December 14, 2009

Reading Slumps and Other Blogging Blocks

I've been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is just that it's that crazy end-of-term time. Not only are there this term's courses to wrap (which, thanks to a very late exam, I won't be able to do until next week), but next term's courses are looming, and any "extra" time I might usually take to do some posting is getting eaten up by seasonal events--with my son now in junior high, that means two holiday concerts, for instance, and then this weekend my daughter's piano teacher held an end-of-year student recital. With family and close friends all approximately 14 days away by Canada Post, there's also the effort (mostly cheerful, if sometimes a bit frantic) to get Christmas gifts organized and shipped off--a task I completed with one final order in to Amazon.Ca last night, hooray. Friday is the last day of school for the kids, so there's an incentive to be well ahead on, well, everything, before the madness family fun begins. And I'm working hard on another piece for Open Letters in between marking papers and fussing with Blackboard sites.

Another significant factor in the blogging slump is that I've also been in a bit of a reading slump. I finished Wolf Hall a while back and thought it was surprisingly good (I know, I shouldn't be surprised if a much-hyped award-winning book by a serious author is good, and yet ... more about that later). But as more and more smart and interesting reviews came out from other sources, I got discouraged about pitching in my own two-cents worth (if I had, I think the only thing I would have emphasized that didn't seem to get a whole lot of play is how intensely written a book it is, and how much, too, it seemed to take up an obliquely Scott-like interest in the neutrality of history, by which I mean that like Waverley, Wolf Hall evokes a moment of historical transition, particularly towards a more secular, political (dare I say, modern?) world, and makes the movement feel inevitable, avoiding either nostalgia or triumphalism, something played out on the pulses of people who manage to feel extraordinarily real--a task in which much contemporary historical fiction fails, about which, also, more in a bit). Anyway, I didn't review it, and since Wolf Hall, I really haven't read anything that I wanted to write about. Ian Rankin's The Complaints was OK, well-conceived, typically well written and plotted, but nothing special. Really, by the time I finished it, I had almost forgotten it wasn't a Rebus novel, so similar were the unifying issues and themes and also the central characters (hmm, a personally troubled cop who pushes the boundaries of his job? where have I read about that before?). Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent looked really enticing, but I didn't find the central love story very convincing, the politics seemed evasive, and I got annoyed with the interspersed tale-spinning (though I realize this idea of how stories are woven together was meant to be a key idea about the book). I tried Detective Inspector Huss for the second time and still didn't make it past Chapter Three because the writing (or at least the translation) was so wooden. And now I'm nearly finished Kate Pullinger's The Mistress of Nothing and I'm so disappointed in it that although I think I will do a full write-up of it soon, because it is, or could have been, pertinent to the thinking I've been doing about Ahdaf Soueif and Anglophone representations of Egypt (but The Map of Love is so much better) I'm not looking forward to the exercise. The gist of the review will be (unless something changes in the last 20 or so pages) that the book is far too thin, the characters underdeveloped and thus their actions desperately unmotivated, and the cliches in both plot and writing deeply distressing--not least because about two days after I ordered the book (which looked so perfect for me!), it won a major literary award here in Canada.

I think I may be wrong to wait for a book I want to blog about. For some time I disciplined myself to write up everything I read, just to get the practice and to see what I had to say as a reviewer (rather than an academic). Almost always, I did find something to say, and the mental challenge as well as the writing experience was usually exhilirating. And really good books, or even really interesting books, are few and far between. So I'm going to try to get back into that habit. But in the meantime, I'm going to try to finish that little essay for Open Letters, as I promised to have it ready by tomorrow, mark as many papers on Jude the Obscure as I can bear, and try not to panic that in less than a month, I have to give some kind of a lecture on Romanticism and sound as if I know what I'm talking about. Wish me luck!


Steven Riddle said...

Dear Ms. Maitzen,

It's important not to underestimate how much a personal review can mean. One need not maintain radio silence just because others have said things more profound or meaningful about a book. For me it is the personal touch, a person whose taste and views I've come to trust over a period of reading that are most persuasive in my own reading efforts.

In other words, please tell us anything! That's why we're out here reading.



Colleen said...

Yes, what Steven said.

Also, I like your writing so much that I read everything you write, no matter how unfamiliar the topic.

Jeanne said...

I wish you luck. I've glanced at many reviews of Wolf Hall, but felt no impulse to read it until you said you enjoyed it.

Rohan Maitzen said...

Thanks, y'all, for the encouragement. Now I'm thinking I just might write something about Wolf Hall after al. Jeanne, what surprised me was how much it was not like the kind of historical fiction I expected. There are no long expository passages giving context or quaint Olde Englishe historical details, or even back stories on characters, and yet I felt a strong sense of seeing and even smelling, sometimes, what the world was like. There are also no melodramatic highs or lows, but the novel had, I thought, a lot of momentum, from the instrinsic interest of the story and from the way Cromwell's character develops.

But first will probably be Mistress of Nothing. Sigh.

Dan said...

I second Steven Riddle and Colleen. I really want to read what you say about anything, but sometime soon about Wolf Hall. I've read an enticing review but can't get to the book yet and I would like to know what YOU think. I'm newly retired from another discipline and this is all new to me but I'm finding it wonderful.

Dorothy W. said...

I really like the discipline of writing about nearly everything I read. I often dread it slightly, and then once I've begun, I get into it and end up enjoying it and happy I started.