A thin thread

“Because,” he said, “I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame.  And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.  As for you,—you’d forget me.”--Jane Eyre, chapter 23
Spotted whilst watching the wonderful new film of the book on American flight 596 from Buenos Aires to JFK, confirmed via e-text. Compare to:
And they went further and further from her, being attached to her by a thin thread (since they had lunched with her) which would stretch and stretch, get thinner and thinner as they walked across London; as if one's friends were attached to one's body, after lunching with them, by a thin thread, which (as she dozed there) became hazy with the sound of bells, striking the hour or ringing to service, as a single spider's thread is blotted with rain-drops, and, burdened, sags down. So she slept.--Mrs. Dalloway.

You never know when you'll find a footnote.

Google Coincidence

The other night, I was re-reading Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid.” A provocative and funny title for a really thoughtful piece on how our thinking may be changing—really, profoundly changing—with our increasing reliance on computers. I really love that essay for the care with which it weighs the good and the bad of Google. Carr writes: “The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes.” I feel that profoundly, too. Much as I love the hours and hours that I’ve logged in the stacks and in the reading rooms of great libraries, it’s exciting and a lot easier to find the stuff so fast.

I turned from Carr to Woolf, to reread her essay “The Russian Point of View.” I’m rereading The Common Reader in its entirety for my talk in Uruguay and for the Dalloway edition. As I read, I come upon one of Andrew McNeillie’s footnotes from 1984: “This reference has resisted all efforts at discovery.”

It’s a wonderful footnote and one I’ve long admired. McNeillie is a fabulous editor and, in days before Google, he tracked down dozens and dozens of allusions, translated Greek, and generally showed the seams of Woolf’s work so that scholars like me could trace her sources and hear her allusions. And, this note, to a bland quote from one of Chekhov’s over 100 stories, seems fair: it’s the only time in the whole book when McNeillie just gives up.

So, of course, I typed the phrase “such conversation as this between us would have been unthinkable for our parents” into Google. First hit? “Anton Chekhov, A Doctor’s Visit, trans. Constance Garnett”—of course, the very translation Woolf used. Second hit? Virginia Woolf, 


Leslie Stephen, Catskills Comic

Last week, I read (Woolf’s father) Leslie Stephen’s essay on Clarissa as part of my ongoing quest to figure out the relationship between Richardson’s novel and Woolf’s. I found some wonderful stuff, including Stephen’s surprising (to me) wit. In fact, if you were to look over my reading notes, you might mistake them for some weird brand of literary stand-up. I give you some of my favorites:

On Richardson’s moralizing
“indefinite twaddle of a superior kind” (83)

More on Richardson’s moralizing
“he has succeeded in thoroughly forcing upon our minds, by incessant hammering, the impression which he desire to produce” (116)

On a priggish male character
“He is one of those solemn beings who can’t shave themselves without implicitly asserting a great moral principle” (103)

On Richardson’s gift with women characters
“Richardson’s sympathy with women gives a remarkable power to his work. Nothing is more rare than to find a great novelist who can satisfactorily describe the opposite sex” (82)

[pause. Wait for it.]

“Unluckily, his conspicuous faults result from the same cause. His moral prosings savour of the endless gossip over a dish of chocolate in which his heroines delight” (83)

On Pamela
“distinctly the words of his works—of which it is enough to say at present that it succeeds in being neither moral nor in amusing” (86)

On the thoroughness of his novels
“We get the same sort of elaborate familiarity with every aspect of affairs that we should receive from reading a blue-book full of some prolix diplomatic correspondence” (91)

And, the best one: On reading Clarissa
“readers…may find the prolixity less intolerable than might be expected” (94)

Sweetheart, I feel the same about you…

“I do not know that I am happiest when alone; but this I am sure of, what I am never long in the society of her I love without a yearning for the company of my lamp and my utterly confused and tumbled-over library.”—Lord Byron, from More’s Life, quoted in Leslie Stephen’s Hours in a Library

If, like me, you love quotations about books and libraries, you’ll find a treasure trove in Stephen’s ten-page album of quotations, which opens his collection of literary essays.

