Archive for March, 2007

My will is weakening…

After writing in yesterday’s post that I would return all of my books to the library, I turned around, looked at the dining room table, and felt my will power crumble. How can I return these books? I haven’t even looked at them! How many fascinating things will they tell me? I can’t just let them go without peeking at them. Perhaps I should let them hang around a bit longer, just in case I am struck by an absolutely dire need to read them….

Besides, who needs a dining room table?

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I Fancy a Fairy Tale…

I am still in the process of reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, but I wanted to write a quick post about my experience with it so far. I discovered the illustrated version at my local bookstore, and I’m reveling in the fact that I’m reading a thoroughly engaging fairy tale. I’ve had a rather rough couple of weeks lately, so last night I stopped at the bookstore and picked this up. Even though I had other things I should have been doing, I immediately dropped onto the couch and began reading….and I’m so glad I did. It has reminded me (in a way that other books have not been able to lately) of the reasons I love to read. Written in the form of a “fairy tale,” the book appears to be deceptively simple, but before I knew it I had become thoroughly engrossed and had to force myself to put it down so that I could get some writing done. It has been a genuine breath of fresh air and I’m looking forward to finishing it and moving on to another Gaiman book (which one? Neverwhere? Good Omens?). Or perhaps I’ll try China Mieville or George R. R. Martin. I have a feeling that I won’t have too much trouble reaching my goal of 5 books! It’s just a matter of deciding which ones to go with next! But I have to say, I do believe that Stardust has given my brain a desperately-needed recharge, and I woke up this morning with a new outlook and sense of resolution where my work is concerned; I do believe that my research papers are slowly beginning to transform–the amorphous clouds of abstract ideas are gradually taking on a more concrete form (although by saying this “out loud” I’m fully aware that I’ve tempted fate and everything will collapse tomorrow–but on the bright side, at least I’ve had a few moments of certainty).

I also treated myself to Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon and Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, so I’m well-stocked for the time being. I always like having a number of books on hand. It’s not like it’s difficult to get another book when I finally finish one, but having a backup pile is my version of a security blanket. But just in case the librarians at my local branch think that they’re going to have to go a week without seeing me make my walk of shame to pick up yet another arm/bag/carload of books–never fear! I’m also thinking of ordering Susanna Clarke’s collection of stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, as well as Liz Williams’s The Snake Agent (which is a blend of mystery and fantasy). But I think that this time I will return EVERY BOOK THAT I HAVE CHECKED OUT (well, with the exception of The Wizard of the Crow and Forgetfulness) as a means of clearing my plate and starting out anew (sort of).

So thanks to Carl for proposing the fantasy challenge–I now feel like I have something to cling to when the last few weeks of the semester start getting rough!

Fantastical finds

Because I am in the middle of two research papers (which trade off with each other when it comes to falling apart at the seams) and I am already miserably failing at my NYT reading challenge (with two more challenges waiting in the wings…) I have decided to say “to hell with sanity” and am about to join another challenge. However, before you think that I have indeed gone mad, I have to say, this challenge from Carl may be just what the doctor ordered. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit bogged down in my reading, and it’s beginning to feel like work, which is never a good thing. So I’m hoping that this fantasy challenge will bring me back to a genre I used to read (but haven’t for several years; although, as I say this, I realize how many books I have read that would fit within the rather loose confines of this genre). There are several options (or quests), but I think I’m going for 5 books in the general fantasy/mythology/folklore/fairy tale arena. The idea is to read the books within the following timeframe: March 26th (I’m apparently a little slow on the uptake, as usual) to June 21st (Midsummer Night’s Eve). I am not making a “set” list (since I apparently don’t do very well with them, even though I love to make them), but never fear, I will have a list of general books that I might draw from. Just looking for books on this list has reinvigorated me, and I’m really looking forward to this.

