories among the articles. I don’t really know how to describe it.


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