The Incomparable Max (Beerbohm) on the BL

Searching for a quote on tweeds, I re-read the wonderful “Enoch Soames” (1919) last week. It’s still a great story. Here’s a taste of the dialogue:
--The reading room?
--Of the British Museum. I go there every day.
--You do? I’ve only been there once. I’m afraid I found it rather a depressing place. It—it seemed to sap one’s vitality.
--It does. That’s why I go there.

Re-reading, Richardson & Lawrence

At the moment, I’m not reading anything new. Instead, I’m re-reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa for the Dalloway edition and re-reading Women in Love for teaching. Both are such intense experiences.

I read Clarissa in the first weeks of graduate school, in Patricia Spacks’ 18th century novel class. We used to hole up on the big orange blocky chairs at the back of Cross-Campus Library with the huge Penguin edition and read for hours, checking in with each other: “What letter are you on? Are you at volume 4 yet?” I remember the book as a hazing ritual. I didn’t like it or understand it that well. It was a torture to me, though I remember loving—and writing my seminar paper in part on—Anna Howe, Clarissa’s best friend.

Now, reading it a second time (on my Kindle, not on this massive Penguin that gives me flashbacks), I am amazed, again and again, by how sadistic it is. Knowing how brutally it will end, it’s hard to understand the depths of Richardson’s depravity, setting up this appealing, annoying chatty girl for humiliation after humiliation.

But then, it is so amazingly well-written. It’s just incredible how Richardson manages to convey the voices of writer after writer. When Lovelace’s uncle pops in with his tired sermonettes and aphorisms, it’s fantastic comic relief. So the writing—and my own project on Woolf—keeps me going even as I feel more outrage and wonder than ever at how cruel Richardson is. It is an amazing document and I don’t expect to ever read it again in this lifetime.

Women in Love, by contrast, I might read many times more, but reading it, too, brings back such memories. I was working on Lawrence—on the essays he wrote alongside Women in Love—when I fell in love with my husband and so much of that urgent sincerity in Gudrun and Ursula feels like myself to me (for better and for worse, as I’ve often recognized).

I’m off  to Macy’s tomorrow for some purple and orange tights. It’s just not right to teach Lawrence with legs entirely clad in black.

(Janeite Deb is reading Clarissa for the first time at her mostly Janeite blog: worth a click!)

In Praise of Libraries

It's been a long time. There have been highs and lows. But that's for another day. For now, some Wyndham Lewis. This quotation, about a curmudgeon's private library, comes courtesy of John Whittier-Ferguson's paper at MSA12 (the Modernist Studies Association Conference) in Victoria, B.C.:
This was 1939, the last year, or as good as, in which such a life as this one was to be lived. Parkinson was the last of a species. Here he was in a large room, which was a private, a functional library. Such a literary workshop belonged to the ages of individualism. Its three or four thousand volumes were all book-plated Parkinson. It was really a fragment of paradise where one of our species lived embedded in books, decently fed, moderately taxed, snug and unmolested.--Self Condemned (79)
Wonderful. I love the Lewisian misanthropic soupcon of paranoia added on to the praise of the library: the library in 1939 as a tiny little paradise, under siege from all sides. Wonderful.

Sissinghurst, again

Having loved the op-ed on Sissinghurst earlier this summer, I’m writing a review-essay on Adam Nicolson’s Sissinghurst, a very engaging book about his life as a donor-tenant on the NT site. How engaging is it? As an aristocrat who doesn’t use his title and who lives as a tenant in his grandma’s castle, Nicolson has a wonderfully wry sense of humor about other lords, as here, in a description of a National Trust committee meeting:
When a man called John Smith was proposed as a member, the chairman, Viscount Esher, said ‘I suppose it is a good thing to have a proletarian name on the Committee—anyone know him?’ ‘Yes,’ said the earl of Euston, ‘he is my brother-in-law.’
As the descendant of a long, long line of New Hampshire Smiths (I have the forehead to show it), I loved this.

