Archive for October, 2007

Quick update

Well, I’m back from my visit with the cutest nephew in the world (and his parents). And as Dorothy has pointed out on her blog, I feel like I need a weekend to recover from the weekend! I did no reading, so yesterday and today have been dominated by an attempt to catch up. I just might be able to, but it will mean postponing my gothic novel post until tomorrow (which I will then pretend was the plan all along, as it is suitable for Halloween).

On the reading front: I’ve finished Waverley by Walter Scott and quite enjoyed it, despite the fact that the main character was rather blah (although Georg Lukacs has a theory about why this is necessary–it ties into Scott’s conception of the need for some kind of translation when it comes to historical period–you need a character who can translate/mediate the past for the present audience and as a result, you don’t want a character who is too much of any one thing). But I love novels that grapple with how we conceive of and present history (or participate in myth-making), so Scott is right up my alley–even if it does take quite a bit of patience to make it through the first hundred pages or so!

In addition, I’ve been sidetracked by an overwhelming desire to abandon all of my daily course reading in favor of re-reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda.  I’m working on writing a paper about the novel for one of my courses, and I’m so excited about it that I have to remind myself that other work has to be finished along the way.  In addition, Susan at Pages Turned mentioned she was starting it only a day after I committed myself to the paper topic, and now we have something of a read-along!  I recommend checking out Pages Turned to see links to others who have been seduced by Eliot’s genius.  And please do join the fun.

Off I go to finish Great Expectations!

On the Road Again…

Well, I guess I can’t say “again” as I really haven’t been on the road at all lately.  But tomorrow morning I’m off for a mini-break weekend visit to meet my new baby nephew!  Excited isn’t the word.  Apparent Dip and I are looking forward to spending time together after a rather crazy week (we love road trips, which is good, as we tend to move across the country way too often it seems).   And I’m really just looking forward to getting out of the area for a bit and enjoying a change!  I’ll be back Monday with a post on three gothic novels, so stay tuned!

Blast from the past?…..um, perhaps not

This week a very large package arrived on my front doorstep. My parents have just moved out of the house they lived in for 31 years and they put together a box of things to send me. It’s a veritable time capsule. I was particularly please to be reunited with a shoebox full of pictures and a photo album containing programs, newspaper articles, and pictures of me as a ballet dancer (I was a super cute cat in Peter and the Wolf, I have to say).

And then….

Then I found the bad poetry. This was followed by the notes for my “book” (this was a second “novel,” actually, as I had already written one 27 page tome in 4th grade). And then I came across a really really bad paper I wrote about literacy and the workplace (huh?).

But I saved the best for last….the journals. Three to be exact. Three crappy notebooks filled with the most embarrassing sentiments (and horrible spelling) that my earnest little teenage heart could imagine. Here are some of the things I realized about myself:

  • I had a paper and pen fetish early on
  • I apparently thought that Kelsey was my favorite name (my early diary entries begin, “Dear Kelsey…”)
  • I babysat a lot and thought it was something worth writing about
  • I thought waaaaaaaaaay too much about boys
  • I had a lot of teenage angst (hence the really, really, really bad poetry)
  • I am the queen of mixing “deep thoughts” with utterly banal comments about what I did during the day.
  • I loved writing lists even as a teenager

To demonstrate this last point, I’ll share one entry with you.  The idea for the following “self-improvement” list apparently came from a series of books that belonged to the little girl I was babysitting. I had read one of them because I was bored, and thought that creating a list like one of the main characters would be helpful. Without further ado, here it is:

My Self-Improvement List

  1. My looks–not my physical looks so much as how I present myself.
  2. What I wear–speaks for itself [Really? It does? Shouldn’t this be part of #1?]
  3. Pay close attention to guys [what the hell is that all about? Judging from the rest of the content in this notebook, that’s all I did!]
  4. Sense of humor–have one
  5. Be a good sport–lighten up
  6. Be confident–I like myself, I like myself, I like myself… [I love how this one comes after I point out things I need to “improve”]
  7. Be myself–don’t try to be someone else

That’s my list so far. I’m sure there’ll be more later on.

And to think, this is the least embarrassing entry….oy. At least my spelling got better.

Warning…my blogging ADD has struck again!

I apologize for the shifting nature of this blog, but I get bored very, very easily, and changing the look of the blog is soooooo much easier than rearranging the furniture at home (or moving).  Besides, I was starting to feel a little caged in by the number of columns of my last blog, so I’m shifting to a two-column approach.

Hate it?  Love it?  Don’t worry, it will probably change again in the next month.