Here are my possibilities (so far):

  1. Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke
  2. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  4. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  5. His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (and perhaps the rest of the Temeraire series)
  6. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  7. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  8. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  9. The Scar by China Mieville
  10. Iron Council by China Mieville
  11. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  12. The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  13. Shadowmarch by Tad Williams
  14. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
  15. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

This is a start, at least, and we’ll see where I go from here. If anybody has any suggestions let me know. Years ago I read quite a few from the Robert Jordan series (and don’t really want to read further), the Memory, Thorn and Sorrow series by Tad Williams (which I loved although I couldn’t get into the Overland books), Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, etc. Now I just have to decide where to start! Apparent Dip has suggested that if I keep on entering these challenges, I’ll have to create a special challenge about taking on too many, but hey, a girl’s got to have some vices!

Reading Update: "North and South" by E. Gaskell

I’ve been reading Gaskell’s North and South for a nineteenth-century reading group in my department. It is the first work of Gaskell’s that I have read–I’ve seen the BBC adaptation of Wives and Daughters and long ago I tried to read Ruth but ended up being sidetracked by something else. Needless to say, I was very excited to be reading this book.

A little plot outline: N&S was initially written in serial form for Charles Dickens’ family magazine, Household Words. According to the introduction (written by Alan Shelston) in my Norton Critical Edition, Dickens and Gaskell disagreed about any number of issues with the story. Shelston notes that most of “the disputes are about matters of planning and length, but the correspondence between them invariably has a subtext with larger implications” (ix). One such point of contention was the title (which Dickens chose). Gaskell felt that the story’s title should reflect her belief that the novel’s core strength was situated in the main character of Margaret Hale, whereas Dickens’ title is drawn from the mouth of the character Nicholas Higgins, a working man in the novel, who declares: “And yet, yo see, North and South has both met and made kind o’ friends in this big smoky place” (67, Norton ed.). The phrase underscores Dickens’ interest in highlighting the different kinds of contrasts (i.e. polarities in region, class, gender, etc.) that appear throughout.

The novel begins by introducing the reader to Margaret Hale, a young woman who has spent the last nine years living in London with her aunt. Hale is about to return to her home in Helstone, an idyllic (perhaps overly so) hamlet in a southern county in England. Once there, a family crisis strikes, forcing her to move with her parents to a manufacturing town in the north (the crisis in question is her father’s inability to perform his duties as minister in the Church of England due to the fact that he has become a dissenter). The transition is a difficult one–both physically and mentally–as Margaret and her family feel like, and are perceived as, foreigners in a strange land. Underscoring this sense of “foreignness,” are the issues of language, meaning, and understanding that run throughout the story. Moreover, Margaret and her family find themselves in the midst of a town in turmoil, with workers “turning out” (going on strike) in protest against the manufacturers. Margaret finds herself divided: as an outsider, she is in a position to “see” both sides of the story, as she has connections among the working and manufacturing families. And yet, as a character, her ability to see is compromised by her own nascent opinions and general unfamiliarity with the economic and human interests involved in manufacturing. N&S is a novel of social unrest, and Gaskell does an effective job laying out the clashes between classes, regions, and the sexes as they attempt to locate themselves in the world around them.

My take so far: I’m only half-way through the book, but my very initial response was one of disappointment. Perhaps because of the novel’s initial serial format, I felt as if Gaskell had dropped me in the middle of a dining room conversation in which the shadowy outlines of people served as poor substitutes for more complicated, flesh & blood characters. However, by the time I reached the middle of the book, I found myself completely absorbed in the tale. In the beginning of the novel the pace feels rather slow, perhaps reflecting the fact that it begins in the south of England, in a sleepy little hamlet. But once the family moves north, things pick up and the characters really begin to take shape. Margaret is quite complex, and she feels very real to me. She’s often headstrong and opinionated and she seems to be perpetually speaking up just when she shouldn’t and vice versa. Gaskell’s description of Mr. Thornton (the manufacturer) is also compelling and I found myself so entangled with the story that I needed to read the last few pages of the novel in order to set my mind at ease where the plot is concerned. Knowing how how it all ends gives me some (necessary) distance from the plot, and now I feel I can sit back and comfortably enjoy Gaskell’s prose.