TBR Pile, Virginia Woolf edition

On my table are: Yeats poems. Le Bal du Comte d’Orgel. (which I think very interesting); Susanne et le Pacifique: (also interesting); the Adelphi; Chaucer; Lord Willoughby de Broke’s autobiography (sporting); a good many Elizabthans plays which I’m going to write about and—mere daily trash: Joan of Arc [Saint Joan]: I can’t see why people are moved by this: interested, instructed—yes; but I cant squeeze a tear. I like Shaw as a figure: he seems to be lean, lively, destructive and combative. But Lord! leave me on a desert island with his lays, and I’d rather scale monkey puzzles.” (L 3.130; 4 September 1924; to Jacques Raverat)

Americans in Paris

I have been gobbling The Ambassadors as if it’s a bodice-ripping page-turner. I’ve never had a Henry James phase and I still find him difficult, still find that there are whole paragraphs I have to re-read and even the occasional page that I just let go as too baroque for me to comprehend.

At the same time, I love Strether, the childless widower (neither wife nor dead son are very convincing ghosts—this is distinctly queer James) in his fifties, sent to Paris to bring a young man home. I just cannot get enough of nervous, cautious Strether, who edits a little magazine funded by the young man’s mother back home in Woollett, Mass. Strether falls in love with Paris, just as the young man has, and both men must figure out how to negotiate the charms of Paris as against the formidable powers and cash money represented by Chad’s mother.

In this scene, Chad tries to justify his long absence from Woollett:
He broke out as with a more helpful thought. “Don’t you know how I like Paris itself?” 
The upshot was indeed to make our friend marvel. “Oh, if THAT’S all that’s the matter with you--!” It was HE who almost showed resentment. 
Chad’s smile of a truth more than met it. “But isn’t that enough?”           
Strether hesitated, but it came out. “Not enough for your mother!” Spoken, however, it sounded a trifle odd—the effect of which was that Chad broke into a laugh.
Not enough for your mother indeed.

It’s wonderful when Henry James makes you laugh out loud.

The Kindle, Again

My dad surprised me with a Kindle for my birthday about six months ago. I was thrilled, but, truth be told, I haven’t used it nearly as much as I planned to. I downloaded a raft of free classics right away and even re-read This Side of Paradise on the PATH train.

To be honest, however, the prospect of reading Kant on the Kindle on the morning commute is a little bit of an uphill climb. I haven’t done it.

Fitzgerald, to be sure, is less of a challenge and I fared better with him. Still, I found the Kindle made my novel reading a little more scattered—somehow, and in spite of that %-read sign down below, I found it more difficult than usual to keep track of the plot and where I was in the arc of the story. On the plus side, however, I was really tickled when I belatedly remembered there had been some business about a taxi in the book and could simply search “taxi” and find each appearance of the word. It’s too bad that, when I go to write about it, there’s no easy way to translate the %-read or page marks to page numbers in a print edition, but I can do that by hand, no doubt. In fact, that %-read sign distracts me and eggs on my competitive side.

That is just part of what I thought from the beginning: that the Kindle really would be ideal for reading bestsellers: ephemeral books of the moment, books that are more fun to read when they come out but that you may not want or need to own in a personal library.

At dinner in Seattle last week, our friends both raved about Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Game Change. Since I was traveling (with my Kindle and a lot of books), it made sense to download it and I’ve just loved reading it. The book is really fun: well-written, full of gossip, and fast-paced. As long-time readers here know, I was really engaged in the 2008 election and my taste for hearing about it has not slackened. But reading along on the Kindle, and watching myself rise from 22% done to 35% done, has made the reading itself into a race just as merry as reliving the election (without all the angst and worry about the outcome this time around).

So, I have renewed enthusiasm and purpose for the Kindle. I’m always really interested in those nonfiction books that people devour fast and I love to read them fairly soon after they come out, so the Kindle can be my spot for that.

There are so many different kinds of reading: some really do require a lovely edition, others are just fine online, others—somewhere in the middle—look to me like they’ll work great on an e-reader. 

Heavy Stack, Light Blogging

One happy consequence of the fact that I’m writing scholarly stuff again is that I’ve read a bunch of books which I want to tell you about—or compose my thoughts out loud about—and I haven’t had the chance. So I have this stack of books that I carry from my bedroom to the dining room (where I work), from a corner of a hidden shelf, to out in the open without actually composing the posts.

