October 5, 2008

Weekend Miscellany

For some reason, this weekend has felt particularly miscellaneous--something about the combination of a clutter of family chores and projects (groceries, laundry, a trip to the library, a swimming lesson, a chess tournament) and a clutter of 'homework' (tests and reading responses to mark, handouts and worksheets and overheads and lecture notes to prepare, emails to answer, and of course books to read). And yet there's still time to look around a bit, and even read a little just for fun.

I've been really enjoying the back issues I ordered of The Reader. I got No. 17 (especially on women writers) and No. 27 ("The Reader Tries for Happiness"); highlights for me include, in No. 17, Josie Billington's "Why Read Mrs Gaskell Today?" and Jane Davis's "Letters from the Hidden Life" (primarily on reading George Eliot's letters," in No. 20, Raymond Tallis's "Concerning Saturday: Does Implausibility Matter?" (though I disagree with his criticisms), and in both, the "Ask the Reader" Q&A section. I've just downloaded No. 30 and look forward especially to reading Philip Pullman on "The Storyteller's Responsibility" and Tessa Hadley on "Crying at Novels" (download it for yourself here).

I just finished Rachel Cusk's Arlington Park. I'd like to write more about it than I have time for, as it raised many questions for me--some of them about myself, as it struck me as a very angry book, bitter even, and yet even as I chafed at how improper the anger seemed in some ways (given how privileged the protagonists all are), I sympathized with it too. Does the bitterness arise from the realization that social and material privilege make anger seem petulant (such spoiled children, her women seem!) even when there is genuine cause? Is the book satirizing its women for wanting even more than they already have, which is considerable? Or is it acknowledging dark truths about what lies beneath the surface of privilege? It's interesting how many of the critics quoted in the blurbs use words like "fearless" and "frank," as if the stories resonated with them as well, spoke out in some way they think others (other women in particular, I suppose) are too polite, too self-conscious, too shamefaced, or too repressed to do.

I'm reading Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children now as my "fun" book--alternating it, quite jarringly, with Clockers. The Emperor's Children is leaving me a bit cold so far.

I've ordered Auster's City of Glass for my detective fiction course. I conferred with a helpful colleague who has more 'postmodern' experience and expertise than I, and he says it has been very popular with students when he has taught it--including in his first-year class. Now I'm looking forward to the intellectual challenge of learning about it and making it work in my own class, especially since I know I can go next door and get ideas from him. I really appreciate all the suggestions I got while I was thinking about this. If I do the course again in 09-10, I may revamp the reading list altogether to incorporate more of them.

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