Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Among the ten thousand things

Isn’t that a cool title?  I’ve placed a hold on the novel at the library.  Unfortunately, at the moment I’m #43 in the queue, but winter break will be a good time to read it.  I have 22 books out and 7 holds right now, so it’s not as if I’m lacking reading material.  (I do still buy books, or have them bought for me, but I use the library as much as possible.)

Of the books in my previous library post, I did read Dear Committee Members–a quick read, a sourball of a book–it was enjoyable while it lasted, but it dissolved and I have not given it another thought since.  I also read The Buried Giant, probably too fast.  I wish I had someone to discuss it with–I have questions.  It turned out that I could, in fact, renew The Noonday Demon, so I did.  And now I have to return another bunch of books, including:

  • Perri Klass’s first collection, I Am Having an Adventure.  I keep mentioning the story “Nineteen Lists” to students as an example of an unusual way to construct a narrative (in lists!) and wanted to have a copy of it for myself.  The Snork Maiden picked this up while it was in the house and read it, too.
  • Anne Enright, The Green Road (which I started and I love Anne Enright but there is a long queue of people waiting for it and oh well, another time, I guess)
  • Peter Hedges, The Heights  (Normally I really enjoy books about hipster parents in Brooklyn but this was way too arch after The Buried Giant)
  • A yoga book that was kind of outdated (that is, very Seventies-inflected and full of bad eating advice) but still informative
  • Three of Lauren Winner’s books (I got a yen to reread Girl Meets God and I enjoy her writing)
  • James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen (can no longer remember what prompted me to pick this up, didn’t get very far)

I should turn my attention to some of the things I have to read, including Paradise Lost, to which I have barely given a thought since my junior year of college; Creative Confidence, which is a faculty/staff summer read; and 1984.  I didn’t assign myself the tenth-grade classes until after the tenth-grade teachers had finalized the book list for next year, so I wasn’t part of those discussions.  I’m thinking the book list could use an overhaul, actually.  The course makes a stab at being a British literature survey, but there are probably better ways to do it, and it’s probably worth questioning whether we need to do it at all.  I suppose I wouldn’t have proposed the overhaul for this year anyway, since there are several other people who teach it and they should all be involved.  One of them is Lucinda, who may well be leaving us after this year to move to a different part of the country after her husband retires from the military–and there may, as always, be other staffing changes as well.  When it’s clearer who the decision-makers will be, we can start making the decisions.

On the road

The Snork Maiden and I leave early tomorrow for her music camp, so today is about Doing All the Things.  We’re supposed to go to a barbecue at the home of two of the trivia-team members later this afternoon; I’d love to leave two neatly packed suitcases and all the other things ready to go into the car.

Right now, I’m going to head to the library, pick up one book I have on hold, and find a couple of books on CD for the long drives.  I have my eye on A Tale of Two Cities, which I’ve never read, and on Will in the World, which I saw at a branch I don’t go to very often.  Tale of Two Cities also dovetails with the Snork Maiden’s European history curriculum for next year, but I don’t know whether she’ll be interested.

I still have five pending holds, but I think the chances are very small that they will come in while we’re away.  (There’s a penalty for not picking up your holds.)  They include Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (256 people ahead of me) and Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? (63 people ahead of me).  There are way more copies of The Goldfinch in the system, though.

(As you can probably guess, I’m back to reading.)

A reading of life

So while I know I’ve mentioned writing Morning Pages for the last six months, I don’t think I have mentioned that I decided to embark on the twelve-week program of The Artist’s Way.  I am giving myself permission to do it in a fairly haphazard manner, but I’ve gotten a lot out of it nevertheless, even in just a few weeks.  It has probably helped that I have liked the practice of Morning Pages so much.

I’m now in Week 4, the week of reading deprivation.  I hadn’t heard of this aspect of the program before Jackie commented on it on this post, at which time it sounded terribly daunting.  It is terribly daunting.  Cameron says most people resist it and claim they can’t possibly stop reading for a week.  I think it helps me that I’ve been binge-reading so much for the past month–I’m aware of how much I’ve been disappearing into books, and how much easier it is to read than to do so many other things.

This is a good week to do it, too, as I have a lot of stuff to take care of before we go away:

  • manuscript #2 revision push (had a little breakthrough on this and am aiming for a full revision by August 16)
  • a new poem slouching toward Bethlehem to be born
  • house and life stuff (continued decluttering, bills, try to get a better deal on car insurance, fill out the remaining forms on the medical-information website SA is now using to track students’ health and emergency info)
  • social stuff (lunch with someone for whom I used to TA, in town working at Fancy Research Library–although we might meet at GU instead; one more trivia night; a couple of engagements for the Snork Maiden; trying to get together with Elinor while she’s in town)

It feels very weird not to be able to default to picking up a book.  It feels different inside my head.  I think this is probably a good thing.

I do need to take about eight books back to the library, some of which I never got very far into, but that’s really okay.