So, as a kind of teaser, here is the stack:
  • Teaching Community by bell hooks (purchased in Louisville at the CCCConvention last weekend)
  • Push by Sapphire (which I loved)
  • Trailer Girl by Therese Svoboda (the title novella of which is utterly stunning, though the stories that follow are less even)
  • A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (a great classic thriller)
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (which is really weird and disappointing)
  • A Guide to College Writing Assessment (O’Neill et al., another CCCC purchase, but one I’m unlikely to blog about here)
  • Some small press catalogs
  • And my comments on a couple dozen essays nominated for the upcoming edition of the Norton Reader

Maybe some of these will get a post of their own one day. But for now, I’m going back to the stacks—the Woolf stacks, that is. Time’s a-wasting.

Alison Light on voice

The thing that makes—or breaks—a book for me is voice. If its resonant, distinctive, authentic, I am eager to read on. But voice is so hard to describe. It certainly seems tricky to discuss it as a scholar with any kind of theoretical rigor, so I was really delighted by this passage in Mrs. Woolf and the Servants in which Light describes the impossibility of characterizing voice and then goes on to beautifully, carefully, characterize a speaking voice. Here, Light is describing the experience of listening to a series of BBC recordings of the recollections of servants:  
“No matter how patient the transcriber, a voice cannot be written down. Inevitably its flavour and richness is lost…On the page, Happy’s memories of her past read a little flatly…The taped interview, however, is a different story. Happy laughs throughout, a rich, throaty laugh, which often overcomes her, and stops her from talking….Mrs. Sturgeon also laughs every time she mentions a terrible experience. Her laughter ironizes much of what she recalls: ‘oh it was the the most marvelous door!’ she says, tongue in cheek, when she remembers the almost sacred ritual of cleaning the oak front door and the brass door knocker” (298)

The Known World

I’ve been battling a cold and, today, though I felt better than yesterday, I took advantage of it’s being a school day (and my being on sabbatical) and just went back to bed.


I lay there and, in one swallow, finished the last hundred pages of Edward P. Jones’ masterpiece of a novel, The Known World.

Lately, I read about books, recommend them to my mother and my mother-in-law, and then heat up the orange mac for the kids while toiling away at some para-literary activity (marking papers, selecting essays for a textbook, downloading articles for an article I’m writing). My novel-reading days are too few and far between. If life in at 70 is as kind to me as it has been to my mom and mother-in-law, I may, perhaps, have a chance to catch up!

But my mom begged me to read The Known World so we could talk about it. I did. And I can’t wait to call her.

Forgetting Haiti

''Life is already so fragile in Haiti, and to have this on such a massive scale, it's unimaginable how the country will be able to recover from this.''--Edwige Danticat (via Tayari)

It’s easy to forget about Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is so hard to think about—even before this latest castatrophe—that, unless there is a hurricane or a new novel by Danticat, it’s easier to focus elsewhere.

Eight years ago this month, I spent three weeks on a service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic. We had been scheduled to go to Haiti, but the events of 9/11/01 worldwide and a coup d’etat in Haiti led my university at the time to prudently shift the trip to the more stable DR, the Eastern and more prosperous half of the island of Hispaniola.

It was one of the hardest times of my life: my husband and I read and studied Michele Wucker’s amazing book about the island, Why the Cock Fights; we read Edwidge Danticat’s stories of Haiti and Haitian-Americans, we read In the Time of Butterflies. We longed to lead our students on a trip about social justice. Instead, we worked with an orphanage in Monte Cristi, on the Haitian border, to build a wall. 

That wall became a metaphor for the barrier between the kind of aid work I believe in and the corrupt, self-congratulatory, neo-imperialist mission excursion that I found myself on, but not able to lead.

For all that was hard, I must admit that I was not sorry that we didn’t go to Haiti. My husband’s scouting trip to Haiti, in the summer of 2001 (before plans changed) had been intense and life-changing for him, but his stories of the rural mission in Northern Haiti that would host us, of the drums at night, of the village that was little more than a collection of shanties, made me painfully aware of how ill-equipped I am to comprehend the gap between the poorest in the world and myself. 

In 1804, Haiti became a free nation. The second democracy in the Western Hemisphere. In the two centuries since, it has failed—and we have failed it. I don’t want to make a catastrophe—or a nation—into a metaphor. I hope and pray for better days for Haiti. I texted “Yele” to 501501 twice this morning, sending my $5 two times to Wyclef Jean’s nonprofit. But when I see the Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. on television last night, mainly concerned with reassuring us that the first lady is fine, I boil with outrage at the intractability of a problem—theirs and ours—that I do not begin to know how to think about solving.

