In which two Johns kick my a**

And no, the title is not meant in reference to prostitution or lavatory facilities. Rather, John Dryden and John Milton have somehow become the focus of one of my research projects. I have only a fuzzy idea of how this happened, as poetry is not my form of choice (don’t get me wrong, I like it just fine, love it even, but the novel is really my bag). But these are two rather wily coyotes of the 17th century, and I find that my future is soon to be full of such delightful treats as Absalom and Achitophel and Paradise Lost. Wish me luck! (gulp).

In other fun news, I changed the look of the blog yet again! Given the overcrowded state of my brain lately, I figured I would go with the minimalist look this time around. I think it’s really just wishful thinking and a subconscious reminder to myself that clean and sparse is actually nice and might be something I would like to apply to my apartment (then again, is it subconscious if I consciously recognize it?).

I’ve also been a terrible blogger lately. I’ve been sitting around telling myself how busy I am and that I don’t feel like blogging, but in the middle of my daily blog reading (you didn’t think I’d given up my favorite form of procrastination completely, did you?) I discovered that Emily, at Telecommuter Talk, wrote some very nice things about me and included me in a list of bloggers who make her day! Seriously, I think I even blushed when I read what she had to say. So I realized that I just needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and to sit my arse down in my chair and write something! As you have most likely noticed already, I cannot guarantee that what I write will have any sense of flow, but hey, it’s something.

So, the school front is busy, busy, busy, and the reading front is not necessarily progressing as quickly as I would like, but I have three books that I’m in the process of starting/finishing/dipping into when I get a chance.

  • The first is Fanny, Herself by Edna Ferber. I loved this book. Written in 1917 (or so), it is the most autobiographical of her novels, and it features a young Jewish girl growing up in a small town in the midwest (in fact, it’s set in Appleton, Wisconsin–my hometown–although it’s renamed Winnebago in the book). Part coming-of-age story, part description of a changing social/urban landscape, it’s a great read. I found myself really caring about the main characters, and it even spurred me into trying to write a personal essay. It also, however, had a rather deleterious effect on my bank account, as I was somehow then forced to order three more volumes of her short stories and her autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure. (I have no idea how these things happen!)
  • The second book I’m starting was a gift from my mother-in-law. She bought me The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King, which I’m sure many of you have heard of before. It’s about Mary Russell, a young woman who becomes Sherlock Holmes’s assistant after he retires from Baker Street. It’s really rather shameful that I haven’t read this series before as I used to be in charge of shelving the mystery section of the bookstore I worked in while I was living in the San Francisco Bay area. But no time like the present to remedy that situation. It’s quite fun so far, and the perfect thing to read before I fall asleep at night.
  • The third book that attacked me today was Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock. I’ve only read one Roth novel to date, and that was The Plot Against America. I loved it, but I’ve always been hesitant about starting another of his novels. But how could I resist this description?:

In this fiendishly imaginative book (which may or may not be fiction), Philip Roth meets a man who may or may not be Philip Roth. Because someone with that name has been touring Israel, promoting a bizarre reverse exodus of the Jews. Roth is intent on stopping him, even if that means impersonating his own impersonator.

The blurb on the back cover goes on to describe a cast of characters that includes “Israeli intelligence agents, Palestinian exiles, an accused war criminal, and an enticing charter member of an organization called Anti-Semites Anonymous.” In other words–I really want to read this novel. And if this goes well, I Married a Communist and American Pastoral are up next.

Ok, time to get my nose back to the grindstone and my knee back to the heating pad (I also decided to get my arse on the treadmill again while I was in the mood to accomplish stuff). And thanks to Emily, who really, really made my day. But a word of warning: if you don’t hear from me in a while, it could be because I’ve been knocked unconscious by Dryden and Milton…


12 responses to this post.