 

Going back

Making a library run this morning and returning the following books unfinished:

woolfMrs. Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light.  A really interesting book about Virginia Woolf and the servants on whom she depended all her life.  Woolf’s dismissive comments about the working classes, including the people who worked for her and her family, have driven a wedge between Woolf and some of her readers, and this book feels like attention paid where it needed to be paid.  If I had world enough and time, or if I were a Woolf scholar or more of a devotee, I would absolutely finish reading it, but having renewed it once, I’m admitting that I probably never will.

dolphinThe Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy, Motivated Kids–Without Turning into a Tiger by Shimi Kang, M.D. Absolutely nothing wrong with this cheerful, encouraging book about not being either a completely nuts or a completely checked-out parent.  But also just not engaging enough to keep reading for the same point to be made over and over again.  A better read in a similar vein is Wendy Mogel’s  The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and its companion volume for parents of teenagers, The Blessing of a B-Minus.  Or, as I’ve mentioned here before, one of Mike Riera’s books.

wildmertonI’m not saying I’ll never return to Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.  It is one of those books I expect to read some day if I live long enough.  It’s just not going to be this summer, I guess.  I did get far enough into it to have some possibly unrealistic expectations about spiritual autobiography set up for me when I listened to Wild on CD.  Strayed was writing a different kind of book and I did end up being pretty compelled by the story she was telling.  I guess it would have been hard for the book to have lived up to the level of bestsellerdom it has achieved.  Also, the reader’s voice never stopped being just a little bit irritating–there was a little too much character in it.  I would rather have heard either the author’s voice, I think, or a more neutral voice that did not try to “do” the voices in dialogue.  A great byproduct of having listened to Wild is that I went back to Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” columns at The Rumpus.  I love advice columns, but in the past I haven’t had much patience for the long, discursive replies from Sugar.  Now, with her style more firmly fixed in my mind–although the voice of Wild is pitched to sound more like the voice of the young woman she was at the time of her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail–I find I’m more interested and have been enjoying reading them one or two at a time.

Anya’s ghost

anyaI’ve had Anya’s Ghost on my want-to-read list pretty much since it came out three years ago, and finally I requested it from the library and fetched it from the hold shelf.  It’s a lovely piece of work, a beautifully constructed YA graphic novel.  I really like Vera Brosgol’s management of the line (that’s sort of a poetry term but of course I mean it in the visual sense)–her visual characterization of the ghost, Emily, and how it’s the ghost version of the style she establishes for describing the non-fantastic, concrete, real and often emotionally oppressive world Anya lives in. Here’s the trailer for the book, which gives you a nice glimpse of it all: 

 

Inside a pearl

pearlInside a Pearl is a lovely book to read if you like Edmund White and/or reading about living in Paris.  It could perhaps have used a slightly more aggressive editor.  Sometimes people appear without being properly introduced, and then, on their second or third appearance, White explains how they are connected to him or to other people in the book.  It’s a bit like chatting in passing with someone at a party and not being properly introduced until the host passes by later on.  There are also some passages apparently out of chronological order, but it’s not always easy to track.  However, I do like Edmund White, and I don’t at all mind reading about living in Paris.  There are some wonderful bits about the French language, too.

 

Our mutual friend

I finally got tired of not having my blog feeds all in one place, so I reviewed an article I’d bookmarked a year ago about good replacements for Google Reader.  I ended up setting up The Old Reader, which was so easy and straightforward to do that I felt silly for not having done it before.  I’m still filling it in–my exported list of Google feeds is around here somewhere, but by the time GR shut down, there were a lot of basically defunct ones in it, and I’ve discovered new blogs since then, so I don’t know whether I’ll bother to find it, especially since I’ve already put in a bunch of my ongoing favorites and–since it’s so easy–thrown in some new ones that look interesting.

Having all the blogs in one place means I’ll probably spend more time reading blogs, a little less time searching for blogs I want to read, and possibly also a little more time blogging.

 

The body in the library

Still binge-reading, although maybe not in quite the same desperate way of two weeks ago.  Enjoying posts by delagar and JaneB–and others I can’t immediately think of–about what they’re reading now.  A sampling of mine:

janeJane and Prudence is the first Barbara Pym novel I ever read, and it’s one of the summer’s rereads.  Jane is a 41-year-old vicar’s wife in a village outside London; Prudence is her twenty-nine-year-old friend, working in London and suffering disappointments in love.  They are both Oxford graduates (Jane worked briefly as an English tutor; Prudence was her pupil) and, like good Pym heroines, each uses her intellect, her intuition, her wit and her sense of romance to navigate the life she finds herself leading (ornamenting her experiences with occasional tags of poetry).