Russians, war, and literature

Russian novels seem to be a hot topic lately.

A month ago, there was a brief story about the publication of the “original” version of Tolstoy’s epic, War and Peace. For those of you who have read this blog, you know that I was anxiously awaiting the most recent Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of the novel (and let me tell you, its beauty warms my shallow reading heart: it’s a fat book, with rough-cut pages and a pretty cover–once the semester winds down a bit I plan on delving into it and providing a few posts on the translation itself). I’m interested in this “original” version, not because I believe it is the version Tolstoy planned to publish, but I’m interested in it as a draft and as a piece of scholarship (apparently it is the result of one Russian scholar’s painstaking research and attempts to piece it together).

However, there appears to be a bit of a brouhaha over the whole affair. The Guardian has an article about it: clickety-click here for more.

In addition, Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading posted a link to an interesting article in the London Review of Books about Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate and the impact that Tolstoy’s War and Peace had on Grossman.  I definitely have Life and Fate on my list for the Russian Reading Challenge (starting in January), and now I want to add Anthony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova’s non-fiction work about Grossman, A Writer At War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945, to the list.  For a review of Beevor and Vinogradova’s book, check out A Quarterly Conversation’s review here.

When to let go…

(Alternatively titled: “Would You Like a Little W(h)ine with Your Cheese?” I apologize for the navel-gazing, but I’m running up against some deadlines, and I haven’t had time to formulate any reading-content posts.)

I’m sure there were many times throughout my childhood when my parents sought to disabuse me of the notion that being an adult was fun (In fact I know they did, but as a kid I knew everything so I didn’t really listen to them). My parents were always very conscientious about making sure that I was given the right to make a “choice,” but really, the choices seemed so limited (continue with ballet or quit? hot fudge sundae or mint chocolate chip ice cream?), and I was always anxious for the future, which my childish imagination supposed would be something akin to the perfect autumn day: all golden leaves, crisp air, and a sense of freedom.

Yeah. Then I grew up.

Or, I should say, I became older and increasingly conscious of what it really means to be an adult. Bills. Responsibilities. Freedom and choice exist, but so does the darker underbelly of those golden words: regret.

I cannot remember a time when I haven’t felt the burden of regret. At the ripe young age of 31 I feel like so many of my decisions have led me down paths I didn’t want to go down, and recently, I’ve almost crippled myself with guilt (I was raised Catholic, you know) for the choices I have made. The result is that I’m either anxiously backpedaling or trying to jump into an idealized future. The end has been my focus for so long, that I almost can’t remember what it’s like to pay attention to the journey. Very rarely do I sit still long enough to enjoy living in the present.

This past weekend Apparent Dip went on a day-long field trip, leaving me to spend the day by myself with my endlessly whirring thoughts and cats (dangerous combination, I know). The result, however, was the not-so-brilliant epiphany that I am tired. I’m tired of running back and forth, jumping from plan to plan. I need to just “be.” To allow myself to be happy with where I’m at in the present, to stop regretting, and to let go. And letting go? Not so easy for control freaks like myself. However, I think I’ve come to a point when I have to realize that I have done all I can…and I need to let go. I need to realize that those roads that I abandoned mid-way, or ignored altogether may have been better roads…or they may have been dark and choked with brambles. I can’t know anymore, and what’s more, I don’t want to know, because it’s time to pay attention to the road that I’m actually on, the one that allows me to live in the same city as my husband, that has given me the chance to take courses that are challenging, that makes it possible for me to see family and friends a bit more often. This road may be a bit uncomfortable at times, but really, what road doesn’t have its share of potholes?

The Road Not Taken (1915)
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sophia Tolstoy

Sorry again for an unplanned absence, but I came down with a fever on Tuesday and spent most of Wednesday sleeping on the couch with my cats (they were keeping an eye on me). But now I’m back and I wanted to share a book that I discovered while meandering through the bookstore the other day:

stolstoy.JPG

It’s a lovely book of Sophia Tolstoy’s photographs combined with excerpts from her diary and it offers a surprisingly intimate glimpse into the home life of one of the greatest novelists of all time. It practically jumped into my hands and I had to buy it. It reinvigorated my interest in reading The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy that Apparent Dip bought me years ago on one of his used bookstore tours. And it just makes me that much more impatient for the Russian Reading Challenge!

Then I made my way into the history section and discovered that Harper Collins has re-released all three volumes of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

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It has to be a sign! (Yeah, a sign that I really shouldn’t go to bookstores for a while if I want to leave with my wallet reasonably intact…sigh).