June 30, 2008

Recent Reading

Well, Adam Bede, of course...but besides that, I have been doing a bit of other reading lately. First, though, I have to confess that my plan to work through A Suitable Boy has foundered. I don't blame the book, which I was basically enjoying, though I do think the problems I reported before with unfamiliar vocabulary and so on did impede my progress. It just turned out to be the wrong time to start it up, what with my summer course and a chaos of other things. I'm sure the right time will come, but for now it's back on the shelf ripening.

In the meantime, in between the final readings for my course ('A' is for Alibi and Indemnity Only--two quite different revisions of hard boiled detective conventions from feminist points of view) I've been puzzling over ways to tweak my reading list for 'Mystery and Detective Fiction' for next winter, in aid of which I've reread P. D. James's A Taste for Death and Cover Her Face, either of which I thought might be a good replacement for An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. I'm not convinced, however. A Taste for Death is very good, and Kate Miskin provides some of the same counter-perspective on the Yard (though from the inside) that Cordelia Gray gives us in her novel. But it's quite long, and my experience is that in a course drawing large numbers of non-majors it's best not to get too ambitious with the reading load. (Our one fairly long one will continue to be The Moonstone, which is just too good, and too significant in the history of the genre, to pass over.) Cover Her Face is much shorter, but (as James herself remarks about it in her autobiography) quite conventional: Dalgleish emerges as a character with remarkable clarity and specificity, but I don't see how I could make much of the novel for teaching purposes. So I think Unsuitable Job will probably remain. I also read the second of Alexander McCall Smith's series "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency." I had enjoyed the first one, and I liked this one too, but I can't see my way to assigning it in class. I have had a couple of other suggestions from readers here that I have yet to follow up. What I'm most interested in (in case anyone has further ideas) is something fairly recent (post 1990, at least) that does something new and interesting with the genre of detective fiction. There are many good mystery writers around, but I'm not aware of any particularly new styles or approaches. I'm also looking for something that might go in the gap between The Maltese Falcon (1930) and Unsuitable Job (1972). If you could pick out one important style or writer from the 1950s or 1960s, who would it be?

I also fairly recently finished Sarah Waters's Affinity--not a new release, but the only one of her novels I hadn't yet read. I'm a huge fan of Fingersmith (my most-recommended novel of the last 5 or 6 years), and I also admired Night Watch. Affinity is good too--but for me, not as compelling a read as Fingersmith, maybe because so much of it turns on spiritualism, which (to a dedicated skeptic such as myself) is intrinsically, well, silly, rather than suspenseful. The purely human ingenuity, deception, and malevolence that drive Fingersmith carry far more conviction.

I've also been re-reading Ahdaf Soueif's In the Eye of the Sun. Sadly, my conference proposal comparing it to Middlemarch was rejected, and without any further information than that the conference organizers had received a large volume of proposals--there must still be some reason why mine was not among the chosen ones! (Side note: in this case at least, peer review was far less helpful than the input I received when I aired some of my ideas in blog posts!) But there are other venues, and I'm genuinely interested in thinking through the comparison, so as my summer teaching wraps up (terms papers still to come in and be marked, mind you), I'm trying to get back on track.

I've also rented Season 2 of The Wire. This may undermine my reading plans, but I have a cold and the kids are not in school or camps this whole week, so by the end of the day it may be as much as I can do to lounge and stare.


Robby Virus said...

God, I love "The Wire". It's very novelistic in its writing, and gets my vote as possibly the best written TV series ever. Oh, and don't stop after season 2...seasons 3 and 4 are even better!

Rohan Maitzen said...

I'm definitely glad I stayed with it past the first few episodes of Season 1, which frankly fell a bit flat given the hype around the show. I'm finding Season 2 more interesting in part because it ranges further away from the "cop show" genre. I like the widening array of characters, too. There are actually women in it who aren't strippers! The show is also hugely quotable--except if I quoted the lines I liked best anywhere I might be overheard, I'd be in big trouble...