murakamiWhat I Talk about When I Talk about Running is a slight but satisfying collection of essays by Haruki Murakami about how he came to be a runner, some of the ways in which running sustains his life and his writing, and certain running-related challenges he has taken up and failed or succeeded at.  The structure of the book is interesting; the essays are dated and feel, at their beginnings, almost like journal entries: he’s in Hawai’i working and training for a race; he leaves Hawai’i and returns to Japan; he moves to Cambridge, MA, for a semester.  In the course of each, he travels over some piece of his past experience as a runner, so it’s almost like two races–one lasting the length of the time it took him to write the book, and one from the beginning of his running life until the last moment of writing the book.  (I’m sure some reviewer has described this better.)  The translation, by Philip Gabriel, is very good; though obviously I don’t know whether the voice he finds for Murakami in English is at all similar to the one a reader would perceive in Japanese, it has character, and is consistent.  Murakami sounds like what I would expect Murakami to sound like: a middle-aged fiction writer who is aware of his own limitations and who patiently, doggedly works against some of the physical ones while accepting, with resignation, others that have to do with temperament and character.  It’s an appealing voice for a memoir, rather astringent, not ingratiating.  I’ve wanted to read this book ever since reading a few pages of it in an airport bookshop a few years ago, and I’m glad I have.

ternanClaire Tomalin’s The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan caught my eye on the “new books” shelf at the library (it’s not new–even the movie came out last year–but I guess the paperback was new to the collection). I took it home and I’m so glad I did: it was fascinating.  I was most moved by the evocation of the world of a young woman born into the theatre in the 1800s–how hard those actresses worked, how accomplished they were, and how unprotected and disregarded by polite society.  The film, which we rented and watched this week, evoked those things as well, although with the book fresh in my mind, I enjoyed it much more than Stubb, who found it extremely slow.

barnesI also read The Sense of an Ending, the short novel by Julian Barnes that won the Booker Prize in 2011.  I am kind of a sucker for the novel of retrospection, the not-too-reliable narrator looking back over his or her story and trying to adjust it to something resembling “the truth,” or a truth the narrator can live with, or the truth that the narrator has avoided for years.  (See The Great Gatsby, The Remains of the Day–in fact, several Ishiguro novels–, The Last of Her Kind, Fun Home.)  So I found this one very pleasurable even though I got impatient with our narrator toward the end and was a little muddled about the exact details of the revelations of the ending–not enough to reread it right away, but maybe in the future.  (One of the back cover blurbs promised I would want to read it again right away.  I’d already fallen under the sway of a different blurb, which insisted that this was a book to be read in a single sitting, so I waited to begin it until I could read it in one go, and did.  Nice, but not strictly necessary.  And I didn’t want to be ruled by the blurbs.)

There have been more, some better than others, some half-read, some barely glanced at.  But these have been some of the best so far.

The fermata

vizziniAs we wait to see whether the job-offer recipient will take our job or not, February continues apace.  The three of us who teach sections of the “regular” junior class–Dr. Tea, Gwendolen, and I–are starting blogs to use with our students as we read our Vonnegut novel together.

The school has a pretty conservative attitude toward blogs–at this juncture, anyway; they are in the password-protected area of the school website, and at this point the general policy is that class blogs are open to class members and to other teachers, but not to the school at large or to parents (although we have to assume that anything we write might be viewed by more or less anyone, anyway).  My guess is that, as with so many things SA, this tight control will relax gradually.  And, as a soon-to-be administrator, I actually appreciate this hard line, so that we can make most of our mistakes in relative privacy–although eventually I think I would like to open it all up more.

And what else?

Finally read It’s Kind of a Funny Story and liked it very much.

Have done some writing this week, getting back on track with my weekly goals after two nearly useless weeks.  Went to another meeting of the writers’ group–there were fewer people this time (hey, it’s February), but we did a very good critique of a very good but still improvable story, and made some tentative plans for a weekend retreat in April–which I’d love to do if I can.

The Snork Maiden and I had a good, if too short, visit with Stubb.

Another weekend approaches, with its usual cartload of tasks.  I hope I’ll be able (I’ll probably need) to do some blogging then.

 

Lying on the couch

I finished the papers, taught my last three classes, graciously received some student gifts (mostly candy that I’ll regift to people at whose homes we’re attending holiday events), made a short appearance at an alumni reception to greet former students, and boom, it’s winter break.  The Snork Maiden and I have ten days at home, four days with Stubb (two of which are travel days, though).  I’ve already read one novel (Looking for Alaska, a YA novel by John Green that has been recommended by many of my students) and one nonfiction book (The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom, who has written so many interesting books on psychotherapy).  I’ve run few errands, worked out once, and had two festive lunches: one at Le Pain Quotidien with Dr. Tea and a mutual former student, one with an NLNRU colleague at a little French restaurant where I had a perfect omelette.

So I’m having a pretty good time so far.  I have some projects to work on–things for spring semester, submissions, and one application due by the end of the month–but also coming up in the next couple of days are a sleepover with the Snork Maiden’s cousins, haircuts for the Snork Maiden and me, and a couple of low-key parties with friends.  As I said, having a pretty good time.  (I even had yesterday afternoon all to myself when the SM was at a friend’s.  Need to try to get a bit more of solo time during the break if I can.)