So far I highly recommend this novel. Granted, I still have 200 pages to go, so thing could change, but I think not. Gaskell’s hook was a bit long in coming (which seems to be a common issue among Victorian novelists), but now that I’m well into the story I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and I regret having to put it down. But I’ll keep you posted (whether you like it or not, I’m afraid)…

Thank goodness it’s almost Friday!

As I tried to recover from one of my many panic attacks last night (these are arriving ever more frequently whenever I look at a calendar), I realized that the week has somehow disappeared on me. I thought perhaps I had merely misplaced it beneath a pile of dirty laundry, but no, it turns out, the week is pretty much gone for good and I now have to buckle down and get a move on with my work. I need to stop researching and read what I have collected thus far before I do anything else. Because I am, I truly am, trying to work on things in a more timely fashion (plus, I really don’t have a choice as I have a number of smaller papers coming due, which my profs cannily inserted into the syllabus to get us sloth-like procrastinators in gear!). In addition to that, I’ve decided to take on some “fun” research for a book I want to write (yup, Queen Mother, I’m dipping my toes into the world of writing fiction again–although this time it won’t be a blatant rip-off of a Nancy Drew book, like the “book” I wrote in fourth grade). PLUS, I would like to finish another paper that’s been hanging over my head for a year now. All I can say is: BRING IT ON!

In the meantime, my “fun” reading has taken a hit, but I intend to remedy that once I get my schedule worked out. Middlemarch continues to draw me in, Forgetfulness is patiently waiting for me to continue, and Wizard of the Crow is continually taunting me from the top of the pile o’books in the living room. But with this change in weather (it feels like spring!) I’m feeling re-energized, so I’m confident it will all work out (because it has to, and that’s all there is to it).

But I’m really, really, really glad that tomorrow is Friday….

a little ego boost is always a welcome thing

Every once in a while I google my name to see if I’m important or not (I’m not, thank god). However, today I discovered that a paper I wrote a few years ago for my history M.A. (and which was published in the department’s journal) is being used as a reading assignment on my professor’s syllabus! I am on a syllabus! (And in a good way, thank goodness). This has totally made my day, for as many of my readers (at least, those who know me personally) may know, I was battling a MAJOR case of writer’s block last year, a block so severe that it led to my decision to rethink my career choice. I began to think that I was little more than a one-hit wonder (which is bad enough if you’re a rock star, it’s even worse when you’re a historian/undecided academic). So this little bit o’validation has made me feel like I can conquer the world. (I wish I could bottle this feeling so when I crash 5 minutes from now I can remember the elation.) I may only be a one-hit wonder, but now I’m a one-hit wonder on a syllabus!

And now, back to reality–before I take on the world, perhaps I should at least attempt to conquer my reading for this week’s class…

decisions, decisions…

Ok, so I could do the Brontës OR Proust. Which do I choose? Perhaps I should stick with Proust and read the Brontës “unofficially” as a personal challenge–which I should probably do anyway if I’m considering Victorian lit as a possible ph.d. choice. I’ll probably stick with Proust if only because I like saying his name…. I have until April 30th to decide for sure, so if anyone wants to weigh in on this and help me decide….I will probably listen politely and then COMPLETELY disregard whatever anyone recommends. (NOTE: please do not take offense if this happens–I’m known by all as one of the most stubborn women ever to walk the earth. I’m also notorious for listening to advice, shooting it down, and then appropriating the advice as my own “original” thought at a later date. Just ask Apparent Dip [aka Mr. Loose-Baggy-Monster-with-a-different-last-name-and-no-hair]. The poor man, in a fit of delirium he agreed to put up with that for the rest of his life….Perhaps he’s the one who should be given advice?)

Time to put on the thinking cap…(crap, I think I lost it!)