My college friend, the brilliant Annie Seaton (now a Dean at Bard College) suggests that this catastrophe—the earthquake and all the things (poverty, deforestation, buildings without re-bar in the concrete, political instability, racism) that make this earthquake so horrifying—is a result of the Enlightenment. I think that maybe she’s right. Maybe, as she suggests, we should all read Susan Buck-Morss on Hegel and Haiti and, while we pray for the victims, the survivors and all who help them, we should also try to think our way to a more just world, one in which Haiti would not always and forever suffer.


Six, too, is full of charms. One aspect of being a parent that I most longed to experience, from before I was pregnant, was living with a child old enough to read on her own.

I am now mother to such a child.

It is just as magical and mysterious as I expected. She goes to bed with The BFG and I come into her room at 8 to rouse her and she’s nearly done. What’s next? After reading just a little here and there all spring—Frog and Toad, Junie B. Jones, she has burst into reading the first classics of childhood. So far, this month, she has read The BFG, Half Magic, James and the Giant Peach, the first three books in the My Father’s Dragon series, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. She also read the first 125 pages of Gertrude Stein’s Ida.

She doesn’t much like to talk about her reading, much as I like to hear about it. Still, when I was remarking on this to someone, she asked “How much do you really think she understands?” A good question. So I pressed a little: “What is happening in James and the Giant Peach right now?”

“Well,” she said, “you’ve read it, right? [Yes, in 1972...] So they’re flying over the ocean, but it’s full of sharks who are going to eat the peach, so the silkworm and the spider make all these strings and then they send the earthworm up, but not too high, so that the seagulls will try to eat him. They’re trying to trick the gulls. But they have to be careful so that the gulls don’t eat the earthworm, so the grasshopper holds on tight and pulls him back just in time. Anyway, James takes the little strings and throws them up around the seagulls’ legs. He does this lots and lots of times till there are a whole bunch of seagulls pulling on the peach…”

I think she gets it, don’t you?

As for Ida, I must say, she got about 100 pages deeper than I, but she didn’t have anything to report.

I think she gets Stein, too.


Once again, we are up at the River for the month of July, in the very same house we rented last year. My books and papers are unpacked. I have to return to the long-neglected edition of Mrs. Dalloway, cast to the side in the fall when I had to take over a colleague’s course, and again in spring because of the Woolf Conference. I also want to do some reading around in lesser-known modernist women writers for a graduate course in the spring. When I left New Jersey, I was still a-jangle, still exhausted from the conference and jet-lagged from a whirlwind week in Seattle visiting my family with my daughters.

It made packing hard, so I just threw everything in.

I see now that I have brought fifty books with me.

5-0. 50.