  1. Enjoy that research! It should be fun to read that poetry.


  2. Hope you get to read Ghost Writer, too, by Roth. It’s very good.


  3. I love Philip Roth! I’d never read his stuff until I became buddies with a professor who edits the Philip Roth Journal. Yep, I didn’t have a chance. First I read Patrimony (a memoir, although there’s controversy about how much Roth reveals about himself that is truly true) then moved on to The Human Stain and The Dying Animal. He blows me away every single time, and I can’t wait to get around to more of his stuff. I have Goodbye Columbus waiting on my shelves as we speak.

    If you like Roth, you might also like Paul Auster (can’t remember if I’ve ever seen you mention reading him). He uses himself as a character in his books sometimes. Lots of issues of identity, writer as detective, etc. Love him. Total literary crush.


  4. Oh, and I like the minimalist approach. I go through that sometimes and like to strip everything down to the least possible clutter.


  5. Dorothy: Thanks! I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone, so I’m really looking forward to the poetry research. And I hope that I’ll have interesting things to say about Dryden and Milton in the long run…

    LK: I’ll have to add that to the list! I’m keeping a record of the Roth books I want to try (and the order I want to try them in).

    Andi: I will definitely have to try Auster. I’ve never read anything by him, but there were several people I worked with at the bookstore who loved him. And I’m always looking for a new literary crush! 🙂


  6. So, if I praise you again tomorrow, will you write another great post like this one? ;-)! Good luck with the two Johns. I’m positive you’ll kick their butts. I haven’t read any Dryden, but I do like Milton. Hope you enjoy THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE. I still remember the magic of reading that book, and I read it about ten years ago!


  7. Posted by Myrthe on February 5, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I’ve never heard of Edna Ferber before, but Fanny, Herself sounds very interesting. I have a thing for American-Jewish writers, besides I lived in smalltown Wisconsin for a while (Eau Claire to be precise) for a bit, so that’s adding to my interest.

    My opinion of Philip Roth’s books ranges from being among my favorite books (The Plot against America) to ‘a complete waste of my time’ (Portnoy’s Complaint), so I tend to be a bit apprehensive about taking up his books. Recently I found Operation Shylock on my parents’ bookshelves when I visited them and I was tempted to borrow it. Eventually I didn’t, but I am still tempted to pick up this book eventually.

    I am looking forward to your thoughts on both these books.


  8. Emily: Thanks for the encouragement! One of my battles with the Johns occurs on Wednesday, so I can use all the luck I can get (I have to present something on Dryden at least, and I’m not sure where that’s going just yet). And any time you want to send praise my way… 😉

    Myrthe–Hooray for another Wisconsinite! I’ve been to Eau Claire many times on my way to Spooner WI for vacations. And do check out Edna Ferber. Besides Fanny, Herself, she also wrote the books So Big and Giant and plays like Show Boat, and Cimarron (all of which were turned into movies). I think Fanny, Herself is one of the more interesting of her works, but that’s just me! 🙂 And re: Roth–I think that the reason I hesitate before jumping into any more of his works and why I’ve drawn up a list. Some sound so compelling, and others….not as much. But I’ll let you know how Operation Shylock goes!


  9. I studied both of those works in 18th c. Lit a couple of years ago. The prof. let me write a parody of A and A using the backdrop of the Iraq war as a theme. Pretty fun. I liked Paradise Lost as well. Cool new look for your blog!


  10. Ian: I like the sound of that parody! Paradise Lost is up for next week’s reading, so I’m excited just because I think this is the earliest in the semester that I have ever finished the works that I’ll be writing on–although that forces me to find new ways/excuses to procrastinate…


  11. I’m reading the Beekeeprs Apprentice, too. Well, I’m working on it. I’m enjoying it but finding it a bit uneven–though perhaps that is due to it being a first novel in the series and she is trying to establish the storyline. Lately it has tended to end up at the bottom of the pile as I finish other books, but I’ll get back to it.


  12. Danielle: I feel terrible because I normally finish a mystery like The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in a matter of a few hours. And instead it’s sort of languishing by my bedside! But it’s enjoyable for those few moments before I fall asleep at night…I just wish I could give it more attention.


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