Half of them are books for work on the Dalloway edition:
  1. The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume 3 (1919-1924)
  2. The Letters of VW, vol. 1,
  3. vol. 2,
  4. vol. 3. It was the letters that undid me last summer: so much more sad (so many deaths, in such quick succession, and then pretending for weeks that her brother Thoby was not dead so as not to upset her friend Violet until Violet herself had recovered) and show-offy (just the worst of Woolf: brittle, “brilliant,” too clever, snobby) than the diaries which I find deeply moving. Still, I need to read through them and make my notes.
  5. The Diary, vol. 3 (1925-1930): I don’t need to read much of that.
  6. the Modern Library edition of Mrs. Dalloway
  7. the Uniform Hogarth edition of Mrs. Dalloway
  8. the Oxford paperback edition of Mrs. Dalloway
  9. the newly annotated Harcourt edition of Mrs. Dalloway not mentioning my electronic copy of the first English and American editions, that’s a lot of copies of one book, though I’m mad at myself for forgetting the Penguin…
  10. Mrs. Dalloway’s Party, the only short story sequence associated with a novel in Woolf’s whole oeuvre
  11. Night and Day Woolf’s second novel, which I don’t know well, but to write the footnotes for Dalloway, I need to know any prior appearances of characters, placenames, even metaphors, just to be able to refer readers back
  12. Woolf Studies Annual volume 8 for David Bradshaw’s essay on Septimus and the war
  13. The Years
  14. A Room of One’s Own
  15. The Oxford Book of English Verse, the edition that Woolf herself read so that I can refamiliarize myself with the poetry she loved best in case that helps me catch an allusion
  16. The Metamorphoses because Jane DeGay had an intriguing argument about Ovidian metaphors in Woolf that I’d like to follow up on, though it’s a challenge for me
  17. Palgrave Advances in Virginia Woolf Studies
  18. The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf because I promised, over a year ago, to review these books
  19. Clarissa Dalloway Harold Bloom’s collection of the classic essays on her: I’m still amazed at how little I know given how much I know…
  20. Virginia Woolf’s Novels and the Literary Past Jane deGay’s monograph on Woolf’s allusions
  21. Continuing Presences almost a reference book of all the literature Woolf alluded to
  22. Virginia Woolf and London an older monograph by Susan Squier which I’ll return to with new interest after my crash course in urban theory surrounding the Woolf Conference, hoping to catch a footnote or two to the placenames in Dalloway
  23. Virginia Woolf’s Reading Notebooks, Brenda Silver’s transcription of Woolf’s notebooks provides clues to what Woolf was reading when and thus, clues to where to look for possible allusions
  24. Then, there are the books that I’m considering for my fall grad class on Transatlantic Modern Women Farewell Leicester Square Betty Miller’s novel of a Jewish film director in London in the twenties, which I began last night and am already sure I’ll teach
  25. The Desert and the Sown about the explorer Gertrude Bell: I wonder about including one of these non-fiction explorers on the syllabus and this one is about Iraq, so it’s of special interest
  26. Jean Rhys: the Complete Novels: I hate The Wide Sargasso Sea and a colleague often teaches Good Morning, Midnight, so I’m wondering if there is another Rhys to teach—and I’ve downloaded Maud’s Granta conversation with Alexander Chee to teach me more about the Rhys/Ford affair
  27. The Montana Stories by the great and neglected Katherine Mansfield: these masters of the short story so often get short shrift, but I will be giving Mansfield a week without doubt and am excited to dip into her again
  28. The Well of Loneliness: Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian classic, as yet unread by me. The Unlit Lamp, also by Hall, shook me to my core as a girl
  29. Seven for a Secret because my friend Jane Garrity is interested in Mary Webb and other neglected rural and/or conservative women of the period
  30. and then a trio of novels to read (or re-read) by my beloved Elizabeth Bowen to see if I want to do The Death of the Heart again—I love it but never teach it well—or something else: The Hotel
  31. The House in Paris
  32. The Last September
  33. Tayari suggested Alice Dunbar-Nelson, so I brought along The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson , vol. 2, because that volume (of 3) had the most exciting-sounding titles in it
  34. Not sure if I’m up to Mina Loy’s The Lost Lunar Baedeker, but I’ll give it an hour or two and see
  35. Testament of Youth because I’ve never read Vera Brittain
  36. Complete Poems by Marianne Moore, who has already made the cut
  37. We’ll do two weeks on Stein, whom I love but have mostly forgotten so I’m refreshing my memory with The Yale Gertrude Stein
  38. and Ida
  39. sad to say, I’ve also never read Sylvia Townend Warner. My friend Jay raves about Summer Will Show, a lesbian historical novel about the 1848 revolutions (hard to wrap my mind around that), but the NYRB reissue isn’t quite out, so I’ve brought alone a collection of stories called One Thing Leading to Another
  40. I am tired of Nella Larsen and the theme of passing, but Jessie Fauset’s first novel sounds interestingly Jamesian, about an educated, ambitious black woman: There is Confusion
  41. tons of people have told me over the years that I’ll love Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer: I’ll let you know
  42. I will certainly teach my beloved Stevie Smith, but I know less about her than I’d like, so I’ve brought along Frances Spalding’s biography, Stevie Smith
  43. Even the reading for pleasure this summer is work-like: Manhattan Transfer
  44. in the afterglow of the Woolf Conference, Vanessa & Virginia came along
  45. as did Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows
  46. I read and loved my former professor’s memoir Meatless Days and had so much to say about it that my mom urged me to write an essay—we’ll see if that happens
  47. and Lizzie brought over an advanced copy of her new book, Shelf Discovery, before she left, which is like dessert, so I dip in and out in the margins
  48. Gwen Raverat’s memoir of growing up in Cambridge as Darwin’s granddaughter,Period Piece, is meant to be fantastic and has lots of Bloomsbury resonances
  49. my grandmother went to high school in Shanghai, so I was already excited about Lisa See’s new novel Shanghai Girls before I read praise for it in the NYT. When I admired my mom’s copy, she gave it to me (thanks, mom!) and I’m already enjoying the atmosphere. Besides, it’s all about sisters!
  50. With fifty books, I’ll have to read one a day to merit the lugging, but I’ve already read one: What I Saw and How I Lied, Judy Blundell’s NBA winner—I’ll blog about that soon, no doubt.
And this doesn’t include On the Banks of Plum Creek which I’m almost done reading aloud the big girl and By the Shore of Silver Lake because I couldn’t stand to leave Mary blind for the whole summer, not to mention a handful of board books for the toddler (no longer a babe at 3, and full of mangled Mother Goose, recited inaccurately but with great enthusiasm), story books, chapter books for the big girl to read on her own (Junie B. Jones, Roald Dahl’s the BFG, etc.)

Short Stories

Though I seem to have the time to tweet away, to post mobile phone pictures of Easter eggs to facebook, blogging has fallen by the wayside this late winter (I don’t yet dare call it spring).

But I’ve been reading more than ever and I’ve mostly been reading short stories. In the rush of the semester, of administrative work, of new and absorbing responsibilities in teaching teachers how to teach, of giving two conference papers in one week (a record, and one not to be repeated), these stories have been vastly absorbing and satisfying. I want to tell you about the ups and downs of all of them—and of the two lovely novels—one at a time, but for now, a little list:
  • Sima’s Undergarments for Women a debut novel by Ilana Stanger-Ross and recommended by Sarah Weinman,
  • Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
  • Diamond Dust, Anita Desai’s short stories,
  • Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe by Doreen Baingana, and recommended by Tayari Jones,
  • and Do Not Deny Me by Jean Thompson.
It’s funny, there was a day back in winter when Sarah mentioned Sima’s Undergarments for Women just as I was thinking (as I often am) about the need for a new bra. I loved the title, so modest and old-world. That same day, Tayari raved about how well Tropical Fish had worked in her FemWrite workshop in Uganda. I ordered both books immediately, they came, and I read them. So satisfying. So rare.

Exasperation and Elevation

Ed Champion asked me to participate in a roundtable on Eric Kraft's new novel, Flying. (It's actually a trilogy, bound together into a very big book). I am a big fan of Ed's & I am, occasionally, nostalgic for the days of the Litblog Co-op, so I said YES.

The first installment of five is up at Ed's place.

It's a very weird book, one that I found exasperating and fascinating, as you'll see when I weigh in (at a late phase in the conversation). The conceit, however, is really interesting: a boy in the 50's builds an aerocycle, based on improbable plans from a mechanics magazine, and flies it from Long Island to New Mexico. As you might expect, the aerocycle doesn't fly, BUT many people want to believe that it does and the boy is simultaneously buoyed and ruined by keeping alive the fiction of himself as a pilot. The book we have in our hands purports to be the record of the much older man today, striving to write a memoir that sets the record straight.

There's a lot that's funny here, but the book is a spot too long for me. In any case, do pop over to Ed's blog throughout the week and listen in.

Metaphor: Bad prose and inspiration

I'm growing weary of the abundance of post-its on my computer monitor, so I'm trying to take them down today. (Don't worry, it doesn't take long the for the clutter to reaccumulate...) And, while I don't often blog about my students or my teaching, two of the little scraps I'm tossing seem worthy of sharing.

First, from a textbook, for the BLOCK THAT METAPHOR file:
"In reality personal and professional ethics share some common ground and this makes the perceived clash between the two easier to digest."
All last year, I worked one-on-one with an ESL student. Mostly, we marched through readings from class. The textbooks were so badly written and so abstract that I could see where the struggles came. This sentence was so difficult to parse and it yielded so little meaning (ethical behavior at work overlaps with individual ethics? really? stop the presses!), that I couldn't stop laughing and I copied it down just to remind myself how not to write, how much were were asking of our students.

Then, from an application, a wonderful moment of heroic rhetoric right here in the 21st century: "Like Leonidas at Thermopylae, my grandfather did not stop fighting..."